Friday, February 15, 2019

The Importance of This Moment

As some of you know, my birthday was on Valentine's Day. My husband took me out to a well-known French restaurant, where we had a wonderful meal. And in the midst of enjoying a dinner that was fit for a gourmet, I couldn't help but notice something:  people were busy talking to each other.  I saw nobody on their phone, nobody texting, and nobody live-tweeting about their food.

I have to admit it made me smile, because it's something I don't see very often.  Whether it's a rock concert, or a nice dinner, or a movie, it seems some people can't leave their devices alone. They can't just enjoy what they're doing, and be happy with the moment they're in.  There's selfies to take and instant messages to send and emails to answer... and it absolutely has to be done NOW. And don't get me started about folks who feel they must respond to every text, even if they're driving. Never a good idea.

I understand wanting to share an experience with friends. If I see a great concert, of course I want to let people know. But I want them to know later-- after I get home. I mean, why spend your time texting instead of relaxing and immersing yourself in the event? I've been to see some amazing bands, and instead of enjoying the show, some folks seemed like they were preoccupied with posting comments on social media. I know because I saw their comments later on. (But I must admit, given the price of tickets these days, not watching a show you've paid for really makes no sense to me.)

Before I became a professor, I was in broadcasting and journalism.  I often had high-stress jobs, plus I always liked to get a lot done.  But even back then, I realized there were times when it was good to take a break.  As a radio consultant, I visited many different states; and my clients often wanted to show me the sights their city was famous for. I learned there was a time for business meetings, but there was also a time to enjoy a national park or a local museum or a popular place to eat. And while it might have been nice to take a photo with my smartphone, I'm glad I wasn't texting my way through each experience. Sometimes, rather than preserving an event, the device can distract from it.

And that brings me back to my birthday dinner. I rarely eat out at fancy places-- I'm more of a casual kind of person, and my tastes are pretty simple. But every now and then, it's nice to do something different, something special. However, for me, the experience itself was enough, and I had no desire to interrupt the mood by texting or tweeting about it. Agreed, I'm not a famous person, so perhaps few people care where I ate or who I saw. But my point is sometimes, the best thing to do is to enjoy the moment; allow yourself to experience it, and be grateful you're there.  That's what I did on my birthday, and I was glad to see I wasn't the only one.      

Thursday, January 31, 2019

So Much to Do, and So Little Time

I was lying in bed reading last night, and an article in the Washington Post caught my eye-- it was about how most Americans these days are sleep-deprived.  There are many reasons the article gave, and I thought of a few others.  For adults, we are often expected to take work home with us: there are projects we need to finish, or preparations we need to make before a morning meeting or a class.  There are emails and messages we feel we have to answer; social media posts to catch up on; and for many of us, commutes are getting longer and we have to get up earlier to make sure we're at work on time.  For students, there is homework to do or reports to write (the assignments they've often left till the last minute); and let's be honest-- even if parents try to prevent it, many kids stay up too late chatting online with friends or playing video games. And a word should also be said about those of us with health issues-- sometimes, we're in a lot of pain, and that too can keep us from falling asleep.

And one other factor the Washington Post article didn't mention: many people are having trouble sleeping due to worry or insecurity.  During the recent government shutdown, many politicians (especially those who are wealthy) seemed surprised that large numbers of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. No, most of them aren't wasting money on stuff they don't need.  The problem is how expensive daily life has become in many cities:  rents have sky-rocketed and affordable housing is in short supply; medicines are outrageously priced (with little competition to bring prices down); and unskilled or semi-skilled workers are barely able to keep up with how much groceries cost.  In addition, even people who make a good salary can be driven into debt by an unexpected crisis (like a car accident, hospitalization, or... 35 days without a paycheck). 

But whatever the reason for the lack of sleep, it's a national dilemma.  Kids are coming into early morning classes so sleepy that they're dozing off in class (which never makes their teachers very happy).  Adults are feeling more stressed and more exhausted (and making more mistakes as a result).  As many reputable medical sites point out, lack of sleep can lead to accidents (drowsy drivers get into car crashes more frequently than those who are not half-asleep); it can lead to being less effective at work (if you're feeling drowsy, you are probably not mentally sharp); it can even lead to medical conditions like high blood pressure.  And the less sleep a person gets, the more likely they are to feel anxious, impatient, or short-tempered.

