Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Worthwhile

‘Twould be hypocritical of me to crack on someone who seemed to be writing about topics about which they weren’t exactly experts.

Exhibit A: … this Blogge, hello!

Talk about not staying in my lane.

So with that in mind, I shall tread carefully.

 

Seems like almost every year at this time, someone leaps onto social media to say some intemperate thing about that curious activity about which I swoon, namely, The Marching Band. Makes sense: if you watch TV on New Year’s Day, you may be subjected to more sights and sounds of the marching arts than on any other TV day, what with the Rose Parade and various college football bowl games and all.

So it makes sense that people who are apt to be critical or prone to mockery, regarding this activity, are going to be that way right around the New Year.

And so it was, yesterday, with a fellow called Bill James.

Honestly, if I wanted to save time … I could just direct you to a piece I posted here three years ago; you could read it and every time you read the words “Jim Rome” you could replace them mentally with “Bill James” and be just as far ahead. You would be forgiven if you did this. Or if you didn’t.

Mr. James leapt onto Twitter and, as you do, Tweeted:

Does the world really need marching bands? I know I am [in] trouble for even asking this question, but what do you think?”

And offered Twitter followers a poll, the results of which happened to end up 88 to 12 in favor of “Yes, we need bands”.

A futile poll, as it happened, but 7 to 1 in any sport constitutes a convincing win, I should think.

Myself? Rather than losing my ever-lovin’ mind – as a couple of my colleagues have done – trying to change Bill James’ ever-lovin’ mind – which is futile because anyone who posts an opinion online and is then pushed back against … digs in that much harder and We Shall, We Shall Not Be Moved – I merely sighed, “ah, he’ll never understand, and it’s his loss.”

True enough, at least to me – a fellow who understands that the marching arts can be dreadful if done poorly, BUT if they’re designed and done with a certain amount of skill and caring can be positively transcendent, even if the purveyors do wear feathers on their heads. So there’s that bias built-in.

 

My curiosity got the better of me, though; and so I peeked at the replies to Mr. James’ Tweet. The replies were predictably – how dare you, sir – but it turns out that Mr. James felt the need to engage with many of the aggrieved respondents. And in the process, he revealed a couple of interesting things about himself.

First, I guess maybe I should have known who Bill James even was.

Not that jazz composer who wrote the theme from “Taxi”.

Not that fellow who co-starred with Will Smith in that romantic comedy movie of a few years back.

He’s a baseball writer. Who invented “Sabermetrics”.

Sabermetrics is the empirical analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity. … Sabermetricians collect and summarize the relevant data from this in-game activity to answer specific questions. The term is derived from the acronym SABR, which stands for the Society for American Baseball Research, founded in 1971. The term sabermetrics was coined by Bill James, who is one of its pioneers and is often considered its most prominent advocate and public face.”

Mm’-kay.

See, I knew I should have recognized that name right away. But I guess I didn’t.

And, more importantly and with less needless snark … something else that Mr. James revealed about himself was this: it turns out that he wasn’t, after all, violating the rule of “only write about what you know”.

One Twitter respondent noted, “That’s a funny question coming from the ultimate sports nerd. Let the music folks have their fun.” Mr. James shot back:

I was in the Marching Band in high school. I was on the field at the halftime of many football games. In retrospect, I’d like to have those 500 hours back.”

In retrospect, it was a shame that there wasn’t one of the Drum Major Academy drum majors in charge of that band, as that student leader might have been able to get to Mr. James before his attitude went all toxic and he either quit the band or destroyed it. (I know; that drum major would have needed a time machine, since Mr. James’ age is closer to seventy than seventeen; you get my point, I trust.)

Sorry! I’m sorry. That was not how I meant this to go. I really wasn’t going to be all snarky about this. I was going to let all it roll off my back. I was going to stay positive.

 

I know a good way to stay positive. It’s this angle:

When another Twitter respondent wished Mr. James would respect the amount of work that goes into being in a marching band, Mr. James shot back:

I respect their work. I just think I would respect if more if they worked on something more worthwhile.”

Mm’-kay.

Is it worthwhile to commit all that time and effort to marching in a band?

