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Friday, July 21, 2017

Established Institutions and Values in the Trump Era

    Six months into President Trump's tenure in office, many sectors of political discourse are debating the impact that's been had upon our established institutions and values. Of course, some of the people debating this are unintentionally engaging in high comedy. Comical it is because some of these types didn't care about these 'institutions' and 'values' when their guys were in charge. Matter of fact, they were more than happy to tear these notions down in defence of their own leaders and tribalistic instincts. Having said all that, this does merit discussion, as we are in the midst of an all-out attempt to diminish and discredit some of the very foundations of the American dream as we have known it. I'd like to touch on the big ones as I see them, not ranked in any order of importance.

    Recent polling shows Republican voters, by a margin of 58%-36%, holding an unfavourable opinion of College education, which mirrors the attitude I pick up from my more Republican-minded 'friends' on Facebook--That I'm just some College educated(I go to a Tech School) prick who doesn't love Trump. Put another way, 'Aww, look at the smart person! He thinks he knows something.' Truth be told, at least in the bigger name/higher price colleges, there is some need to take the piss out of these over-vaunted institutions. Take UC Berkeley, for instance, and the high volume of 'special snowflakes' screaming and crying for their 'safe spaces' every time Ben Shapiro and Bill Maher are invited to speak. On College campuses, the over-sensitizing that tenured professors are engaging in could present the Constitution's biggest threat in the long run. I also balk at the notion of places like Georgetown and Harvard, where you might have to shell out the entire nest egg and take out advances on Social Security to get accepted. Back home, the only thing the University of Georgia seems to churn out a lot of is people who shout "GO DAWGS" every day of certain seasons of the year, though I do hear they are a top Horticultural school. Unlike big name, big dollar schools, affordable Tech Schools train for specific career avenues and at least have a high rate of job placement. In more generalised Colleges, one can get a degree in vague, abstract course-work that has nothing to do with what a person really needs to succeed.

    The concept of a "Loyal Opposition" used to mean something positive. Author Pete Hamill, in an interview with Don Imus just before the election, commented that, as a Bobby Kennedy-supportive Liberal, he had respect for the Conservatives who would get up and shout out "Hold on! Hold on! How much is this all going to cost?" The now-grievously ill Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, in his ill-fated 2008 bid for the White House, emphasized his own disagreements with Barack Obama while not only dismissing claims that he was an 'Arab,' but also vouching for him as both a person and a family man. Now, the political poles are represented by Donald Trump, who litigated Obama's birth certificate to no end, and Elizabeth Warren, who compares people who disagree with her to ISIS terrorists. Their bases have fallen in line with the extreme rhetoric. Conservatives have by and large always been asses(I say that as a Conservative-minded person), but what disappoints me the most is that even Mr. Peace & Love Hippie, when you get him started, would be reduced to shouting things like 'I wanna f**king kill ALL of those right wingers for destroying the country,' resorting to the same "the American dream is dead"-like rhetoric that was a hallmark of Trump's campaign.

    I do want to take a brief moment to mention one good thing that's come of Trump's win, and that is the de-construction of the notion that one needs political experience(a most pervasive 'institution') to hold office. The real knowledge that's in the job, whichever elected job one has in politics, is with those who surround any given leader. The information taken in is more important than those taking in the information, and, as such, good advisers are the most important element involved in the execution of one's duties in office. Unlike most, I am not revulsed by the notion of a Senator Kid Rock. The job of being either Senator or Congressman is practically a nothing job, where one reads and votes on a lot of bills, sometimes even standing up and taking the lead in opposing said bills. On occasion, declarations of war will come down the pike. He's no more or less qualified that the woman he'd be seeking to replace, Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow.

    The media presents a quandary for me sometimes. Within my span of political consciousness, they have shown definite favour to all things Obama and an especially negative attitude towards the Tea Party. At the same time, even Obama has received his fair share of hard knocks those times he has richly earned them, and the best investigative reports have been done about both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton(not to mention her family's eponymous foundation). Even with their biases, though, I will still defend the media against the crazy coming from the White House and their defenders on state-run television(Fox News). However, even the alt-Left/Resistance has gotten in on the action, with Islamic activist Linda Sarsour engaging in hysterics with CNN's Jake Tapper, eventually writing him off as being of the "alt-Right." While she might be a more fringe example, I still don't make it a point to trust Liberals when they say they support the media. Now, that said, if I had to choose between media with a slight-to-moderate Liberal bias(status quo, in other words) and no media, I'd opt for the former. If the choice was between Conservative Cheerleading alter-news and no media, I would give a serious thought to the latter. Knowing their biases and adjusting the news reports accordingly is a good mental exercise, but coming to your own conclusions is much better than absorbing cheerleading.

    Music faces its own multi-faceted trials. Modern Country music has proven the unofficial respite for Trump supporters, what with its poignant lyrics about, among other things, beds, beer, flags, sexy girls, and trucks. Go into any Arbys or Bojangles(nothing against either of them), and you will hear evidence of this. The sounds of today are a far cry from the old traditions of the folk songs that rang out in protest of injustices and overreaches. However, the art form is also being diminished by the soulless browbeating about "a leader with no f**king brains" from former Pink Floyd front-man Roger Waters' most recent album. Real protest songs are supposed to fire the imagination, as opposed to scorching its green earth. At least Stephen Stills' recent song "Look Each Other in the Eye" tries to make a person think. No wonder huge sections tune out everything else in favour of Rap sounds--At least they actually say something, even if those words and sounds infuriate a person.

    Christianity, our only true hope, has long been in no need of enemies, both within and without. Rich LGBT activists are now taking to targeting deep red states in an effort not to merely advance their agenda, but as a way of "punishing the wicked." However, the Church is also being corroded from within. As one of faith, it deeply distresses me when I see people like Franklin Graham(of whom I used to regard highly) comparing President Trump to the likes of Biblical figures Moses and King David. One man of faith making ill-considered remarks like this can turn off a multitude. He's not the only one, by far(see Falwell Jr), but still the most disappointing example. When I was young, I would take part in my Church group's Samaritan's Purse-related activities(SP is Graham's charitable foundation, reaching kids around the world). Religious leaders should be about the spreading of the faith, and not about advancement of secular, worldly priorities and gaining clout with political figures. More Christ and less cash.

    For as bad as things may look these next 3 1/2 years as one nation under Trump, I can see how it can be much worse than it is right now. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could have been the GOP nominee and winner of the 2016 race. Unlike Trump, Christie is very focused and bent on dictatorial tendencies. Imagine the secrecy that would shroud his Presidency. With experience as a US Attorney under his (extra wide) belt, he'd certainly conduct himself much better with a Russia-like investigation than Trump is right now. Another fearsome prospect would be Elizabeth Warren running and beating Trump in the biggest landslide since the Reagan era. Now here is someone who, based upon numerous public proclamations, would have no issue with inciting violence in the name of advancing her agenda, much the way Trump has done. Unlike with Trump, though, Warren would have vast sectors of the elite literati behind her and justifying every little thing coming from the first female President, dismissing all from opposition to tepid support as 'extreme sexism.' So, as bad as Trump is, it can and probably will get worse.

Gotta admit that I'm a little bit confused
Sometimes, it seems to me as if I'm just being used.
Gotta stay awake, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise.
If I don't stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze? 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Post-Script: Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, a Band for the Ages

    "Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman" is one of those hidden treasure songs that grabs you and never lets go. When I first listened to it, trying to figure if anything good had been put on the notoriously underwhelming "Love Beach" LP, it took me aback that something this good could have been done at the band's nadir--Says something excellent about the quality of a band. The instrumental "Canario" wasn't a bad one, either, but by now you should sense that wasn't the ultimate stand-out. I remember hearing 'Memoirs...' once again when it came up on one of my burned CD's in late February of last year, and I marvelled at how they weaved that whole song together, just the three of them. Both the words and music struck incredibly powerful chords, in ways that not many songs can manage. Nobody gives this 20 minute piece the attention that's given to, say, "Tarkus." Curiously, another thought occurred to me, based on the news that had already come out at that early point of the year: It's going to be a really sad occasion when the members of this band start to die. Was almost as if I was keyed into something.

    Just less than two weeks after hearing that song in the car, the most awful news came: Keith Emerson, 71, was dead in an apparent suicide. It stoned me, a man of his copious talents being emotionally reduced to that. 2016 was a notoriously rough year in regards to deaths in entertainment, to say nothing of...other regards. Another thing that didn't help matters was the seeming contemptuous snickering from media and literati figures towards the fans of people like Emerson and Glenn Frey of the Eagles. They didn't want to know we existed, it seemed. Things were much the same when, at the tail end of the year, literally as I was reading an interview he'd done fairly recently, Greg Lake also died. He had cancer, and was 69. Wasn't as surprised over him as I was Emerson, but the duo-blow of Emerson & Lake was simply unfathomable. It dazed me that eternal fate could have worked out in this manner--After some of the events of this year, ELP and Allman Brothers fans can both relate. In the latter band, Butch Trucks committed suicide, brought on by financial difficulties, in January, and Gregg Allman died from liver cancer this past May. Both were 69, same age as Lake.

    Lake's death magnified, in a glaring way, what a horror Emerson's suicide was and is. Knowing he, the most talented and personable of that group, could easily still be living if he perhaps had a better support system and maybe some, erm, differently considered values(music is not, never has been, and never will be the end all, be all to life) is almost an overwhelming thing to consider. Beyond music, he could have still been here and serving as a continued joy to those around him and his fans--I have read about him only the most wonderful stories and recollections from friends and fans. That is truly more important than anything else. A dizzyingly sad reality all around.

    It merits a mention the most awful aspect of the suicide of Emerson, one that is especially common amongst school-age kids: He was reported to have read criticisms of his recent playing in the months leading up to his suicide, and he took these online bullies seriously, internalizing it all. He had issues stemming from various surgical operations over the course of almost a quarter-century on his arm and hand, which impaired his legendary ability to play. There were plans to tour Japan later that Spring, and anxiety over his performing ability was apparently mounting in those final weeks. The self-doubt and internalized hurt ended up making the fatal difference. It is difficult to fathom the darkness that anyone, let alone someone of incredible fame and fortunes would be in to take such desperate measures. This is something I, as a mere fan, still struggle to process over a year later.

    But the music, oh what a sound they made together. From 1970 to 1978, this band was one of the premier album-makers and live performers in the game. Just prior to the band's formation, and after his prior band the Nice had dissolved, Emerson, a keyboard virtuoso in his own right, had been in talks with guitar virtuoso Jimi Hendrix about being in a band together. The latter died before real progress could be made on furtherance of the idea(could the band have been called HELP?), but the groundwork for an adventurous musical template template had already been laid. While their best album may have been their debut, other albums such as "Trilogy," "Brain Salad Surgery," and the "Works" volumes offered listeners a varied hodgepodge of material representative of the band members' different musical sensibilities.

    It wasn't even just the music that Emerson, Lake, & Palmer made together that was great. There were also the solo albums, mainly from Emerson(Lake's efforts were only slightly better than the 80's average, and Palmer apparently picked up where the band left off on the generally forgettable "Love Beach" album). 1981 had him releasing his "Honky" album(done with reggae musicians during a stay in Jamaica), which proved to be his highest charting solo release and saw him doing promos on the foreign TV circuit. Later on in the decade, he fabulously one-upped Greg "I Believe in Father Christmas" Lake by putting out a full-length, distinctly ELP-flavoured Chirstmas album. The 1990's saw him, when he wasn't flailing away with the reconstituted ELP, releasing the ethereal "Changing States" album, featuring some stripped-down kernels of future ELP arrangements. He was also very active in the making of foreign film soundtracks, recently issuing a 3 CD box set of his film scores.

    One of the very best music purchases I ever made was Keith Emerson's 2003 "Emerson Plays Emerson" CD. If you get the chance, have around $60 to spare(it's quite the rare CD), and are a huge Emersonian, I definitely recommend this. Calming musical soundscapes mixed in with rollicking tunes--A real joy if you're an appreciator of all things Emerson. Might expend around half of a minimum wage pay-check, but well worth the while.

    The boys in the band were all 'meant to be near from the beginning,' and I'll wind down this posting with some words on my favourite ELP song. That song and Ten Years After's "I'd Love to Change the World" came to my attention in early 2009, when I was 14 and very musically impressionable. Both were acquired tastes, the latter being acquired some time before the former. However, there was something that stuck with me about "From the Beginning." Something in it deeply resonated with me at a time when I was madly in love with women on the news--The sentiment that they were meant to be there from the beginning. Love in spite of one's own flaws. No coincidence that when I saw one of my absolute favourites for the first time on CNN some years back, this song was among the first to come to mind. The "Trilogy" album became one of the first additions to my now-almost onerously large LP collection on the singular strength of that song. One of the truly great songs ever? In my opinion, yes.

"Who knows, who cares for me? C'est la vie"
Greg Lake, 1977

Abundances of Caution, Calls for Decency, and Other Comments on News

    Earlier in the year, I had thought myself fit and worthy enough to be an article-writing 'voice' for the blossoming "Resistance" movement. The thought occurred to me that, if they were serious about going places as a movement of some perceivable good, they could put aside their differences with me and accept myself and any comer with open arms. I thought I had a good perspective to add, for some reason. Never got around to making my request, but was still forcefully denied. They're apparently not interested in people who aren't of like mind and also those who would offer constructive criticisms. Indeed, the Pissed Resistance is no better than the Trump Crumpets--In fact, with their special mix of self-aggrandisement and severed fake heads, it may well be worse.

    And it was out of this camp that it happened again--America's second favourite pastime after gambling. Several weeks back, on June 14, a gunman opened fire on Congressional Republicans practising for a baseball tournament in Alexandria, VA. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and 4 others were injured in the shoot-out. The suspect was identified as a supporter of Vermont Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders' 2016 Presidential run. Summertime always seems to bring out the inner criminal in all of us--Within the same week as the Scalise shooting, the first anniversary of the murder of performer Christina Grimmie, the Pulse Night Club shooting, and the Brexit-inspired shooting of British Labour Party MP Jo Cox elapsed. This month, 5 years will have gone by since the theatre shooting in Aurora, CO, the deadliest in American history. Some Liberals could make absurd, tangential associations between Global Warming and Mental Health, much the way they did after an attack in Paris a couple of years back(in fairness, Conservatives never waste an opportunity to dream about 'good guys with guns'). Relax, relax. Take things one at a time, boys...

    For once, the Conservative argument regarding guns(good guys with guns stopping bad guys with guns) holds some value. Based upon all reliable sources reporting on the ballpark attack, it was Scalise's security detail(that which he receives for his stature as House Majority Whip) that prevented the occurrence of even greater casualties. For a minute, can you imagine the fallout from an attack of even greater scope than what took place? Elected officials, in a modern era of great unrest and unstable leaders, being gunned down by radical ideologues. President Trump and the 33 Republican Governors possibly activating a police state until the "bad hombres" are found and rooted out, and the President basing his entire re-election campaign on a proposal to "ban all Liberals until we find out what the f**k is going on." That's a dangerous road, not without precedents. All speculative, of course, but eminently possible given the present time and circumstances at play.

    Ever since the seeming lows of last election, discourse in America, political and not, has plunged. The above-cited examples are symptoms of the bigger issue. Ideological extremes have become our biggest problem in politics and society today. Bipartisan Congressional retreats haven't been a done thing in approaching two decades. We have entered into a time where acting like an over-grown infant is not only considered 'normal,' but is often seen as the only acceptable way to act. After all, to be decent means the terrorists(read: the opposite side of the aisle) win. Honestly, it doesn't and shouldn't matter whether you're a Keith, a Laurie, a Mike, or a Sean, a left winger or a right winger, one should at least know how to act in a public setting. One would hope decency and morality could cut across partisan stripes.

    It was asked by one of America's top pastors last year: "Why isn't decency faring better in the 2016 race?" I'll rise and say it's been an issue for much longer than this, though the last couple of years have provided a low-water mark. The notion of good Samaritans in a land full of Judaizers seems lost to the ages at times. In fact, if someone were lying and bleeding to death in the street, one side would walk right by while the other would babble about Trump's Twitter account, all the while the aforementioned person is bleeding to death. Actually, that's the perfect metaphor for the country right now. Both sides are beyond full boil, viewing one another as mortal enemies. It's probably amazing that more of these Scalise-like shootings haven't taken place so far. Personally wishing, and I know that's all it will amount to, that we could just view each other as fellow Americans who simply disagree as opposed to agents of evil who must be destroyed.

    All the talk of forged birth certificates, false flag attacks, and such of the like perfumed the air of discourse like a poison, sowing the seeds of deep seated rage and distrust. In one of his books, former CNN opinion-giver Jack Cafferty wrote that "If these two parties, however 2008 breaks, can't fix what's broken, this way of life as we've known it may vanish into some deep, dark crevasse." On cue as always, President Trump(who was incredibly calling for healing and an end to the violent rhetoric a few weeks ago) in the past week made his own special contributions to the "American crevasse," launching into his usual early morning tweet-storms. Thursday, June 29, saw him tweeting at the hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," bringing up bloody face-lifts and, the next day, bragging about his engaging in the extortion of the show's hosts. Sunday, July 2, saw him re-tweeting a fan video of Trump's WWE body-slamming of Vince McMahon, with the CNN logo super-imposed over the latter's head. Both prompted much outcry, but why? Everyone knows Trump's historic inability to see past his own hurt feelings and petty grudges. Why the surprise?

    As a matter of principle, I'll usually take the side of both Erin Burnett's present and former network(CNN and NBC, respectively) over the rageaholic at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The notion of "fake news" charges coming from the man who once pretended to be his own publicist is amusing when it's not jarring. Jarring it is when you consider the threats of violence that have been threatened against members of the "fake media" for simply doing their jobs(granted, news division Presidents don't help themselves when they choose stories like the Russia investigation based upon ratings). If I have to consider something happening to some of my favourite people, I might lose whatever composure and clear-mindedness I've long sought to achieve. I'm probably not alone in regards to a loss of marbles. Looking with dismay at the weak-willed Republican leadership and their caving in the face of Trump, it feels like Richard Nixon has come back from the dead and, at age 104, is bent on finishing the job.

    As a closing note, my own Bible reading has led me through the often infamous book of Revelation. The most polarizing Bible book by far, known exclusively for its sometimes hard to decipher descriptions of how the end times will transpire. In spite of a lot of people's interpretations, I ascribe to the simple explanation of this being a multi-generational re-assurance that this social order will pass away in time. "This, too, shall pass." Americans, and Earthians in general, need this re-assurance badly.

    Not the article I'd hoped for or wanted, but this is how it ultimately turns out. Hope it's...readable.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Eagles No More

    This day of the year aside, this story is no joke. The Eagles, one year after the death of founder/frontman Glenn Frey, are performing for the Classic East and Classic West music festivals this Summer. Ostensibly, this could pave the way for future tour dates with a replacement on hand, which could mean that this band soon goes the way of the Drifters and the Temptations in having NO original members performing the classic songs(one or both of those groups just announced new tour dates). For those in shock, I will give a reminder that this is the same avenue which is being undertaken by such Classic Rock luminaries as Boston, Foreigner, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and REO Speedwagon. Almost no original members comprise those bands' ranks, to the extent that many even survive to this day.

    More will be written on this matter by people more eloquent than myself, but I'll give my own thoughts: What a small, pitiful move by small, pitiful men. All we ever heard for months after Glenn Frey's death was how the Eagles were finished, and now this. Sounds as though Azoff & Henley just want a big, final payoff before they ride away into the sunset. The thought of the band's legacy seems to have not occurred to these men. By this logic, my long-held(prior to last year) desire for an Emerson, Lake, & Palmer re-union can now take place without either Keith Emerson or Greg Lake. Mind blowing, and not in a good way

    To divulge the ridiculousness, let me frame it thusly: Stephen Stills dies, Crosby & Nash get back together and replace him with Bruno Mars, and continue touring as 'Crosby, Stills, & Nash.' Can you just imagine a concert where Crosby plays, say, "Hero" from the 1992 "Thousand Roads" album, only to be interrupted by Mars and his DJ buddy Mark Ronson jumping up onstage and launching into the song "Uptown Funk"? Crosby & Nash mindlessly shake their bums and point awkwardly at the crowd('Croz Daddy's comin' to ya!') as Neil Young lays down some funky, mechanized guitar tones. Or how about this: The Charlie Daniels Band tries getting away with doing "Devil Went Down to Georgia" at the Georgia State Fair down in Hampton without Daniels--Put Marky Mark in his stead. Disturbing enough? That's the basic scope of Eagles, sans Frey.

    Frankly, I cannot respect the surviving Eagles any longer. The music they did as a band and solo from 1971—2016 will always be timeless and a sound that holds a special place in my heart, but they're all pretty much musically dead to me now. Any future music from them as a band or solo will be encased in that corporatistic, greedy sheen that turns me off to so much of modern pop music. Opportunistic money-grabbers, or pretty much the way Don Felder presented them in his book. They're no better than Elvis Impersonators at this point. Then again, at least the impostors do their routine with heart and soul. This is just a charade designed to keep those money-printing presses oiled and operating.
    Furthermore, I don't have any patience for Eagles band partisans who think this is in any way all right, as opposed to those who have simply accepted the reality of this taking place. How do you justify white-outing the founding member from the picture in the name of money? Are you really this hard-up for good music from this band? As good as the Eagles were(and I do mean WERE), you do hopefully know there are other bands out there. Maybe not as good as the Eagles, but they do exist--I listen to the Doors and Neil Young these days. The Drifters/Temptations route will not do wonders for this band's legacy, something which I'd once thought was important to Azoff/Henley.

    I'd hope one of the other members has the fortitude and presence of mind to sue the other members and Irving Azoff for the wrongful usage of the name, in much the same way Doors drummer John Densmore(curious what he'd make of all this) did when Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger tried to re-form that band in the early 2000's under the name “THE DOORS(of the 21st Century).” This was done an attempt to preserve the legacy of Jim Morrison, who had in 1968 gone as far as to veto the usage of the Krieger-penned song "Light My Fire" in a commercial for Buick('Come on, Buick, Light my fire'). I know Schmit and Walsh generally will do as they're told without much fuss, Meisner's probably too ill and taken up in legal matters these days, and Felder might want in on the whole thing, so perhaps Bernie Leadon could emerge as a hero in all this. Don't know, but perhaps hope springs eternal.

    Finishing this article, since I am sure Azoff and Henley will never give the fans consideration over their money and release archival live concerts, as opposed to putting on aniseptic future concerts as 'Eagles,' I do encourage people to buy the stray live CD's you find on Amazon. Suspicious origins, yes, but at least the money you spend is going to average guy eking out a living as opposed to buying the next Lear Jet for some quarter-billionaire financial iconoclast. And the quality of both sound and performance has been surprisingly good on those I've given a listen, or at least as good as one would expect of something billed as a 'radio performance.' Like with most things, though, the product does warrant some close examination before determining whether or not it is worthwhile. As these re-union concerts will no doubt show, not everything with the 'Eagles' name is worthy.

    “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”—1 Timothy 6:10 NIV

     (PS, this print take was brought to you by Golden Flakes, Mello Yello, and "Real Time with Bill Maher.")

Saturday, March 4, 2017

How Should an Individual Determine His Success?

    (Editor's note: Found this essay and several others while digging through my documents folder on my computer. With a few additions and polishings, here it is for your consideration. A few years old, but still relevant.)

    One of the bigger questions in life is how we judge our successes, whether they be in business, in school, or in personal dealings. It is in my personal opinion that the way to determine success would be to consider both everything I have done, the work I've put into doing them, and the impact that those things have had on other people, places, and things.

    Let's say that your work involves advising a team of scientists and mechanics on the inner workings of a medical device they are trying to build for surgical purposes. For me to do the job well, I would need to extensively research and bring to attention the most accurate and fact-based information I can find on the subject(s) at hand. The information accuracy and success of the device being created is pivotal, as there are literally lives which may depend upon this being produced properly. For me to have given the scientists and mechanics the information needed to make a quality, life-saving product would be something which I would consider a great success on my part.

    Some people like to gauge their successes based on how much money they are taking in, which is great if you are being paid to make a quality product which improves peoples' lives. That said, there are many others who are paid to do things that adversely impact people. For instance, mafia hit-men, prostitutes, lobbyists, Congressmen, trial lawyers, and General Motors' management are all paid handsomely for their efforts, while at the same time turning in a product that hurts, to varying degrees, the people for whom it is intended. As the Bible says, money(to say nothing of what the money is spent on) both corrupts and is the top personification of greed, the biggest root of evil in the world. My aim in making a product is to create something which serves people well. It would be disappointing to me if I turned out something that adversely impacted someone in any way.

    In conclusion, while there are many ways for an individual to determine his own success, I have determined that the best way for me to determine my own success is to consider what I have done and how it has affected people. Several years back, when I was writing a paper for a GED test on how I thought I would be remembered, I said that the way I would be best remembered would be for both my YouTube videos and my (dubious)presence on the political blogosphere, and the sentiment still holds true today. Whether or not that is a good thing is up to others to judge. While it is great to make lots of money, I think that it is better to try to turn out a quality product that helps people, even if it should result in my not being paid more for my efforts.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Life and TImes of Benjamin Franklin

    (Editor's Note: I originally published this 7 years ago, in another place and time. Since America finds itself at a perilous crossroads, it would do one good to look back at the lives of the Founders, who themselves were found at a pivotal point in our country's history. Revised and expanded from the original edition.)

    Benjamin Franklin, who would become one of the first great Americans and inventors, was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachussets. He was the 15th out of 17 children. His father, Josiah, was an immigrant from Northamptonshire, England, and a maker of soap and candles. He was married twice, first to Anne Child, with whom he had 7 children, and lastly to Abiah Folger, Ben's mother, with whom Josiah had 10 children.

    Franklin went to school for a short time, but dropped out and became an apprentice printer to his brother James. James cuffed him each time he made a mistake, and whacked him if he thought Ben was impertinent. While working for his brother, he played jokes, writing columns in the newspaper under an assumed name criticizing Harvard boys and other things, all the time using the pen name "Silence Dogood". When his brother found out he had been tricked, he was very displeased. At a young age, Franklin quit his job and ran away. He had a great interest in reading even before he ran away. He would buy any book that he could afford to buy, and he would also borrow as many books as he could, staying up all night reading the books. Franklin learned how to write by reading books like Addison and Steele's "The Spectator". He would take notes on what he had read and try to rewrite the Books like the authors' version. If he had made any mistakes, he would go back and correct them.

     Ben Franklin's careers started when he became a local printer. In this capacity, he set up the first printing press, moulding type from lead forms. He started his own shop where he printed newspapers, books, and magazines. He won a contract to print all official notices and records for the Pennsylvania Assembly. Franklin was also a community organizer and local businessman. He started the first circulating library in America, along with a volunteer fire company, the first hospital, and the first academy in America. His ability made him a marked man among people. He was appointed Secretary of the Pennsylvania Assembly and later Postmaster of Philadelphia. He was able to stop the money loss on unclaimed mail by printing in his newspaper the names of people who had mail waiting for them. When he was 24, he married Mrs. Deborah Read, with whom he had one child, William. After all that, he developed a simple and accurate way of keeping post office accounts.

    Ben Franklin was still very interested in reading, but he was also an inventor and scientist. He wrote and published the book Poor Richards Almanac. He often scorned his own advice about going to bed early because of his perpetual business. He had long hated the discomfort of homes half-heated by the drafty fireplaces; he therefore invented an iron stove. The back of this stove stood in the fireplace, but its grate extended out into the room. The Governor of Pennsylvania urged Ben to get a patent for his inventions, but he didn't. He wanted the stoves to be made cheaply so that many people could buy them. Another one of his scientific interests, along with his friends, was the force of electricity. Not much was then known about it. When a European scientist found a way to store electricity in jars or tubes, Ben ordered some of the tubes and set up a lab in his house. As he experimented, he suddenly realized that lightning could be a discharge from the clouds. In 1752, he sent an account of his idea to scientists in London, England, and Paris, France.

    To test his newfangled theory, Franklin and his son, William, went out into a meadow during a thunderstorm, flew a kite into the air, and brought an electrical charge down the kite's wet string. He then stored the charge into a jar of water and hooked a wire to the jar. Next, he hooked the wire to a bell, making it ring and proving true his idea of electricity from the sky. Because of all that, he was awarded honorary degrees from Yale, Harvard, and the College of William and Mary. He next invented the lightning rod to protect buildings from lightning bolts. In 1753, he was made Deputy Postmaster for all 13 colonies. At once, he began to visit Post Offices and improve the mail service. He put his bookkeeping system into every Post Office, hired more postal workers, and made them feel that carrying mail was important. Instead of delivering letters from town to town only twice during the winter, he had mail delivered every week.

    When the French and Indian War started, Ben Franklin had aroused Pennsylvanians to their danger. He started volunteer companies of soldiers drilling on the green and had guns placed on the Delaware River to deter French vessels. When the British troops landed in Virginia in 1753, Franklin gave them important aid by hiring wagons to carry supplies. All taxpayers in Pennsylvania were helping to pay for the expensive defense work, with the exception of owners of large tracts of land. To persuade the Penn family to pay their share, Franklin was sent to London. He was in London when he heard about the British victory in the French and Indian War. He returned home, only to find that a new quarrel had broken out between Pennsylvania and the Penn family. In 1765, after he landed in England again, Parliament had passed the Stamp Act, resulting in a fury of protests. When Americans refused to buy the stamps, Franklin was called over to the English House of Commons for questioning. He presented the case so clearly and reasonably that he was influential in convincing England to repeal the Stamp Act.

    For ten years, Benjamin Franklin was America's most important representative in England. He teased the British about their ignorance of America by writing funny, exaggerated stories in newspapers. In Germany and France, he was welcomed not only as a scientist, but also as a champion of liberty. In 1775, one year after the death of his wife Deborah and just after the battles of Lexington and Concord, Franklin returned to Philadelphia. He became the Postmaster of the thirteen colonies, a member of the Second Continental Congress, and was appointed to a Committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, of which he was a signer. Before he left for France in 1776, he lent Congress 4,000 pounds of his own money to be used for various projects.

    From the moment he entered the French capital of Paris, "The Doctor Franklin", as he was called there, was swarmed by admiring visitors, and his simple dignity appealed to everyone. He worked very hard, first securing formal recognition for his country, and then persuading the French of the advantages of an alliance. His wisdom and affectionate understanding of the French people made him a successful diplomat. The Treaty of Alliance was signed on February 6, 1778, and Franklin was the outstanding person at the celebration at the royal palace one month later, on March 20, 1778. King Louis XVI told everyone that France was America's friend and would help fight for America's freedom in the Revolutionary War. Five years later, the war was over, and Ben Franklin, among others, signed the Peace treaty. When he came home in 1785, he brought with him tender farewell messages from the French, as well as a gift from the King.

     In Philadelphia, when Benjamin Franklin landed, a tremendous crowd swamped him. Old and frail as he was, he became President of the Pennsylvania State Assembly and a member of the Constitutional Convention. When members of the convention would disagree, a word from Mr. Franklin would calm them down. When the Constitution was drafted in 1787, Franklin was one of the signers. Over the years, people like George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, and other prominent Americans visited Mr. Franklin. They enjoyed his books, the rockers he had made for his armchair, and a chair which would turn into a stepladder for reaching books. Even though he was often too ill to get around, he loved his friends, wrote newspaper articles, and penned his famous autobiography.

    Benjamin Franklin's last public act, as President of the Penn State Society, was to carve his signature onto a memorial to the State Legislature for the 1780 abolition of negro slavery. When he died from pleurisy on April 17, 1790, at the age of 84, the world around knew it had lost one of the first and foremost sons of liberty.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Remembering Lucy Knight of 'ER'

I never met a girl who makes me feel the way that you do.
You're all right!
The Temptations, "Get Ready," 1966

    There is something to be said for the notion of cinema being life, and the rest being a review of the silver screens. The construction of alternate realities mirroring circumstances and personal aspects surrounding many people does strike deep. When you think about it, your own eyes(to say nothing of your car's wind-shield) are 3D theatrical screens in a way, showing you many views and perspectives of the world. You can truly thank the Lord, in his infinite wisdom, for that.

    I've always been more of a TV series guy than anything else. Some of my favourites include "Fresh Prince of Bel Air," "Newhart," and "All in the Family." These days, I get into "Better Call Saul," as well as the comedy shows of Bill Maher's and John Oliver's. Stepping into the wayback machine for the purpose of this article, in the year I was 16, I watched old episodes of the TV medical drama "ER," which served as a unique, kaleidoscopic view of society. For a young person like me, that show blew some of my mind's doors off of their hinges. Naturally, I had favourite characters, those being Lucy Knight(Kellie Martin, of "Life Goes on" fame) and Robert "Rocket" Romano(Paul McCrane, of "Fame" fame and last seen in "Atlas Shrugged, Part II"). This month marks 17 years since the airing of the two episodes in which the former, my favourite of the two, was killed off. That was an important moment in my life, in a lot of ways. For some reason, I'm feeling compelled to type this all out right now. So now, kiddies, let's take a journey through the looking glass...

    My father had long been insistent that we watch this show. We had the first season of it on the DVD shelf for years, so it seemed a logical conclusion. As I had gotten myself into hot water over school grades, I decided I might as well acquiesce to 'ER.' The show started off serious, yet engaging. The characters and story lines were easy to get into, sort of like Campbell's soup flavours that way. Lots of interesting side characters came and went, never staying on long enough to engender feelings of attachment.

    The entrance of the Anna Del Amico(Maria Bello) character at the end of the third season added a certain something to the show that was not there before. She was the first one who was, inside and out, decidedly not unattractive--Qualities I'd never seen on the show before. Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of average, inoffensive women on the show, but this was new. As I saw one of the patients embarrass himself with...shall we say uncontrolled excitement, the seed was inadvertently planted in my head, puns intended, regarding whether or not she was 'all that.' However, it was all clear from the beginning that she was, like the Tom Petty song, too good to be true. At the beginning of the fifth season, she was out, but someone else was in. Someone who grabbed my attention instantly.

    As Johnny Rivers sang in 1967, "She stepped out of the rainbow, golden hair shinin' like moon-glow." After all, before there was Erin Burnett, among others, there was Lucy Knight: A stand-out face in the crowd running out from the subway terminal to help someone in need. With swiftness and deftitude, her actions helped stabilize a badly injured old man lying across the pavement. She was certainly not lacking in looks, being easily the most attractive lady the show ever had as a cast member. Moreover, she had a good, easy-going, compassionate nature and a desire to help people in any way possible. In these ways, she ably emerged in my mind as a sort of a female ideal--Somebody who typified all those things I grew to like about women.

    But there was something else that jumped out at me, something that rubbed me the wrong way as I was watching. Being new as she was to medical environs, she bumbled and stumbled through both small and large situations and procedures, some serious and some not as much. For me, it was like looking into a mirror. My inner self told me "You know, you two are a LOT alike!" I angrily shot back "NO, I'm NOT!" It was an unavoidable truth, though. For perspective, I wasn't doing well getting Geometric concepts down that year, bumbling and stumbling similar to how she was. I felt like I was watching the female version of myself in a doctor's coat, and to say it wasn't fun would be to understate things.
    By the beginning of Season 6, though, I was finally ready to put all those things behind me and embrace the new girl as someone to like. She had grown as a character--Someone who did good teamwork with Dr John Carter(Noah Wyle) in an effort to track down a dad with a rare blood type, and was actually willing to bang on the acerbic Dr. Romano's door at 3-ish AM for the sake of a dying patient. That's somebody to love. Why wouldn't I try to get past my own personal insecurities and prejudices?

"And fate is setting up the Chessboard, while death rolls out the dice.
Anyone for tennis? Wouldn't that be nice?
Cream, "Anyone for Tennis," 1968

    On the eve of New Year 2011, as I was looking up pictures of the cast for a possible YouTube video(the finished product was recalled--could never get any song I liked to mesh with that show), I unearthed spoilers that would ruin the show for me. The biggest one for me, by far, was learning that Knight was slated to be brutally killed off in the middle of the 6th season, the season I had just started to watch. I had no expectations for the new year, which set the stage even more. Imagine starting out a new year with a sense of foreboding regarding somebody you had just grown to like. It wasn't fun.
    The episode was as bad as I had expected, and plunged me into the depression I now consider my reality. In defense of 'ER,' if it weren't that, it would have been something else, and maybe much worse--My dear friend Tim died 8 months after I saw those episodes. There are ways I could be more sideways, perhaps even dare I say sunk, than I am right now. Just imagine if I'd seen those episodes without benefit of a spoiler! Again, not fun considerations.

    I never begrudged, nor would I ever do such, Kellie Martin for her leaving the show. Given circumstances that were said to be in play at that time(family medical issues, and such of the like), it was clearly the best decision. Those times that I've seen her name in the news, I am very happy with what I see. No, the ones I have the problem with are producers who wrote such a rotten script. Given that she was posthumously accepted as a psych resident, you could have had her going out in a happier way than this. Then again, I don't write scripts for TV shows. There's a reason for that, I guess. All I do is create fictional alter-egos and other characters to act out roles in my own alternate universe. I'd love to be a fiction writer that merges Norman Rockwell-esque sentimentality with Piers Anthony/Alan Dean Foster sci-fi stuff, all written in the style of the rock music biographies I so loved in my teen years.

    Her death started the transformation of 'ER' from serious medical drama to just another carny-like excursion in pointlessness, by the end of its run completely fading into the backdrop of all the other sudsy, soap-operatic piffle that constitutes modern daytime TV. That trend continued with the departure of Carol Hathaway(Julianna Margulies, an acting mainstay on daytime TV) later on in season 6 and the cancer-death of Mark Green(Anthony Edwards, of "Top Gun" fame), and was finally cemented into place with the rather ridiculous, to say nothing of unrealistic, death of Robert "Rocket" Romano. At this point, I cut out of the charade.
    Really, though, it was the introduction of two characters in Season 6, Abby Lockhart(Maura Tierney, of “News Radio” fame) and Luka Kovach(Goran Visnjik), that set in motion all the silliness, and I spotted it off the bat. From Knight's death on out, the producers could have just named every episode of the show "Abby Road," "Dear Abby," or some other stupid variation of the name. While not bad people, the clear intention of these characters was to take the show where it should not have gone, transforming it into "Love Boat" in a doctor's office(Perhaps "Calling Dr. Love" would have been a good name for this show?). Matter of factly, it was only recently that I began to take anything good from my 'ER'-watching experiences, the framed pictures I've had of Knight and Romano on my wall notwithstanding.

    Maybe it was my continued shock over watching her TV death years ago that was at the root of the visceral reaction of horror and pure sadness I had at the murder of Pop singer Christina Grimmie this past Summer. It felt way too real, as well as being a continuation of the theme of wonderful people being taken out too young, before they can make the best impacts on this world. Grimmie, like Lucy Knight, had her whole life ahead of her and endless opportunities to do good things. Both were even close to the same age when they were brutally cut down, and had surviving parents. To paraphrase something I said in a previous posting on Grimmie, they were both somebody's children. Then again, I suppose one should give less weight to Knight, as she was a character in a TV show. Still, the point remains.

    As I type this, I feel like it is 2011 all over again. I'm standing in a dirt-floored Flea Market, and am holding in my hand an old-fangled Mike & the Mechanics cassette tape. I'm still thinking of her a month after watching those episodes. Surreal how trips down memory lane work.

    Coming back to the present day, was watching a short clip from the show a short time ago(How NOT to Present a Patient), and it was everything I remember of her and the show's classic period, with hindsight serving matters even better than wild dreams. While I still regrettably have the anxieties and foibles I saw in myself watching her years ago, I handle it better at 22 than I did at 16. As such, I'm not inclined to knee-jerkishly dislike her for what I see--To the contrary, I can identify, even if watching her in action is still a little uncomfortable. Besides, I'd hope that I can compensate with the better parts of her persona: Good naturedness, a willingness to help, and to go above and beyond to make sure things get done as they should. Of course, whether or not I do is up for others and God to judge, and not myself.

"Presenting a case is like telling good stories: Succinct, focused, and to the point."--Dr. Robert Romano to Lucy Knight, after an botched attempt at presenting a patient

    All right, end of this rant. Some people say I should keep my feelings to myself. I think not.