In 1942, the average person got about 7 and 1/2 hours of sleep a night.  These days, surveys show that large numbers of folks are living on 5 to 6 hours; some even get less than that.  There are relaxation techniques that sleep experts suggest, which work for some people-- though not for everyone. The experts also say you shouldn't keep your devices in your bedroom, where you'll be tempted to stay awake and use them.  I've also read about various changes in diet that are supposed to help, like limiting alcohol or caffeine or sugar.  But frankly, I think this is a cultural issue-- until we as a society make getting enough rest a priority, I doubt much will change. As long as too many of us feel constantly pressured, as long as we feel we have to cram so much activity into so few hours, folks will continue walking around exhausted. I'm one of them, and I'd be interested in what others are doing to deal with this very real problem.   


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Nobody's Right if Everybody's Wrong

I've always loved classic rock (of course, it wasn't classic when I played it as a deejay; it was new back then).  Sometimes, a song from the 60s and 70s will just pop into my mind, and over the past few days, I've been thinking about "For What It's Worth (Stop, Hey What's That Sound)" by Buffalo Springfield. When it came out, many of us thought it was about the Vietnam War, but it wasn't; it was about clashes between young people and the police in mid-1966 in Hollywood, California. Still, the lines about polarization, and how each side was convinced that their side was good and the other side was bad, really resonated with me.  They still do, more than five decades later. Back then, those of us who were opposed to the war were having heated and often-angry debates with those who supported it. Sometimes, the rhetoric got really intense, and just like the song said, it seemed like a no-win situation, since neither side would back down. ("There's battle lines being drawn/nobody's right if everybody's wrong...")

Fast-forward to today. As I write this, the government has been partially shut down for more than three weeks, causing over 800,000+ people to not receive a paycheck, and causing countless services people rely on to either shut down or operate with a skeleton (and unpaid) staff. Each side is convinced that their side is right, and the other side is wrong:  President Trump, who said on TV that he'd be "proud" to shut down the government over funding for a border wall, refuses to negotiate unless congress agrees to give him more than five billion dollars. The newly empowered Democrats in the House are willing to give him funding for border security (more immigration judges, more border agents, reinforcing the fencing and barriers in various places) but they're unwilling to give him five billion for a wall.  And while both sides are dug in, 800,000 government workers have no idea when is the next time they'll get paid.

I see this "I'm right/you're wrong" attitude in many areas of life, but especially in politics. There's an unwillingness to engage in discussion unless the other side agrees to give in (the "my way or the highway" approach); in fact, as some political scientists and commentators have noted, "compromise" has become a dirty word, which now carries a connotation of "weakness." In the border wall debate, each side's supporters are urging them to "stand strong" and "not surrender," rather than encouraging a much-needed effort to find some common ground and get those 800,000 people back to work.

Refusing to compromise wasn't always the default position. Historians note that many times in our country, voters demanded that politicians stop bickering and find some middle ground. Agreed, there were times this was not the case-- the Civil War, for example, and the Vietnam War era. But many other times, compromise was seen as necessary for getting things done.  Unfortunately, we don't hear much of that from our political leaders today.  Thanks to social media and 24/7 cable channels, the people with the most intransigent and extreme views are the ones who get noticed (and listened to). And as for everyone else--including those of us who DO want compromise-- we're left to feel like nobody cares what we have to say.

What worries me, as an educator, is the message this is sending to young people. When kids sulk and throw tantrums, we correct them or punish them; and we tell they're being immature. But when our politicians (and even our president) behave that way, they get rewarded with lots of TV and online attention, voters often praise them, and in all too many cases, they get re-elected.  We're living in a time when stubbornness is seen as a virtue, when refusing to give an inch is seen as a good thing. But it's not. It's telling kids that acting like an angry five year is how to deal with a problem. Meanwhile, 800,000 government workers are sidelined, their fate resting on whether congress and the president will finally decide to be adults and solve this, rather than only doing what's right for each side's political needs. 

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back at 2018

I first began blogging in early February 2015, because I was taking a course about Political Campaigns, and the professor wanted each of us to have our own political blog. I got an "A" in the course, but even after it ended, I decided to keep on blogging. I may not be widely read-- as I've mentioned before, I get the most readers when I blog about the rock band Rush; and I may not be widely known-- I've had an interesting life, though, and I've met a lot of famous people.  But blogging has provided me with a good way to comment on a wide range of topics; I'll probably keep doing it in the new year.