Is it worthwhile to commit all that time and effort to being a Sabermetrician?

Is it worthwhile to make solar panels?

Is it worthwhile to paint sunsets?

Is it worthwhile to learn how to play chess? To play autoharp?

Is it worthwhile to create computer graphics software that will allow more realistic renderings of video-game backgrounds?

Is it worthwhile to write a blog?

Is it worthwhile to commit ridiculous amounts of time and effort to activities that other people don’t understand, and can’t understand, and sometimes even mock?

Sure it is.

Because the alternative is having a population full of people who aren’t curious, aren’t creative, don’t know how to commit time and effort to something … but instead are just drones who only know enough to be “prepared for the 21st century workforce”. Or who would rather mock the people who are curious, creative, and willing to sweat a little – because throwing Internet snark is just easier. Far less risky. Much easier to get attention any which way one can. Look at me and my disdain for people whose activity I think isn’t worthwhile. I made you respond. I win.

Unless, apparently, you get under the skin of the band people, some of whom Tweet things at you like..

It appears the father of Sabermetrics has not found a new audience amongst band members.”

…or…

We used to be awfully quiet about you, because we had no idea who you were. Must suck to be insignificant, until the bandos come after you.”

 

Then it doesn’t make you come out looking like that much of a winner.

At which point it doesn’t seem as worthwhile, I guess.

January 2, 2018 Posted by | arts, band, baseball, DMA, Internet, marching band, music, social media, sports, Twitter | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Waiting Period

[Ed. Note: this is not political.

It has everything to do with a topic or two which is intensely political, but this piece itself and the thoughts expressed therein are not political at all.]

 

In many locations in these United States, although not all, and to varying degrees of strictness, there are laws on the books that govern how long someone should need to wait before purchasing some sort of firearm.

I’m sure there’s a fancy legal term for it, but if journalists are writing stories about it, it’s simply called a waiting period.

The idea is that between the purchase or reserving of a gun from a dealer and the moment when the purchaser may take possession of that gun, that purchaser needs to wait a set number of days, usually to allow a state government agency to run a background check and confirm that the purchaser is legally allowed to have that weapon.

The concept also exists regarding insurance policies – incidents which occur during a waiting period are not claimable. Also in the arena of business finance, wherein a company making an initial public offering of stock must keep quiet about it, so as not to articifially inflate the stock’s value. In that latter arena, that waiting period is also known as the “cooling-off period”.

In each case, it seems to me, that waiting period can be a useful tool to help people avoid doing something rash. Whether the rash activity is one of trying to succeed in business without really trying, or to get one’s hands on a weapon that can do physical harm … there are decisions that in the heat of certain moments might better be addressed without the red haze of wild emotion or avarice. Or at least they might more ethically be addressed.

Cooling-off period” is, I would judge, a tremendously apt term.

 

On Saturday, Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia was found to have died in his sleep, at a resort in Texas.

The 79-year-old judge had been a member of the Court since the late 1980s, and had been involved in many momentous decisions, decisions which have profoundly impacted American life and politics. As it happened, he had espoused “originalist” views of the Constitution and conservative takes on the issues that were being discussed as part of these decisions. I happen to have some very specific thoughts about those political views and about the way in which Scalia expressed them, but those thoughts are not germane to the topic that occurred to me Saturday afternoon, when I first heard the news.

As much as I didn’t really care for the man or his views, I tried to be a human being about his passing first. My first thoughts immediately flashed to the future makeup of the Supreme Court, even before a successor may be found, because eight Supremes (and particularly the currently-remaining eight) may decide cases in a different way than the previous nine. But I almost immediately felt badly about that, and concentrated on thoughts and prayers for Justice Scalia’s family and friends.

No matter how famous a person you are … no matter how much of a public figure you may be, and no matter what your effect upon the world and its mass-media current-affairs crucible … when you pass away, somebody else(s), some other human being(s) is (are) directly affected, and are thrown unexpectedly into the grieving process.

That grieving process is often illogical, it’s usually driven by emotion, and it sometimes results in things being said and emotions being expressed in ways that, thereafter, themselves require healing to take place. It’s a frightening and sad and angry time, and taking into account this knowledge aforethought, a lot of things are said and done that are understandable, if not immediately forgivable.

