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In Any Election, We Get What We Deserve

Okay, the first caucus–Ohio–is done, and while there were some slight surprises, we really aren’t very surprised about the results. The top three Republicans and top two Democrats are the ones we expected to make a showing.

And there’s a reason for that. After all, weren’t those five people pretty much the only ones the media pushed? We heard every day about Trump, Cruz and Rubio, about the race between Clinton and Sanders.

Where were the others in the race? Did they not get coverage because their numbers were so low, or were their numbers so low because they got no coverage? Even the debate analyses–for both parties–focused primarily on the “top” candidates. You might slightly recollect Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson, each of whom once commanded our attention. But each fell out of vogue. More, unless you actually watched the debates (I didn’t, I admit), you might not have known that Jim Gilmore or John Katsich were even in the race. It seemed that with each vapid statement or unwise activity each candidate sank lower in the media attention. And so, with less attention, numbers plummeted, meaning even less attention.

Whatever happened to equal coverage? The outrageous and controversial rise to the top, crushing the others. And while none of the Republican choices is actually particularly qualified for the presidency, we get who we get—the ones with the most radical statements, the most money, or the most press-interesting campaign. And because we let this happen, we get what we deserve. How sad.

How frightening.

A “Blurry” Decision

I would like to weigh in on the controversy surrounding the idea that “Blurred Lines” stole from “Got to Give it Up.” Both the judge’s decision and the huge award to Gaye’s estate are ludicrous. The most ridiculous part of a ridiculous lawsuit was not the melody that was “stolen” (because it wasn’t), but only that the “feel” or “tone” of the piece is too close to the Gaye piece.

Excuse me?

If that is the case, then every bodice-ripping romance novel ever written about a spunky heroine at odds with a hunky hero owes royalties to Gone With the Wind or even Pride and Prejudice. The decision that a feeling can be copied presents a real danger to all future songwriters.

Even the idea that a musical phrase might be copied is moot—after all, there are only twelve tones in the western musical scale, and some combinations are sure to be copies.

Musicians have been copying from each other since the dawn of time. And as long as there has been music, there have been “music detectives” who chronicled the copied lines. My father used to tell me about an old-time radio show where the host took a modern tune and showed how various lines and themes were stolen from older pieces. The Web site http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/ SuspiciouslySimilarSong/Music explores the similarities between many songs, including works by the Spice Girls and Billy Joel. Rock and pop musicians have frequently “borrowed” from classical music pieces, usually giving credit for the lines, maybe assuming that by instilling classical music into contemporary pieces they are also stealing a little credibility and class. Singer Eric Carmen’s 1976 hit, “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again” takes its main line directly from a theme from Rachmaninoff’s second symphony. Procol Harem’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” is lifted directly from Bach’s “Air on a G String.” (No jokes, please.) The Broadway musical “Kismet” freely admits its songs are actually taken from Borodin’s “Polovetsian Dances.”

Musicians are influenced and inspired by other musicians. Sondheim frequently uses melodic lines reminiscent of music by Bernstein, Gershwin, and even Copland. Just as painting students practice by copying great works of art, so musicians study the melodic lines of past artists, learning to find their own styles through imitation of the masters.

The idea of suing for music infringement is a relatively recent problem. The Beatles were sued by Chuck Berry for taking his song “You Can’t Catch Me” and turning it into “Come Together.” (Here come a Blacktop, He was movin’ up with me” in “Can’t Catch Me, vs “Here come old flat top, he come groovin’ up slowly”). Here, too, the lyrics were set to the same melodic line and beat, an obvious theft, and the parties settled out of court.

But the “Blurred Lines” decision is disturbing: What constitutes a “feeling?” Where does it end? Should Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell, who wrote the Peggy Lee hit “Fever,” sue the writers of the Martha and the Vandellas hit “Heat Wave” for obviously employing the same theme and tone? This decision will rock (no pun intended) the music industry, creating paranoia among writers and curbing creativity. And we will all be the worse off for that.