But since it's the last day of the old year, I have a few thoughts to share, and then I have a request to make.  Let's do the thoughts first (in no particular order): 

1.  It's good to be alive.  When I first began blogging, I'd recently had cancer surgery and was about to finish radiation. It was a scary time and I was seeking ways to keep busy and keep my mind occupied. Teaching my classes was one, taking an online course or two was helpful, and so were writing and doing some volunteer work.  Now, I'm four years cancer-free; and while I'm still not as energetic as I was before I got cancer, I continue to be out there trying to make a difference. To all those who are fighting this disease, I send my love, and a friendly reminder that there are more people being successfully treated now than ever before.  

2.  It saddens me that our culture (and our politics) has become so polarized and so angry. I see it everywhere I go. Even some of my students, my friends, folks on social media-- everyone seems to have a shorter fuse. Okay fine, we've been polarized and angry before, and I assume we will be again. But it still makes me sad, especially given that we really do need each other if we are going to try to solve the problems that lie ahead of us.

3.  No, Rush will not be reuniting, no matter how many online rumors you hear. Fans keep hoping, but Neil really is happy in retirement; Alex and Geddy keep in touch with him, but he does not want to resume playing.  Fan groups continue to bring together the many people whose lives were touched by Rush's music, and perhaps Alex and Geddy will find time to collaborate in the new year. I'm glad the three of them are alive and well and I salute them:  they've contributed to so many of us for more than four decades.

4.  It was a dangerous year to be a journalist. Nearly one hundred of them world-wide were killed, and countless others were imprisoned.  News organizations in the US were not immune: individual reporters received numerous death threats, some received pipe bombs in the mail, and others were shot at (or in the case of five employees of Capital Gazette in Annapolis MD, or Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, murdered).  While it has become fashionable to mock and condemn journalists and accuse them of lying, most of these men and women are honest and hardworking and many put themselves in danger every day to keep us informed. They deserve our appreciation rather than our scorn.

5.  In addition to journalists, we lost a lot of other good people, in all walks of life. I was always a fan of former first lady Barbara Bush; and Steven Bochco created two of my favorite TV series ("Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue").  Linda Brown, the young girl at the center of the 1954 "Brown versus the Board of Education" decision, passed away in 2018,  as did Marvel comic book legend Stan Lee. Locally, I will miss Judge Joseph Tauro, a passionate advocate for people with disabilities, and Gil Santos-- for many years, the radio voice of the New England Patriots.  I will miss Boston television announcer Frank Avruch (he played the role of Bozo the Clown on Boston TV when I was growing up).  In addition, I will miss radio and TV talk show host Ed Schultz--  while he was never as famous as his right-wing counterparts, he proved that progressive talk could find an audience and make a profit.

6.  And while I know this will offend some folks, I still believe there are too many guns falling into the wrong hands. As a result, too many students got shot and/or killed this year (more than 100 kids over all).  I'm not opposed to the Second Amendment, and I have friends who are sport-shooters.  But I'm not okay about kindergarten kids having to do "active shooter drills" (a traumatizing experience) or teachers carrying guns in the classroom.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: nobody other than the military and law enforcement needs an assault-style weapon.

Okay, now for the request.  Regarding point number 2, please vow to be part of the solution in 2019, rather than part of the problem. I know that social media can be a great place for sarcasm and snark and rudeness. But the next time you receive a meme that demonizes the folks on the other side, could you possibly NOT forward it to everyone you know, and not "like" it? Most of the memes I see contain fake quotes, and all they do is contribute to more rage, more stereotyping, and more name-calling.  I'm not a "lib-tard" and I hate it when someone sends me a message about "you libs." In the new year, let's disagree courteously, and try to respect each other's views. Thanks for reading me, and I send lots of love and good wishes for a happy & healthy 2019.  

    

Saturday, December 15, 2018

A December to Remember

I'll admit it: I've never been a big fan of December.  The weather is usually cold here, and it gets dark around 4 pm.  Traffic is brutal (everyone doing their last-minute holiday shopping), and the majority of the mail I get seems to be asking for donations (I had no idea there were so many worthy causes).  And yet, for the past few years, I find myself feeling a lot kinder towards December, because it was in that month that two memorable events occurred.

