Thursday, February 24, 2011

Any questions?

In the mid-1960s, a 24-year-old leader of the Free Speech Movement named Jack Weinberg uttered the famous phrase, "Don't trust anyone over 30!" The quote became a theme for the decade among those young adults who suspected that the powers-that-be were manipulating things in order to keep their power. Weinberg later admitted that he didn't really believe that sentiment, but that he was trying to get rid of a reporter who was asking him questions. The point for many of his generation -- the hippies, mostly -- was to avoid blind acceptance of whatever was being taught. "Question authority," is attributed to Weinberg's fellow radical Timothy Leary, but the lesson was the same -- don't just accept what people tell you, even if those people are important.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've seen plenty of images that have disturbed me. The protests in far-off places like Egypt, Libya, and even Wisconsin have displayed some of the worst human behavior. Mob rule isn't pretty, no matter how you slice it. And when people get in an unruly group, well let's just say they don't usually end up on their best behavior. Mostly, they simply accept what has been told to them and behave like those around them.

I watched a video of a woman yelling at someone she perceives to be a Tea Party member, calling him -- get this -- uneducated and "emoral." Now I'm hardly uneducated. I have a Master's for crying out loud, but I've never heard of the word "emoral" nor would I think about calling someone that when I don't know them at all. I've seen video of journalists who were attacked because they are Americans and America is the reason the world isn't perfect. I've listened to people complain that all union members are thugs. Now none of these people would fit into the 'genius' category, obviously. But could they really be that stupid? My theory: They merely accept what they hear.

If I were some kind of tyrant or an organization leader or anyone with a shred of power, I'll admit it would be tempting to require blind allegiance from my followers. That way I wouldn't have to put up with those who don't trust me because I'm over 30 or those who want to question me because I have authority. It's easy when no one challenges you.

But as a follower, shouldn't I at least be keeping an eye on those who are supposedly in charge of me? I realize that is probably tough at most jobs or at school, but whatever happened to checking to see if what someone says is actually true? Those of us who spend a great deal of time on the Internet realize that some sources simply cannot be trusted. And, when it comes down to it, even those we claim to trust may not be all that trustworthy. Yet I've been given false information by people who didn't bother to verify what they heard (or often misheard). If a speaker on the radio declares something as fact, why shouldn't I question him? If some television preacher states that something is true, why should I believe him without verifying what he says? If my doctor diagnoses me with something serious, shouldn't I seek out a second opinion?

The sad fact is that no one bothers to verify or even question assertions because it takes actual work to do so. Too many of us are too lazy or too busy to seek out the real truth. It's easier to accept what the television talking head or the preacher or the union leader or the lady down the street says. So the mistruths and outright lies flourish right beside real truth. We'll trust anyone whether they are over 30 or not. And the result is too often name-calling, violence, hatred, and foolishness. If this trend continues, and people continue to accept and act upon whatever somebody told them to be true, I fear for this country. I guess that makes me an old hippie.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Grammy Report: Music Lives!

I've always loved music. Not only was it the noise in the background in all my memories of my high school and college years, it was a point of common ground among friends.

“Isn't that new K.C. & the Sunshine Band song horrible?”

“Yeah, almost as bad as 'Funkytown' or whatever it's called!”

“Right on!” (or whatever silly expression we used back then.)

I can still remember certain points in my life just by hearing a specific song. That's probably true for a lot of people. For me, it's a little more intense since I spent ten years of my life playing songs on various radio stations across the country. I've heard a lot of songs so often that I can no longer stand even the opening guitar riff. That's rock, pop, country, and the dreaded oldies -- it spans many formats. As a result, I gave up much of my musical interests due to overexposure and a lack of new music that really interested me.

Over the past few years, I have regained my interest, and now consider myself somewhat fluent in current music even though my friends and I don't sit around and talk about how horrible the latest Katy Perry song is. I actively seek out new music these days, aided by the advanced technology of satellite radio and the Internet. So, as I sat down to watch last weekend's Grammy Awards, I didn't have to keep asking my children why Eminem wasn't red with a big M on his chest or why Usher was on stage instead of showing people to their seats. I knew the cast of characters, and I knew most of the music. For the most part the show kept me entertained, at least as much as an awards show can entertain.

I did notice that there is still a kind of reverence shown to some of the, um... more EXPERIENCED musicians. The show began with a tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, and later Mick Jagger paid tribute to the King of Rock 'N Soul, Solomon Burke. Ironically Jagger, who wore what could best be described as “skinny jeans” to perform, was only three years younger than the recently-deceased Burke. Make whatever you want out of that.

The biggest disappointment for me was another antique, the incomparable Bob Dylan, who sang with a voice that was really incomparable. All I can gather is that years of singing through his nose has left Dylan without a singing voice, and what could have been an incredible musical performance turned into an unbearable performance. I guess we're all getting older.

Oh, and there was an obvious plea for attention by a popular singer who arrived at the theater in a translucent egg carried by shirtless men in gold lame shorts only to emerge on stage to debut her new single. I'm sure she would appreciate me mentioning her name since she went to that much trouble to draw attention to herself. Oh well.

But I've seen the proof that music is still alive and well. I've seen the Internet buzz generated by Grammy performances by great performers like Mumford & Sons, Esperanza Spalding and Florence and the Machine. Sure, music has grown and changed in the past few decades, but I still love it. Music has power over feelings and emotions. Nothing can turn my day around like just the right song. And nothing can turn my stomach faster than the wrong song. Power is power. Right on.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Pick a superpower, any superpower

Most every person in my generation remembers tying a towel to our shoulders or safety-pinning a small blanket there and running at breakneck speed with arms outstretched pretending to be a superhero. Actually, that's probably any generation, so don't try to deny that you had Superman pajamas or some other such outfit. Superheroes are characters with superhuman powers. That's the key. Very few children want to be a superhero because of the high-fashion, skin-tight outfit. We wanted the super powers. Many of us still do.

I stumbled across a survey from Marist Poll which asked people what superpower they would like to have. The choices were: flying, time travel, invisibility, teleporting, and mind-reading. So, which one would you like? I'll give you a moment to process through all these.

It turns out that there was a tie for the most-desired super power. The results showed 28 percent wanted the ability to read minds and 28 percent wanted to be able to travel through time. Flying scored 16 percent of the respondents, teleportation got 11 percent, and invisibility came in at 10 percent.

There were also 8 percent who said they were 'unsure' about the whole matter. I worry about some of the people who choose 'unsure' on a poll that is so obviously not based in reality. Come on, folks! Play along! I promise you won't be stuck as invisible for the rest of your life! I remember seeing the results of one of those telephone polls once. People voted by phone and each call cost 50 cents. The question was something like, “Do you think O.J. Simpson is guilty?” and sure enough, five percent of the people voted that they didn't know. Think about that a second. Those folks paid 50 cents a call to share the fact that they didn't have a clear cut opinion! Maybe if you don't have an opinion, you shouldn't participate in the poll -- especially if it costs you half a dollar.

Anyway, I find it a little surprising that the old Superman standby of flying only appealed to 16 percent. Maybe there are many people afraid of heights (not that I can imagine a superhero that can't rescue anyone for fear of falling). Another 11 percent chose teleportation instead, since after all, it takes a lot less time, and you don't have to worry about being dressed for the weather. Can you imagine how cold it would have been flying around this week in some spandex jumpsuit? Snapping your fingers to get there sounds much more appealing in this type of weather.

The invisibility thing surprised me too. I thought it would be more popular. I guess the point of being invisible is to be able to sneak up on people or watch them without being discovered. Of course, if you're invisible you also have to learn how to be very, very quiet or else the jig is up. The other disadvantage to invisibility is that unless you have an invisible spandex jumper (which are probably available online somewhere if you look hard enough), you have to be naked to be invisible. Then we're back to being out on a cold February day again. Being frostbitten would probably take the fun out of being invisible, but that's just a guess on my part.

Of the two winners in the poll, time travel should be popular because how many times have we said something like, “I wish I knew then what I know now.”? With time travel you can! Plus you can go back in time and see the important historical happenings. My own worry would be that I would do something that would cause a 'Back to the Future” type wrinkle in time and louse up my own birth or something. Can a person be time-clumsy? If so, I'm doomed.

Reading minds is really the safe answer. We get to find out what we're not supposed to know, and no one is the wiser. It's like looking at the answers in the back of the book or being in on an inside joke. That, and we'd get to call people liars and they wouldn't know how we figured it out.

As for me, I guess reading minds would be my choice, although there were plenty of super powers left out of the survey. What about super strength like Superman or the Incredible Hulk? Or maybe super speed like the Flash? Or the ability to talk to sea life like Aquaman? Wait. Scratch that last one. I don't really need to chat with my fish dinner. How about the ability to heal almost instantly like Wolverine? Shoot, at this point I'd settle for the super ability to do my own taxes. Now, THAT'S a power I could use!