Are Rising Gas Prices Your Fault?

After a blissful period of lowered gas prices, credited to the Saudi oil glut, we are facing once more rising prices, this time blamed on the steelworkers strike and consequent walkout of refinery workers. Surprise, surprise! We knew the relief of lower gas prices wouldn’t last, but what is interesting to note is that there is relationship between the two events.  There’s no stoppage at the affected refineries—substitute workers are keeping things going. But gas prices are still expected to rise, because, according to Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, there is a “perception” of an interruption of refinery service. Uh-huh. So the fault is with those of us peons who think that prices are going to rise. Wow, didn’t realize we had the telekinetic power to influence gas prices! So why do they keep rising, then?

And make no mistake, prices will rise. Despite no real change in refinery output, prices have already leaped higher on the West Coast, where negotiations between strikers and oil companies have broken down. Remember, there is no decrease in worker service in the refineries. The huge jump (65 cents a gallon, wholesale) is being blamed on maintenance shutdowns and seasonal price trends. Interesting. So the price drop we so briefly enjoyed has been blamed on one thing (the Saudis), while the increase will supposedly be because of an unrelated issue (the strike and “seasonal” reasons). And of course, the oil company profits have not dropped.

All of this would acceptable if we knew that those huge oil profits are being invested in finding alternative fuels rather than slipping into the pockets of oil industry CEOs. In fact, I actually would not be surprised to find out that this strike is actually just one more manipulation of the oil companies to give them an excuse to raise prices to last year’s levels.

There have been untold volumes written on the avarice rampant in an oil industry that thrives on holding the world hostage rather than increasing funding for research and development of renewable power sources.  Pools of fossil fuels, while vast, are finite and will not last forever. We need to focus on ways to utilize solar, hydrogen and electric power to end our headache-inducing dependence on a volatile, unreliable oil industry that is itself fueled solely by greed.

The Truth Must Not Be Compromised

I read this morning that newscaster Brian Williams had admitted to misspeaking about being in a military aircraft that was hit in combat. Williams stated that he had apparently conflated the situation, blending it in his mind and mixing his actual in-combat experiences with stories he’d heard from others who had actually been shot down. This has led to the question of compromised journalistic integrity, and how to handle it.

The idea of conflating, or blending two ideas or experiences, is not a new problem. It’s a trick of the mind that causes us to think we’ve experienced things we’ve not. There have been many courtroom cases where persons on the witness stand were manipulated to positively believe that they saw or heard things that were later proven inaccurate. The idea has also called into question revelations to psychiatrists, who used the power of suggestion to plant the seed of an idea in patients’ mind, causing them to “remember” things that didn’t happen. This has been especially frequent in childhood abuse cases, where sometimes “suppressed memories” have emerged upon intense suggestion by the analysts, some accusations of which have been highly questionable.

I know that I myself often find myself questioning some of my memories, “remembering” things that I know I could not have experienced, or embellishing in my mind things that I did, and can empathize with Mr. Williams. He has proven himself over and over, with a remarkable, honorable career.  I am awed and inspired by the man’s dedication to his craft, by his countless forays into dangerous situations to inform to the public, by his unwavering desire to present the facts on what is happening in the world, and by his honest sincerity and humanity in reporting. But I am also a firm supporter of journalistic integrity, and his has now been called into question. Journalistic integrity is one of the most important fundamentals of democratic life. If we have the slightest doubt about what our reporters are presenting, we have to somehow suspect that their reports are little more than glorified adventures or, worse, biased opinions.

Deciding on a course of action will be difficult for the powers that be, as Mr. Williams has always proven himself an impeccable journalist, but whatever the outcome, I would like to thank him now for his many years of graceful, elegant, and sincere reporting of the news.