One of those memorable events occurred on a Tuesday afternoon, 11 December 2012. I was sitting in a faculty meeting, when suddenly my cellphone began to vibrate. Most of my friends know I'm at work during the day, so I rarely get calls. I remember thinking it must be an emergency of some kind, but when I stepped out of the room to see what was going on, it was a number of Rush fans, as well as radio and TV stations, letting me know the guys had finally been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The next day, I got interviewed by CTV in Toronto, and then several Boston stations, and the Boston Globe and the Quincy Patriot-Ledger... Rush's management called me... it was quite a week, to say the least. After the initial shock wore off (so many of us had worked for so long, lobbying the Rock Hall, and it took far too long for Rush to get the respect they deserved), I had time to rejoice with the world-wide community of Rush fans, culminating four months later, with the induction ceremony in Los Angeles. And though it's now been six years since that day when I got the news, it seems like only yesterday, and every year, I am reminded of it when December rolls around.

The other memorable event was quite different:  it took place on a Wednesday morning, 17 December 2014, the day I had surgery for cancer. In late November, I had received the phone call no-one wants to get; but once I knew what I had, the doctors wanted to attack it aggressively. Interestingly, I had an all-female medical team: the oncologist, anesthesiologist, and all the nurses were women.  And fortunately for me, the news was encouraging:  I had a type of cancer that, since it was caught early, would be very treatable.  Still, it was a scary time for me, as I'm sure you can understand.  After I had the surgery, it was followed by a month of out-patient radiation (no fun, but necessary).  During that period of time, I was greatly comforted by my faith, and by the kindness of my husband (who baked me wonderful pies to cheer me up); but what also meant a lot was my friends-- many of whom are members of that previously-mentioned world-wide community of Rush fans.  I'm about to be four years cancer-free now, and while I still have times when I worry, what comes up for me each December is a feeling of gratitude-- no matter how many frustrations and problems I may have, it's still good to be alive. I appreciate every day, and I try to use it for a positive purpose.

And if I have a message to share, it's this: you really can't predict what's going to happen. It might be a wonderful experience (like finding out my favorite band was finally inducted into the Rock Hall and I was invited to be there); or it might be a frightening experience (like finding out that I had cancer).  But the wheel turns, and things rarely stay the same. I say this because some people at this time of year are feeling depressed, or they miss someone they've lost; or perhaps they just don't like December. All I can say is, when you least expect it, things can, and do, get better. And when you think you are alone, you're really not-- there are people who care about you.  One of them wrote this blog post.  And however you spend this holiday season, may you find reasons to be cheerful... and reasons to be grateful.   
  

Friday, November 30, 2018

"Begin the Day with a Friendly Voice"

As some of you know, on November 19, 2018, I won the 9th Annual Collectors Prize from an organization called Historic New England, for my collection of memorabilia about the history of broadcasting (especially radio).  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10156840135181407&set=a.10150195599766407&type=3&theater 

In my acceptance speech, I spoke about why I collect such things as old playlists and top-40 surveys; old radio station postcards; magazines about the hit songs of different eras; and rare photos of some of broadcasting's earliest studios, announcers, and sportscasters.  No, I'm not just a pack rat, although most collectors (myself included) do seem to enjoy preserving lots of old artifacts. But there's a good reason for collecting: we're trying to keep important aspects of our past alive, so that future generations will better understand what life was like.  Yes, you can look at a lot of these items online; but being able to actually hold them in your hands, as people from that era did, is a very powerful experience.

For me, another thing I am trying to do is to say "thank you" to the men and women who came before me, the people who created the industry in which I spent nearly four decades. One of these pioneering broadcasters was Eunice Randall. In radio's earliest years, she was greater Boston's first female announcer (and one of the first in the USA), who also worked in a factory helping to assemble radio receivers and doing technical drawings. Since the late 1990s, it has been my privilege to research and tell Eunice's story, writing her and other forgotten women back into the history of broadcasting.  (I even wrote a book about it, "Invisible Stars: A Social History of Women in American Broadcasting," now in a 2nd edition.)  And yes, I've also found a number of interesting men, who may never have achieved national fame but who were popular at their local station. I tell their stories too.