Previously, in this space, I had occasion to chronicle the passing of my college band director – and the reactions of the community upon which he had such an important influence – and the previous paragraph completely applied to that event. It was a rocky time, and people did make it through to varying degrees; but occasionally a few of us had to gently nudge the community as a whole and suggest, um, let’s consider the feelings of his family please, and let’s see if we can try to imagine what the world is going to look like after this immediate sharp stab of shock and grief has subsided, and perhaps even how our rash responses or actions might adversely impact it, yes?

 

Anyway, back to the current event: Justice Antonin Scalia died in his sleep Saturday.

Almost immediately after the San Antonio Express-News reported the judge’s death, wrote technology news and analysis website re/code, Twitter became the place where politicians and their proxies issued statements and began positioning the debate about his successor.

The news commentary website ThinkProgress noted, Mere moments after his death was confirmed, Conn Carroll, a key staffer for Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), promised Republicans would block anyone that Obama nominated[, on Twitter:] … ‘What is less than zero? The chances of Obama successfully appointing a Supreme Court Justice to replace Scalia?’”

And re/code continued, In the pre-Twitter era, both traditional and online publications would follow a predictable playbook for an event like this: Pre-reported obituaries first, followed by sober, restrained analysis. Anything that deviated from that would only show up in media’s margins, at least for the first few days. But now that people — journalists, politicians, celebrities and other influential figures with large audiences — can respond in real time, there’s a new kind of conversation that’s rapidly emerging.

Which, I thought, don’t make it right.

What’s a fella like me, with an opinion like that, to do?

Climb onto Facebook and post, of course.

I know. I spotted the gentle irony. (As a favorite media philosopher of mine once said, “I saw that one coming down Broadway with its doors open.”)

 

I did it anyway.

Okay, so I’m seeing a few of my FB friends posting thoughts … gentle thoughts, I must note … about the passing of Antonin Scalia, as it relates to the constitution of the Supreme Court going forward.

I have NO problem with these expressions. Especially as they have been, again, gentle, speculative, and in some cases elegantly stated.

The topic of the link below, though, I find substantively different. With the understanding that political people in DC need to get ahead of the curve, be prepared for tomorrow morning’s Meet-The-Press-like chat shows, etc etc … could *this* sort of expression not wait at least, say, an hour? Or 24?

In this case, there’s a difference between the social-media commentary of average persons and the policy-setting press releases of the legislative community.

The seeming Desperate Need for political professionals to pounce on this, in this way, at this speed, causes me to wonder if those professionals ever, EVER consider that the recently passed-on have *friends and family* who would like to focus on their loss, undistracted, for longer than, say, a few minutes.

These people.

Don’t know how in the world (at this point, in the era of instant online gratification and Twitter and the majority of humanity yielding to their knee-jerk reactions) one would regulate this sort of thing, but …

I wonder if there ought to be a waiting period.

February 14, 2016 Posted by | current events, Facebook, Famous Persons, government, Internet, news, politics, social media, technology, Twitter | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Art Criticism

I’m no art critic.

As a kid, I wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up … well, for about six months … but after awhile, I figured out that I could draw a really mean stick figure (I mean, these were good), but that was it.

When I tried watercoloring, the paints ran wherever they pleased. When I dealt with clay, it never quite made the shape I had in my mind – regardless of whether the clay was spinning or just sitting there. In a soapstone carving class, I took a block of the stuff and, after much struggle, settled on carving … a pair of dice.

Frankly, anyone who takes up brushes, chisels, or their own hands and fingers, and is remotely successful at creating works of visual art … I tip my cap to ya. Heck, I can’t even figure out how to make a cap. (And don’t ask what my creations in the sewing part of middle-school home-economics class looked like. I said don’t ask.)

With that as background and backdrop … I got a thought or two about a painting I saw this week.

Its creator was Philadelphia-area painter Nelson Shanks, who has been called America’s “eminent painter” … whatever that’s supposed to mean … and its subject was former president Bill Clinton.