Never Let It Go

This morning I happened to hear a TV interview with Idina Menzel, who expressed her awe over being selected to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. She then went on to humbly ponder the past couple of years in which she steadily gained fame for singing (“Let It Go,”) TV (Glee), and Broadway (Rent, Wicked, If/Then), among other career triumphs. Then she made a comment that hit me between the eyes—she said that whatever your age, if you work hard and keep going, you will “get your moment.”

So I thought about that comment. What Ms. Menzel said is very true, but should be taken deeper, beyond the surface suggestion. The idea of a “moment” cuts across so many landscapes, not just those of fame and fortune. For some reason, perhaps because of media saturation, we tend to think of success as something tangible and huge, perhaps great wealth or the adulation of the masses. But those moments are temporal, with little deep impact on our souls or the lives of others—Andy Warhol’s “fifteen minutes of fame.”

Now I don’t consider myself anything special—no Oscars or Tonys, no international recognition or lucrative advertising contracts. Yet I too have had my moment—in fact, many of them—in the course of everyday living. I have seen adoration and respect in the eyes of my children and grandchildren. I have known great love, and great loss. I have felt the pride of watching my students achieve and grow, and have reveled in the self-satisfaction of seeing a show I worked on come together and shine.

The real moments that make all our living and hard work worthwhile are the small ones that creep in and silently change our lives forever. Our lives are full of those little shifts and gifts, and we just have to recognize and celebrate the real moments in our lives, knowing that the others are just so much time.

Running in Circles and Running the Country into the Ground

Grrr! Is it just me, or does it rankle everyone that while we face the threat of government slowdown (yet again!), the result of this time’s congressional tantrum will include IOU’s instead of paychecks for military workers and other essential government employees, YET CONGRESS WILL STILL GET PAID! I find this appalling, and urge everyone to contact their congresspersons and senators and rail against the selfish, self-serving congress holding our country hostage because of pig-headed partisan politics.

Today’s Thought

It’s impossible to be a free spirit when you own a dog.

As an only person, when you take on a dog  your life is compressed into short blocks of freedom bounded by walks, feedings, and other attentions. Time away–even job time–is dictated by budget and guilt, while vacations are riddled with separation anxiety. It’s even more intense than having children–if you’re running late, at least your child can carry a key, open the door to get in out of the rain, use the toilet (flushing or not), wash up (you hope), and find the peanut butter. Your dog is dependent on you to keep him from messing on the carpet and chewing up the furniture out of boredom.

It was my own fault. I should not have visited the shelter that day, should not have fallen under the spell of the happy little dog who licked my fingers through the cage wire.When I opted to adopt my furry companion, I chose to forget the wild woman I once aspired to be. I would not be flying to New York or London on whim, dancing until dawn, or working a high-powered job that demanded long hours. I chose to shift my concerns to researching the best dog foods, working my schedule around a daily visit to the dog park, and accepting as vital relationships those established with a reliable dog walker and worthy veterinarian. I made the choice to be tethered to that ball of buff fur curled up under my home desk enjoying a barefoot massage while I work. I chose to exchange my freedom for warmth, appreciation, and a kiss on the nose.

I chose well. Good boy, Obie.

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On Guns

Well, today’s hot topic is gun control. On one side is the argument that a gun in the home will keep the danger out. On the other side is the cry that a gun in the home is the danger. Both arguments have their merits (otherwise there would be no debate), and both have a place in my head and heart.

I was raised with a gun in the home–my father was a farmer, and he kept a little .22 to keep raccoons and skunks from getting our chickens (coyotes had not yet become a problem in our part of the country).  I understood that it was important, that the chickens were our livelihood.  The rifle was kept in my parents’ closet, on the top shelf, supposedly away from a child’s curiosity. But for a child who had climbed to the top of the silo when she was 3, it would have been a simple task to reach that gun, had I been so inclined. Fortunately, whenever I saw him getting it out, I slipped under a bed and stuck my fingers in my ears against the devastating report.