In my opinion, history doesn't have to be dry and boring.  It's the story of real people-- how they lived, what they accomplished, why they still matter.  That's how I present the history of broadcasting when I give talks at libraries, museums, and schools. And I bring some of my rare memorabilia, so the audience can go back in time and see what people from that era saw. Sometimes, I meet living relatives of the people I've researched, which is always exciting for me. Sometimes, audience members tell me how fondly they remember some of the people I'm discussing. And as I tell these stories, my collection makes the anecdotes and the historical facts more real-- which is exactly what I want it to do.

Perhaps you have older relatives who might enjoy reminiscing about that "friendly voice" they enjoyed hearing each day.  Or perhaps you met someone who used to be on the air, and you can make sure their story lives on.  Today, radio may not be as dominant a medium as it once was, but for so many years, it made millions of people happy; and based on the reaction I get when I give my talks, there are still many people who grew up with radio, still many people who listen even now. So, I will keep doing my research, keep collecting, keep looking for stories I can tell, and do my part to make sure that the spirit of radio lives on.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Why Everyone Should Defend Jim Acosta (Even Folks Who Dislike Him)

Let's face it:  freedom of the press is not something most people think about.  In fact, in our polarized political universe, many people believe the folks on "the other side" don't really deserve to have it. Whether it's Sean Hannity on the right or Rachel Maddow on the left, social media is filled with mocking comments from people who dislike them and/or disagree with their views.

And that's okay.  They both understand that what they say will get some people upset. Since they are commentators, their job is to express their opinion; and as long as they continue to get lots of viewers, chances are their respective channels will keep them on the air, whether some folks like them or not.

But reporters are in a different situation.  Their job is to inform the public and seek out the facts. Not every reporter sees a story in the same way:  Bret Baier of Fox News and Andrea Mitchell of NBC/MSNBC might approach that story from different perspectives.  But neither will put partisan opinion into the reporting, and neither will intentionally distort what happened.

And then, there's the White House press briefings. Reporters have grumbled about them for years, saying not much news takes place during a typical briefing; but they all feel they ought to be there, just in case.  Every president has a press secretary, and his or her job seems to be giving as many vague non-answers as possible, while avoiding any awkward or embarrassing replies that would make the president look bad. Radio, TV, and print outlets select the reporters who will cover these press briefings: and if you're a TV reporter, your mission is to be seen on camera asking a question, even if the answer you're given isn't terribly exciting.

What does get exciting is when the president himself takes questions. It doesn't always happen-- in fact, you can find out at this website https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/statistics/data/presidential-news-conferences how many times modern presidents have held a press conference.  Last week, when President Trump spoke to the press, there was a heated interchange between him and his favorite foil, CNN's Jim Acosta.  It concluded with Mr. Trump berating the reporter, calling him names, and then ordering his press pass to be taken away.

Many conservatives on social media applauded. They've been told repeatedly that CNN is "fake news" and that Mr. Acosta is the worst, most biased reporter.  But whether folks like him or hate him, taking away his press pass sets a dangerous precedent. It's only in autocracies and third-world dictatorships that powerful leaders punish the reporters they dislike, or select which reporters have the right to cover the news.  In America, it's the networks and the newspapers that decide who's in the press conferences-- not the president.

And that's the way it should be. For those who hate Jim Acosta, you have a right to your opinion. But beware the slippery slope:  if it's okay for a Republican to ban a reporter, what happens when a Democrat takes over the White House? Will it be open season on reporters that president dislikes? Frankly, I like the system we currently have-- the one where all the TV and radio networks and all the print publications select who will represent them in the room, and the president stays out of it.

As I write this, CNN has just won the first round of a law suit to get Mr. Acosta's press pass back. (The judge was appointed by President Trump, by the way; but his ruling to return it, temporarily, was because Mr. Acosta was never given due process.)  And whether the case is ultimately won or lost in court, I'm hoping sanity will prevail and the president will stop being vengeful towards the media who cover him.  It's not their job to be nice to him; it's their job to ask him tough questions. As far back as Thomas Jefferson, presidents have expressed dislike for the press; but they've also acknowledged how important a free press is to our democracy. Mr. Trump seems to have forgotten that. Someone really needs to remind him.