The painting was first displayed in the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington, DC, in 2006, and was rotated out of the American Presidents exhibit.

In an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News this week, Shanks revealed something about the painting which, at the end of the day, I think says much more about him than his subject, or even his abilities as a painter.

A cursory glance at the official painting of President Bill Clinton that is part of the National Portrait Gallery collection would easily miss an ode to the lowest point of his presidency — Monica Lewinsky. But it’s there, the artist revealed … [he] cunningly included a shadow over the fireplace cast from a blue dress on a mannequin.”  [This, from the Washington Post article about the Daily News article, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/in-the-loop/wp/2015/03/02/portrait-artist-says-he-painted-lewinsky-reference-in-bill-clintons-official-painting/&gt; .]

Well … I suppose there’s no denying that the Clinton presidency had two parts: the pre-Lewinsky era and the post-Lewinsky era. This cannot be denied or changed.

But is a reference to the post-Lewinsky era appropriate for a portrait to be hung in the National Gallery?

Would you put a piece of Native American memorabilia in the background of a painting of Andrew Jackson?

Would you put a bottle of whiskey on a mantlepiece in the background of a painting of Ulysses S. Grant? (It’s not what you think. Look it up.)

Would you put a teapot on a desk in the background of a painting of Warren G. Harding?

I’m not even sure I’d have the grit to put a hint of anything referencing the Watergate break-in in the background of a painting of Richard Nixon. And that guy might have had it coming.

Would you do anything so tasteless as to put a playbill from Ford’s Theater on a desk in the background of a painting of Abraham Lincoln, or some reference to the city of Dallas in a painting of John F. Kennedy?

I can’t speak for presidential portrait artists; but if I were one, I think I would aim to create the most realistic image of the actual person, and leave the background – the Oval Office – fairly generically White House. Maybe that’s just my opinion about how to do it appropriately. If I were creating a work of art to hang in a sports bar, then maybe I might feel less constrained toward scoring dignity points.

Hold that thought, about realism. I’ll get back to that.

Shanks said, in the Daily News piece:

Shanks said painting Clinton was his hardest assignment because ‘he is probably the most famous liar of all time.’ So he added the nod to the Lewinsky scandal because it had cast a shadow over Clinton’s presidency. ‘He and his administration did some very good things, of course,’ Shanks said, ‘but I could never get this Monica thing completely out of my mind, and it is subtly incorporated in the painting. … It is also a bit of a metaphor in that it represents a shadow on the office he held, or on him.’”

Oh okay. I see where you’re going, now.

That’s just plain immature.

Maybe it’s just my take on the presidential portraits that hang in the National Portrait Gallery, but I would think that such an environment, and such works, are not the proper location for an op-ed piece.

When judges have a strong prejudice about something in a trial they are asked to oversee, very often they recuse themselves from hearing the case. Feeling that strongly about President Clinton, maybe Shanks might have done a similar thing.

Gentle suggestion for the painter of a presidential portrait: it’s not, strangely enough, all about you.

Back to “realism”, now.

And actually, “realism” turns out to be the hallmark of Nelson Shanks’ work, at his own insistence.

Shanks was interviewed by Paula Marantz Cohen as part of the “Drexel Interview” series (an interview which is about fifteen minutes of dour and unlikeable … but that’s just my opinion). You can find the interview on YouTube: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ekwg0jXUMzY&gt; . Within the first two minutes, Shanks answered a question about his philosophy of art this way:

I happen to be an advocate and believer in realism, because I think that nature, in its incredible vastness and variety, is the best and really the only real vocabulary that an artist can legitimately work with, without falling off the cliff of self-indulgence and just basic nonsense.”

Unless, Shanks continued:

…unless he does it for his own personal therapy and nothing else.”

And thank you, we have just added to “immature” … “hypocritical”.

As it happens, I think Shanks’ portrait portrays Bill Clinton’s face as a bit too wide – and there’s a photograph of Clinton standing next to the painting that makes it easy to compare the two faces. A bit too close to Ted Koppel.

But that’s just my opinion.

I’m no art critic.

March 4, 2015 Posted by | arts, Famous Persons | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment