Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Send A Message

[Ed. Note: I published this on my Facebook page tonight. I’ve heard too many cable-TV-news pundits gleefully point to polls which suggest that only a small percentage of young Americans will actually vote in the midterm elections tomorrow. I’d like to hope – after Parkland, after Kavanaugh, after children in cages, after a host of awful current events that seemed to awaken a great many American high-school and college students, over the last two years – that there are indeed a great wave of new voters who will end-run the corporate media’s bleatings and the various pollsters that only contact landline-based Americans, and give American representative government a well-deserved kick in the rear. May it be so.

[So here’s that Facebook piece, which I wrote while thinking of all the fine folks who have been students at the public schools and colleges and drum major clinics where I’ve taught, all of whom I’ve been able to watch, via social media, turn into people whom I’d trust to run this country.]

 

All right, my fine FB younger friends — a legion of wonderful people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a music classroom, or a rehearsal stage, or a high school or college football field, or a DMA parking lot: pull up a chair while I do my Wise Old Sage Of The Desert act.

I beg you. I mean it: I beg you — prove the pundits wrong tomorrow. There are people who go on the TV and pontificate because they’re paid to convince you that they know something about the world, who say that only a handful of young voters will actually engage in the political process. MAKE THEM EAT THEIR WORDS.

Forgive me, but I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that tomorrow’s election — at the all levels, federal, state and local — boils down to a very simple idea:

Empathy vs. selfishness.

Regarding virtually every important issue facing our country right now — climate change, health care, gun violence, public education, women’s health and rights, rights of people of color, LGBTQ and transgender rights, freedom of (or from) religion, immigration (CHILDREN ARE STILL IN CAGES), the Supreme Court, simple human decency, and oh by the way Congressional oversight of this corrupt bunch of pirates masquerading as an executive branch …

… the current Congressional majority and many Republican-held state legislatures have consistently and repeatedly demonstrated BY THEIR ACTIONS an utter lack of human decency and empathy.

So vote them out tomorrow (if you haven’t early-voted already). Vote in such overwhelming numbers that Russian meddlers won’t matter, that voter-suppression schemes won’t matter, that the corporate media’s obsession with pretending that “both sides are equally horrible” … JUST WON’T MATTER.

And at this moment in history, I’m sorry, but it’s more important to vote within the context of the political system as it is, rather than as we wish it were. Which means, I’m sorry again, that independent candidates can’t help us in this election. Down the road, perhaps; but not tomorrow.

Mark Twain once said, not without cause, “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

BUT … this time around, Democratic Party majorities in the US House and Senate are the only way to throw the brakes on this miserable Republican-Party-led executive branch (yeah, That Guy). The current Republican Party majorities in the House and Senate have, through their actions, proven themselves willfully incompetent at governmental oversight, and indeed at representative government at all.

So go to the polls. Stand in the lines when you have to. Send a message … to our elected officials, and to the rest of the world (most of which has quite honestly been watching us for the last two years with horror) — that we’re not going to just sit here and take it. That we’re not going to let selfishness win out over empathy.

If you ask me: vote blue. Vote Democratic. But in any case: vote.

My young friends, all of whom I’ve held in very high regard whenever I’ve had the privilege of enjoying your company … this is your golden opportunity, TOMORROW: to take this country back from the (mostly) rich old white guys who have used their control of the government to gather all the riches to themselves, right now — AND to work diligently to make life harder for everybody but themselves, both now and into the future.

Make the Women’s March and the Science March and the March For Our Lives and the Families Belong Together March seem like mere whispering tiny preludes.

VOTE.

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November 5, 2018 Posted by | civil rights, current events, Facebook, government, news, politics, social media, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

That Is All Ye Know On Earth, And All Ye Need To Know -or- Old Age and Treachery

On his late-night TV talk show, Craig Ferguson delivered a monologue about how American society has turned away from reverence of age and life experience, and toward the slavish glorification of youth. He delivered the monologue in July 2009; again this week, at least in my tiny corner of the online world, it went moderately viral.

Ferguson ended it with something of a throwaway line about a pop-culture phenomenon of that moment which has since faded, relatively speaking; if he were to make this speech again, he’d change the reference, and it would be fine, probably accurate, and just as much a relatively trivial punchline-ish way to end an otherwise pretty philosophical piece.

(I know something about that phenomenon, I admit.)

The video is here; it’s fun to listen Ferguson deliver it in his mostly-penetrable Scottish accent. But I include the text here, too, because there’s one bit in it that wasn’t Ferguson’s main point … but it got my attention.

 

“I’ve figured it out. I’ve figured it out.

“’What?’ I’ll tell you.

“Everything. Why everything sucks.

“Here’s why. In the 1950s, late ’50s, early ’60s, a bunch of advertising guys got together on Madison Avenue and decided that what they were trying to do was sell products to younger people. They thought, ‘We should try to sell to younger people because then they will buy things their whole lives. So we’ll try to sell them soft drinks, or bread, or cigars’ or whatever the hell they were selling them. And they thought, ‘we’ll try and appeal to young people.’ It was just an advertising thing, they didn’t mean any harm by it, just a little bit of market research.

“And so they did that, and they told the television companies, and the movie companies, and the record companies — and everybody started targeting the youth. Because the youth was the place where you were going to be able to sell things.

“And what happened was that in a strange kind of quirk of fate, youth began to be celebrated by society – in a way that it had never been, at any time in human history. Because what used to be celebrated was experience, and cleverness. But what happened was, what became valuable was youth — and the quality of youth, which made you a consumer.

“So what happened was, they started concentrating on these people.

“I know what you’re thinking, you’re saying ‘but wait a minute, Craig, in ancient Greece they deified youth.’ No they didn’t. They deified beauty. Ah! Different. Right?

“What happened is that youth became more important and became more important and became more important. Society started to turn on its head. Because with the deification of youth – youth has a byproduct. The byproduct of youth is inexperience. By the nature of having youth you don’t have any experience. You’re too young to have it. It’s not your fault. You’re just kind of stupid.

“So they sell you stuff. Right?

“So therefore, the deification of youth began, but the deification of youth didn’t stop there. The deification of youth kind of evolved, and turned into the deification of imbecility. It became fashionable and desirable to be young and to be stupid. And that started to become a fashion. And that grew, and that grew, and that grew, and now that’s what all the kids want to be. ‘I just want to be young and stupid!’ But you know what? That’s not what you want to be. You don’t want to be young and stupid.

“And then what happened is that people were frightened to not be young. They didn’t want to not be young; they didn’t want get older, so they started dyeing their hair, they started mutilating their faces and their bodies in order to look young. But you can’t be young forever, that’s against the laws of the universe!

“All of these horrible [trends], all of these terrible movement[s]. Nobody meant it. Nobody meant any harm. But now we’re in this terrible place where we have the f#@%ing Jonas Brothers!”

 

It really is even better with the accent.

But the line that got me was this one <*cassette-tape rewinding sound*>:

what used to be celebrated was experience, and cleverness. But … what became valuable was youth … ‘but wait a minute, Craig, in Ancient Greece they deified youth.’ No they didn’t. They deified beauty. Ah! Different. Right?

Again, not the main thrust; but it raises a question, the answer to which has been different in different cultures on Earth – and has changed within some of those cultures from century to century, decade to decade, even week to week, seemingly. The question: what did the ancient Greeks consider beautiful? What is beautiful to us? What is attractive?

I’ll admit: I chuckled at a few moments in the movie “Bridget Jones’s Diary”. Now, it’s a chick flick; and I am not a chick. But I’ve occasionally been exposed to them. (Ask me sometime about “Notting Hill”.) It’s my wish to avoid being seen as entertainable by anything other than highbrow, relentlessly intelligent artistic creations – must not glorify mediocrity! (I refer you straight back Craig Ferguson’s phrase, “the deification of imbecility”.) Still, some of those movies that aren’t exactly “Lawrence of Arabia” do have their moments. Like this one: one of Bridget Jones’s diary entries, as narrated by the wonderful Renee Zellweger:

Feel need to do something to stop aging process, but what? Cannot afford face-lift … Why do I look old? Why? … Decided needed to spend more time on appearance like Hollywood stars and have therefore spent ages putting concealer under eyes, blusher on cheeks and defining fading features.

“Good God,” said Tom when I arrived.

“What?” I said. “What?’

“Your face. You look like Barbara Cartland.”

As a culture, we’re pretty seriously hung-up on this.

 

There’s an article by Eddy Elmer and James Houran, published by a company called 20/20 Skills™, entitled “Physical Attractiveness in the Workplace: Customers Do Judge Books by Their Covers”; its purpose is to “review and summarize classic and contemporary research on the psychology of attractiveness and propose ideas and guidelines to help the service-hospitality industry seize opportunities to use ‘beauty in business.’”

This could be seen as an industry’s attempt to pull an ethical end-run on the government regulations that address discrimination on the basis of factors that people can’t control – their genes, hello! But never mind that, for now…

The authors first deal with “universally preferred physical features” that they suggest have been associated (across all cultures) with physical and psychological traits that can be indicators of good physical (reproductive!) health. Clear skin, vibrant hair … symmetrical face and body … some gender-specific characteristics that indicate good health, good ability to be a protector, good ability to bear healthy children. Humans seem to prefer “cuteness”, i.e. baby-like features that signal nurturance … and to prefer facial features that imply maturity and strength. The authors emphasize that “average faces and bodies are composites that wash out extreme ends on the continuum of various features (i.e., they indicate the absence of potentially maladaptive genes).”

On the other hand, the authors propose this: “In both sexes unattractive facial features [according to somebody! -Ed.] are often offset by attractive physiques. … [C]ertain physical, but non-anatomical features … can either counteract anatomical flaws or … can by themselves be more physically attractive than the kinds of anatomical features mentioned above.” They cite examples: a person’s physical style (posture, stature, gait, eye contact, smile) … a person’s body image (level of comfort with their own body), e.g. someone whose comfort with their own looks can counteract their physical flaws and make them appear more physically attractive than someone with already above-average looks [All of which is in the eye of the hypothetical “average” beholder out there somewhere. -Ed.] … a person’s level of physicality with others … and personal hygiene, grooming and dress (“in some cases, exceptional presentation can make average or not-so-attractive faces and bodies look quite physically attractive.)

Then they suggest “situational factors” that might go some way toward convincing us that someone is physically attractive, including: people who are familiar to us (you’re safer if you know who they are, screams our evolutionary sense – although, heaven knows, that is not always the case) … people who are in our general vicinity for longer periods of time than those who aren’t (Hmm. Bang goes “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. -Ed.] … people with positive personal qualities, whose physical imperfections we may overlook, and even notice less over time. They quote an article from BBC History Magazine, whose writer suggests that “[t]he overriding characteristic of female beauty is … charisma. This goes a long way towards explaining the appeal of women such as Mary, Queen of Scots, whose attraction is hard to understand from her portraits alone.”

One really interesting example of a situational factor that the article’s authors cite: “People with whom we have experienced something emotional or physically arousing are often perceived as more attractive than they were before such an experience” [i.e. after sharing a “heart-to-heart” talk, or enduring a traumatic situation, with someone – that person may seem more physically attractive than they did before the event] … due not only to the familiarity that results from being next to that person, but also the emotional energy that is created by the situation.”

 

As I was reading all that, and was starting to write this, unconsciously I started to assemble a roster of people I’ve known personally or at least have observed closely, who might defy current American conventions of beauty and attractiveness, or might not even really address them … but that I think qualify as perfectly attractive for some of the aforementioned reasons. Amongst them …

[] My seven-year-old nephew, specifically his face when he tells me a joke he *knows* is funny. Could be that there’s a lot of my Dad’s face looking back at me; but the glint in his eye is a world-beater.

[] People in the church choir I conduct, when we’ve just nailed the anthem of the morning and we know it. We are the very picture of facial and physical diversity, but everyone has that look of “…yeah.”