That sound terrified me.

I taught my sons that guns were wrong, never bought them toy guns, never allowed them to watch violent programs. They made guns out of Legos and gleefully shot each other, the victims thrashing about in the childhood delight of pretend agony. I rolled my eyes and considered the argument of gender differences. Yet I knew that if something threatened my sons’ lives, I could easily point a gun and shoot to kill that threat.

That knowledge terrified me.

After I became a widow, my sons, now grown and respectable, suggested I might want to get a gun. I got a dog instead. But despite a home alarm system and an adoring, sharp-toothed ball of fur at my side, night noises can still make my blood flutter, and I know that if I had a gun, I would use it.

And that scares me more than a possible intruder.

Now, with all the recent debate on gun control, I have become more interested in the second amendment. I agree with the idea that we should have the right to protect our homes, but that protection must be modified with strict registration and compliance with training and safety measures. Someone like me, prone to quick panic, should not have any gun at easy access, let alone a semi-automatic weapon that can quickly expel multiple rounds. There is no one outside of the military or police who needs such an assault weapon, maybe with a bayonet mount or grenade launcher. These are the kinds of weapons we’ve seen destroying lives lately in places like Tucson, Aurora, and Sandy Hook. What possible reason could a person have for owning these, the true weapons of mass destruction?

Protection is one thing. Massacre is another. We must stop this love affair with guns. Yes, learn to protect your home. Take classes on safely using and storing guns. Or better yet, get a dog.

They love you back.

The Dichotomy of Worshipping Creativity

Watching the Golden Globes last night, it occurred to me how we Americans worship creativity. We hold elaborate televised parties to celebrate the creative works of everyone from costume designers to lighting technicians, from makeup artists to special effects developers. Our nation honors great contributors to the arts with large medals and an evening of celebration attended by the President.

But most revered, most adored, most worshipped are those who act, direct, sing and dance. One talent is appreciated, but multiple talents make us swoon: Anne Hathaway was respected as an actor, but when it was discovered she also sang like an angel, public adoration skyrocketed.

But those same people who are glued to their TVs, making notes on every gown and placing bets on their favorite performers and directors, are the very same people who are voting to eliminate arts programs in the schools, citing expense as a reason to subvert the very creativity they adore. Ratings for such awards shows as the Golden Globes, People’s Choice, Tonys, Emmys and Oscars indicate that they are being watched by a great many more people than those few who are vocally supporting arts education in our schools.

How can we so revere those (famous, glamorous) creative people even as we stifle the beginnings of that very creativity in our children? What are voters thinking when they demand budget cuts of music and theater teachers?

Where do they think the creativity of future generations will be nurtured and encouraged?

Goodbye, Mr. Bradbury

We grow, we blossom, we achieve, and do we ever really consider those who encouraged and inspired up to become the people we are or aspire to be? Some of them (many of them) are our teachers who see our light and guide us to brightness. For me, that teacher was Judy Dalton, who one day in Freshman English looked up from reading my paper and simply said, “You’re a writer.” From that moment on, I knew that, although I had been a writer all along, this
was my truth and validation—and my future.

But before Judy Dalton, there was Ray Bradbury who lit the fire in my soul, who caused me to write in the first place. He fed me stories that refreshed me, frightened me, surprised me, caused me pain and exhilaration. He turned my simple small-town world upside-down as I learned to question my very instincts, to doubt the obvious, to exult in the everyday—and to write about it all.

Although I never met him, he was my mentor, and I struggled to emulate him, writing fiction, essays, movie scripts, TV pilots, anything that had words and meaning. I marveled at his staggering amount of publications, his ability to write anything, any style, any format, and have it all sound original, fresh, and
personal. His works focused on story and meaning, encouraging me to do the same. Though I could never catch up, I knew he would expect me to try. I can
give no better tribute than to say that with his passing, the world is a lesser place.

Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for the inspiration and the aspiration.

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