[] My two favorite performers from the original British version of the theater-improvisation TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway”, Sandi Toksvig and Mike McShane. Never appeared on any fashion-and-beauty magazine cover. Ever. But they could be among the very funniest, most inventive humans on the planet.

[] A couple I know, who will be married soon. Pictures of them surface on my Facebook news feed from time to time. It would be your call, whether you think either of them will make the cover of Vogue magazine, as an example of perfect American physical beauty. But when they’re pictured together, the way they obviously feel about each other makes them more beautiful than anything Vogue puts on its cover lately.

[] On any re-run of “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” when the great comedian JoAnn Worley pops out of the Joke Wall and ad-libs a retort to a fellow actor’s punchline, she makes you want to go in and take part in that silliness, too, doesn’t she?

[] I’m thinking of a particular college friend who, as soon as she stepped out on the ballroom-dance floor, possessed such grace that people could not look away. It’s arguable whether “Dancing With the Stars”, had it existed, would have felt the need to cast her, on looks alone. Their loss. In the moments when I had the good fortune to attempt to be a Good Lead for her, her dancing skills – and significantly, her face and smile – made me like myself as a dancer.

[] From a drum corps video recording that I get to see at least once a summer: a member of a senior drum corps who is very much a senior citizen, whose wealth of grey hair easily sets him apart from most of the other pit percussionists in the corps that year. He looks more like the current version of Jack Nicholson than he looks like Tom Cruise, by a lot … but the utter concentration on his face and in his stance always gets a smiling reaction from the Drum Major Academy video audience. “This bell-tree passage is the most important thing in my life right now,” his face says, and we want to hear him talk more about how much he likes his gig.

[] A friend and colleague of mine, whose smile alone carries the day when it flashes in my direction. Regardless of what the rest of assemblage looks like, pop-culture-attractive or not, that smile goes with me afterward.

[] The DMA staff members, of whom I have recently written in glowing terms. Some absolutely do fit the classic American standard of magazine-cover attractiveness; some fit to a lesser degree. But they are smart, funny, friendly, loyal, competent (as previously chronicled) … and when we re-assemble at whatever DMA location is next on the summer schedule, they’re the best-looking group of people I know, in that moment.

[] My late uncle. He had a number of non-average physical attributes, to say the least. When he walked or sat, he stooped over this way; he inherited the same limited-head-of-hair genes that I’ve got!; and he needed a cushion on his driver’s seat, in order to be able to be up high enough to drive the slick little VW Beetle that he did. He was not, by any stretch, a model for the next Greek statue to be chiseled. But when my five-year-old self brought out an armful of my newest toys to show him, Uncle Carl looked as interested as could be, and I was inspired to bring out yet more of them.

 

Every example on this list reflects, to some degree, the suggestions of a different article, which I’d read some time ago, and happily was able to find again recently. Which were:

Imperfections make people special. Be it a mole, a [front-tooth] gap or even a scar, beauty can always be found in these so-called ‘flaws’. Embrace the features that make you unique – it’s what makes you irreplaceable.

I suppose one could look at Craig Ferguson and suppose that he’s maybe not the most absolutely handsome fellow on the planet, and list various facial features or other attributes to prove one’s case. But there are a lot of people who watch his program regularly, and think he’s a better late-night talk show host than almost any of his competitors and colleagues, for reasons which have nothing to do with his not being a male-supermodel type. And I’m sure there are many people who hold both those views.

I think there must be a good reason why Keats didn’t write, in his poem Ode on a Grecian Urn, “beauty is youth, youth beauty”.

It’s not always.

August 14, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making It Look Easy

At this time of year, at least one set of students enters what is for them a new school building, looks bewildered, and depends upon someone or some ones to help them figure out where things are, and how to get from place to place.

In my particular school district, we’ve just added a new building, so the majority of our grades, kindergarten through 12, are experiencing a new building for the first time. In fact, every student in grades 3 through 12 are experiencing this newness. Every single student in my building is.

So I and my staff colleagues were the people who were helping every single student figure out where every single room was, including (crucially) the bathrooms.

Except that of all the faculty, I was one of perhaps a handful who had actually taught in the building on a regular basis before. Our new building is the old high school building, a relatively crumbly old structure that has, over the years, grown like Topsy – renovations and additions since its initial 1937 “birth” have caused a rash of half-staircases, not-quite-ninety-degree-angle intersections of corridors, and little nooks and crannies where interesting-looking pseudo-alleyways were created by the joining of the existing building and the new (in the 1950s or 1980s) construction.

Only half-jokingly, a number of times this week, I cracked, “you need GPS to find my classroom.”

So, I was among the probably only 1 percent of the people in the building who were capable of being a fully-functioning tour guide.

It made me think of my tourist experience this past summer.

In July, I decided to spend three days as a turista in Washington, DC. A lot of stories came out of that visit, and will arrive in this space in good time. But this week, I thought immediately of the first place I went, on my first day in Washington: the US Capitol.

That, too, is a building that was completed in stages, and can be pretty confusing inside, considering how straightforward it looks on the outside. Senate on that side; House on the other side; Rotunda in the middle; what can go wrong?

About four years ago, the Capitol folks completed construction on a Visitors Center – essentially a better way of bringing tourists into the building than had existed before. I’m sure that post-9/11 security concerns mostly prompted the move; but it also probably allows regular Capitol employees to get to and from their offices without having to negotiate the hordes of tourists – and even at my scheduled tour time, 8:50 AM, there were a lot of people coming to visit.

The Capitol tours start from below ground level and move throughout the building (except for the House and Senate chambers; you have to get a special clearance and escort via your elected representative’s office). They are conducted utilizing two main resources: each 30-person tour group gets its own tour guide, and each person in that group gets a headset attached to a receiver which amplifies the tour guide’s voice as he speaks into his own lapel microphone. That way, the tour guide doesn’t have to shout, and is assured of being audible to everyone. (It means that s/he can’t mutter to her- or himself, too.)

My group’s tour guide turned out to be, in no particular order, (1) humorous, (2) knowledgeable, and (3) quite young. If he was twenty-five, that was as old as he possibly could have been. By the end of the tour, he had proven that he was the best person for that job. By tour’s end, everyone in my tour group knew more fun facts and essential information about the building, its various chambers, its statue and art content, and its seemingly-trivial but meaningful details. After the tour was officially over, he instructed us to give him our headsets on our way back to the main Visitors Center room … and I’m sure that at least one out of every two people made sure to thank him for the tour and compliment him on his work as they did so. I sure did.

He did his job in such a way that I knew he had prepared well. I can only imagine what kind of training one has to go through in order to be a tour guide at The Seat Of American Representative Government. (Recently I had a conversation with a colleague of mine, and he detailed the kind of training you have to go through in order to be a tour guide in Key West, Florida … so on a scale of zero to Key West to Capitol Building, let’s just say I can extrapolate with the best of ’em.)

He also did his job in such a way that I felt like it might be a fun job. Whether it’s been a Shakespearean actor, a tour guide, a teacher, a professional athlete, a police officer, a scientist, or a crane operator … whenever I’ve seen someone do his or her job very very well, I’ve reacted by thinking, “that looks like a job I’d like to do,” or even, “I bet I could do that job.” Even when I’ve had no training in it whatsoever. Whoever was doing that job was making it look easy – s/he had done so much work to prepare for that moment that it didn’t look like s/he was working at it, and in fact, no one watching the performance was thinking about how hard it was. Starred Thought®: “The moment you stop entertaining, they start evaluating.” (Don’t honestly know whether the job of a police officer or a scientist is to entertain; but perhaps you see why that quote made sense to me.)

So this week, one of my jobs was to help a legion of new students in a new building (for them) make sense of their surroundings. Embarrassingly, I realized I couldn’t remember the name of the young gentleman who gave a knockout tour of the US Capitol. But I thought of him anyway, and hoped I was living up to his high standard.

September 1, 2012 Posted by | education, entertainment, government, humor, Starred Thoughts, teachers | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment