Category Archives: Media

Out and about with the down and out

Comedian Dennis Miller was recently asked by now-disgraced pundit Bill O’Reilly how things were going in his home city of Santa Barbara, California.

Miller said something to the effect,”I tell ya Billy. I only go out when I have to. I leave home, do my business and scamper back to the compound as quickly as possible.”

Hisstatement comes as a surprise considering that he lives in a resort city with a Mediterranean climate. The inference from Miller was that the world has just become too full of nutcakes  who make modern life just completely unpalatable, even in a place like Santa Barbara.

Yesterday, after I had spent some time in downtown Los Angeles and nearby Pasadena, my brother asked me how it went. My response was similar to Miller’s.  I mainly was trying to get a laugh out of my brother because in truth yesterday’s experience was different than the comedian’s, even though I did indeed meet up with what most people would say is a strange dude.

After dropping my brother off at work, I traveled to Pasadena and took the light rail to Union Station with a friend to view a Nordic exhibit featuring food and nature scenes from the region. We were both interested because we had once lived in Finland.

Before I had even looked at one image, a fellow was in my face. My normal response over the course of my life when accosted by strangers in public transportation centers has been to flee the scene as quickly as possible. But for some reason, this time I took a different approach. I carried on a conversation with Jorge.*

We talked and I think at first I didn’t understand that this middle-aged man might be mentally ill or perhaps homeless.  We quickly got into details of our personal lives and I found we had a lot in common.

However, at times my new friend seemed a bit unhinged, at least for my taste. Jorge hugged me twice, which made me a little uncomfortable because I am not a “hugger”, especially with men. Fiat times came close to breaking into tears when I shared something about myself that moved him.

In addition, he tended to drop f-bombs regularly, complained about security at the train station harassing him and made comments to passing females.

Although my pal claimed to have a job, a wife and a home and also said that he had just come from a doctor’s appointment, he seemed to linger at our venue. His backpack was parked over in a seat in the station lounge.

Further, Jorge’s demeanor wasn’t one you would expect from a person you had just met. He followed me around the exhibit and kept talking.

Unusually for me, I took it all in stride. In fact, although I don’t think I did anything untoward, I think he might have wearied of me. He said he had to go to the rest room and left, never to be seen again.

I jokingly told me friend that perhaps I had been more overbearing than Jorge was and he had had enough.

I believe my newly minted view toward talking at length to strangers, even those who seem down and out, has come from my own encounter with setbacks in life. I guess what they say is true, that life tends to keep you humble.

It’s not that I have totally objected to talking with unfamiliar people in public places before I met the train station man. In my travels in the US and abroad I have grown bolder.

Just this week I introduced myself to an old age pensioner in Starbucks. He was wearing a hat with the moniker “Sisu”emblazoned above the lid. The term is Finnish and is loosely translated “guts” (i.e., courage, determination and toughness).

Having lived in Finland and knowing that the language isn’t exactly common in Los Angeles, I was curious. I figured the man must be from there or at least had traveled to this out-of-the way place.

Turns out he was that Los Angeles rarity: a transplanted Finn. Heikki and I had a lengthy conversation about his homeland, California and our lives in general.

I was amazed when he explained that he was born in Rovaniemi, a city on the Arctic Circle pillaged by the Germans in World War II and had to flee to Sweden at the age of one. I have a relative from there who had the same experience.

It was interesting to learn of his travels in Europe after the war and his eventual location to California to become an engineer. He told me he worked for decades in the aeronautical industry and even for the C.I.A.

The reason I was willing to approach Heikki was that we were in a Starbucks frequented by paying customers. Unlike loiters in bus and train stations, I could expect that the inhabitants of the coffee shop were not threatening. (I hope Heikki had the same expectation. He could have had questions when I walked across the room to introduce myself. I don’t always look that approachable.)

I noticed that I was tempted to revert to my unwelcoming attitude toward the debilitated when my friend and I returned to Pasadena. On the train back I held a mildly negative view toward a peculiar fellow who felt free to impose himself on our conversation about the fascinating local natural phenomenon, the Jacaranda tree. But I didn’t hold my disdain for long. I was mostly amused.

I was less amused when a young man came by our table as we dined and asked for food. When another clearly homeless and aging man sat on the sidewalk and directed some unintelligible verbal ire toward us as we exited the restaurant, I also wasn’t pleased. But to be honest, I was more annoyed with the restaurant for allowing these men to harass its customers.

It’s not that I lack compassion. It’s just that I feel a bit put out because I don’t personally have the wherewithal to deal with all of society’s less fortunate.

I know there are government and private institutions out there that will help them.  They don’t need to be harassing the general public as they go about their business. I tend to get unhappy when  I face off with these folks because I feel they are choosing to take this approach to dealing with their lack instead of making use of the resources available to them.

Even so, I hope my attitude from yesterday’s meet and greet with Jorge at the train continues and grows. As a Christian, I walk around with the subliminal question “what would Jesus  do?” floating around in my brain when I face off with the distressed.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the way I handled the situation with Jorge yesterday was more in line with how Jesus would have responded. In fact, while taking the time to talk with him, I was briefly able to share my faith and perhaps move Jorge toward faith.

In the  final analysis, the state of his eternal soul is more important than improving his physical and mental condition.

 

 

 

 

*(name changed to protect the innocent)

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Christianity, Finland, Homeless, Jesus Christ, Media, redemption, religion, Uncategorized

How my TV viewing influences my writing

I have always had an awkward friendship with writing.

When I was in journalism school our connection was more of a love/hate relationship. There were times I was really “jazzed” about a career in print. Then there were the other times.

When I got out of school, I gave a fair to middlin’ effort in finding a job with a newspaper. However, as I lived in our nation’s capital I faced a dilemma. My attempt at looking for work locally was akin to a high school player attempting to sign on to the Washington Redskins to play professional football. I lived in  a major league city where the big boys and girls already had a spot on the team.

What I needed to do was go to small town America to hone my skills and gain some experience. At least, that’s what I was told.

But at the time I was a big city guy and liked DC. So I demurred. Ironically, I have spent about a third of my life in Podunk since then, but working as an educator instead of reporting on hog futures.

I haven’t given up on writing though. The romance is gone, but I still feel married to it.

The desire to be in print and get paid for my prose has waned and I write as a hobby now. The “what might have been” in terms of a professional writing career got up and left a long time ago.

But I still have a goal. My highest objective is to use words to influence people. I’ve had this ambition since high school, when I was a sports reporter.

I have learned from the experts that I don’t have to have “feelings” for my writing in order to produce. In fact, the gurus tell you that you just have to keep at it. So I do.Most writers have spells they just don’t feel like putting words to page, so I know I have lots of company.

What helps me to generate is to know my interests and write about those things.

What are the kinds of stories I gravitate too? I think I can tell by what I watch on television. For instance, the programs I have recorded on my DVR are a good indicator of my favored genres.

The other night I was watching TV with a friend and he couldn’t believe the number of programs I have recorded. I told him that I the reason I have so many recordings is that I scan the menu of programs offered by the satellite provider and click on those that arouse my curiosity.

If my predilections were determined by the number of recorded programs on the DVR, the analyst would  note that I am drawn to humorous stories. I must have 30 recordings of the 1990s situation comedy “Frasier.’

It is no wonder this show is constantly available after 20 years. Like “M.A.S.H” and “Seinfeld”, the sitcom is a series of one liners wrapped around a story. The writing is superb.

In addition to  providing a list of amusing stories, my DVR also reveals my penchant for history. I’ve always loved history. In fact, I minored in it in college. Thus, I tend to watch stuff that provides me with insight into the events and lives that came before me.  I especially like military history.

I have numerous historical accounts presented by American Heroes Channel. Right now I am recording “Apocalypse: World War 1”. The series is filled with over 300 vintage pieces of film documenting the conflict.

I have also spent hours and hours watching Turner Classic Movies. The channel provides history within history. Not only do I get a story of days gone by, but the films themselves are documentation of earlier times. The stories give us a look at the technology and culture of the early to mid 20th century.

Recently my friend and I watched  “The Gallant Hours” (1960). It was unusual for an American movie.  Even though it was a film about war, there were hardly any battle scenes or explosions. The focus was on the characters, especially naval commander Bull Halsey, a man who helped the US Navy defeat the Japanese in the Pacific in World War 2.

“The Gallant Hours” was ahead of its time in its biographical story telling.  Released in 1960, it used the “up close and personal” technique developed by ABC’s Roone Arledge later. At the time Americans were not that interested in Olympic sports, or foreign countries for that matter, so Arledge lured us in with his features on their private lives. Arledge focused on the challenges the athletes faced and overcame to become an Olympic hero.

Indeed, “The Gallant Hours” combined several features draw me in to a story.  For example, the docudrama style combined the Hollywood embellishment of fiction with the facts of the characters’ real lives.

In addition to tales containing  humor and history, I am also drawn to mysteries, especially the kind represented by crime shows. This interest surprises me in that I have never thought of myself as someone interested in depictions of wrongdoing. But the truth is, I watch a lot of “Law and Order” and “NCIS”.

I think what attracts me about these stories is the gradual revelation of the truth I get from detectives, police, lawyers, witnesses and criminals. I have always enjoyed researching something and then presenting the results. This is why I have been able to stay in teaching so long.

Sports also provide a compelling narrative. Every weekend I record a NASCAR race. While auto racing is not at the top of my sports viewing, I share an interest in it with friends and relatives. This season I have watched a race almost every weekend.

Last weekend at Talladega the unique story was about Ricky Stenhouse.  Up until that Monster Cup series race he had never entered victory lane. Stenhouse has mainly been known as Mr. Danica Patrick, the boyfriend of the only female driver in the series.

Races at Talladega are known for their massive wrecks. The TV announcers kept talking about the “Big One” they expected. It did not materialize until the end. Stenhouse managed to escape the carnage and get the checkered flag.

Of course, the Internet was full of pictures of Danica hugging and smooching Ricky and . Who said sports doesn’t have romance.

As I reflect on it, the subject matter may initially attract me to a show, but what keeps me coming back again and again is good writing.  I admire stories on TV that are well written and I believe I subliminally desire to emulate those who create them.

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Filed under Classic Films, Media, Television, Uncategorized, writing

Today’s newspaper surprises me with inspiration

The last place I would ever expect to get spiritual inspiration is from my morning newspaper, but that’s what happened today.

I don’t subscribe to the local rag, but I still occasionally like to read it when I can, usually at the library or restaurant. There is something about the feel of crinkly newsprint between your fingertips.

So this chilly weekend morn I opened up the Star Press, anticipating the normal fare of meth busts, break-ins, and high school sports news. After quickly reviewing an article about the financially strapped school district, I somehow found myself on the obituary page. It was here that the uplifting of my morale began.

I suppose anyone reading this might wonder why I was reading an obit. I don’t have an answer for that except perhaps it is because I am getting older and have might have some latent prurient interest in the death of people near my age. I am finding that those who are passing on these days aren’t necessarily old age pensioners. The statistics are beyond me at the moment, but I would not be surprised if the life expectancy in America has declined. Our country’s infrastructure isn’t the only thing on the skids. Personal frames don’t seem to be too healthy either.

I think what attracted me to the death notice was not only the photo of a vibrant looking woman, but also the lead. It might be the most unique opening to an obituary I have ever read. The text revealed that this lady with the gleaming eyes had been the “awesome” mother of eight, grandmother of seven and the wife of a minister. More touching was the seemingly odd statement which noted that she had “won” her battle with a fatal disease and “crossed the finish line into eternal life.”

I have never read an obituary which referred to someone’s death as a “win”. However, if you believe like I do (and obviously like the author of the obit, the woman herself and her relations do as well) the Bible, the comment makes a whole lot of sense. The deceased lady is described as a “dedicated follower of Christ.” Therefore, she believed that she would follow Jesus, who the Apostle Paul described as the “firstfruits” of the men and women who are to be raised to eternal life after death.  The apostle likened life to a race at times. In the same passage, he referred to the truth of the following saying:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.

 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

From the brief summary of her life, it is clear this woman committed herself to sharing her belief in the efficacy of the work of Christ to others around the world. She went to 41 countries on seven continents to bring the hope of immortality and a heaven free from the sin of this world to others. The lady seems to have been a normal, average person with a big heart who accomplished a lot in her less than five decades on this planet.

Having had my heart warmed and challenged by her story, I turned to an editorial by the president of a local food bank.  Entitled “You Can be Seven Years Old and Make a Difference”, the piece discussed a little girl who raised funds for food for poor children by drawing and selling her work on Facebook. The child had noticed the numerous kids in her school who got their main source of nutrition from school lunches and she decided to help them. According to the author, in two and a half weeks of work the young lady had raised enough funds to provide a meal to 3,200 people in need.

The charity’s president writes of the lesson learned. “We all have the ability to accomplish much more than we think we are capable of doing.”

Then there was the column by a former hospital chaplain. This man gave an account of his work in a pediatric ward. After beginning with the upbeat story of his meeting with a playful five year old girl ready to discharged, the pastor’s narrative became more serious. He related his encounter with the Mom of a 13 year old boy in intensive care. The mother explained that her son’s cancer had returned.

While there the child’s oxygen level decreased dangerously, setting off alarms. The chaplain described what happened next.

“Mom was the wife of a military officer, and she found her voice by issuing an urgent motherly command. ‘Breathe. Breathe. Take a deep breath.’ Her son followed the orders and we watched his chest rise and fall a few times.”

The hospital chaplain added that the mother told the sick boy to “take one more” even though his oxygen levels had come back to normal. She then “placed an approving hand” on his forehead and said,”There. That’s perfect. Just perfect.”

Prior to entering the hospital, the pastor had thought his day was perfect because it was sunny and clear and  he had an earworm of a pop tune circulating through his head. Observing the mother, the pop tune was replaced by the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.” His idea of a perfect day had been changed dramatically.

“A perfect day is not what happens around you,” he writes. ” It’s what happens within you.

If you spend your days loving someone and being loved, then no matter how difficult the circumstances, the day will always be a perfect day.”

I was even energized by the comics.

Even the most mundane day can be turned into inspiration. The local paper did that for me today.

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Civility Involves a Change of Heart

One night recently I went to the top floor of the local university library. The sign below is next to the elevators. Beside this sign there is a huge placard as you come off the elevator that repeats the rules for using the area.

 

 

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I go here when I really need quiet and to think. However, as you can well guess, some people think the rules do not apply to them. While I was there I called people out twice.

Alas, before I get too high and mighty (that’s coming), I realize I have my own blind areas. But, basic civility would be nice in our society. We seem to have lost it, if we ever had it.

This experience in a library was annoying, but not that big a deal when compared to widespread rudeness in more important venues. The reason this little skirmish has become more pronounced in my mind is that the I think my senses are heightened to rudeness after the recent American election season and its aftermath. As a news and poltics junkie, I have seen our public discourse filled with out-of-the-ordinary base statements from political leaders, protesters and would-be amateur pundits on social media.

.I really don’t have high expectations from politicians and protesters when they open their mouths, but the things emanating from them have reached a new low. Rock bottom does indeed have a basement.

If you follow the news at all you are aware of the profanity, ad hominem attacks and even physical violence of political opponents and of youthful protesters and celebrities upset about the outcome of the vote in November.

Discourtesy and ill behavior in our society has not been limited to politics. My little library excursion example is indicative of a certain lack of courtesy on the American university campus. The squelching of dissent has led to  a Stalinistic atmosphere. Most recently I wrote about a confrontation I had with a student over her discomfort with my viewing choices in a public location at my local school. The girl took issue with a scene from a classic movie which I saw as history and she observed to be insulting. She got heated right away without any degree of politeness and shrilly demanded that I turn off what I was watching.

In addition, during warmer months on campus I have been subjected to more nonverbal effrontery. I have come close to being pummeled by passing skateboarders who speed by out of control, with little thought for the mass of pedestrians on the sidewalk. Once one of these sidewalk NASCAR wannabes silently came up from behind me and without any regard for personal space engineered a wild hop on their board in a noisy fashion. It scared the daylights out of me.

The causes of this lowering of respectful behavior towards our fellow humans are too numerous to expound on here. However, I think Rev.  J. Vernon McGee hit on something decades ago when he was discussing a passage from the Bible. In the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is having a debate with the religious leaders of his day over the importance of a rite involving the washing of hands.

Jesus said to these leaders and His followers:

“Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

Jesus’s disciples asked him to explain what He meant by this statement.

“Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.  But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you.  For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”

McGee said of Jesus’s words,”We are seeing that working out in our contemporary society today. We’ve come to a period of what is known a ‘New Morality’. We’ve reached the day that (the prophet) Isaiah talked about. He said the day is coming when they’ll call evil good and good evil. And they’re doing that today.”

Decades ago McGee decried the dropping of biblical standards for “freedom”.

“The lid has been taken off and man today can express what’s in his heart. What comes out? New morality? No, same old thing. Evil thoughts. Murders. Adulteries. We hear a good amount about sex today. That’s what you would expect. Fornications. Theft. False witness. Blasphemies. Great day of freedom. But my friends, if you don’t put the lid on the bucket you have opened really a Pandora’s Box  and we’re in trouble.”

McGee even in his time called for some controls on mankind’s behavior.

“Man has to be controlled,” he said. “Man is the most vicious animal on this earth and yet we put other animals in cages. And yet we’re talking today ‘man must be free to do his thing’. And here’s what he’ll do. It’s not new morality at all. Our Lord said this sort of thing was evil and these things defile a man.”

The Internet did not even exist as a public tool in McGee’s day, but he still blasted the media and schools for pushing immorality on to youth.

“These are the things that are defiling young people and yet it is all being done in the high, lofty-sounding terminology of ‘freedom of speech’ and that today ‘we must express ourselves. And this is the way we are doing it.The thing that is in the heart is now coming out.”

Solutions to the problem of incivility are not easy. As McGee noted, man does not want to be controlled. This was easy to see in the 60s, one of the most revolutionary decades in American history.

Stephen Sills wrote “For What It’s Worth” after a protest in 1966 in Hollywood. Residents were upset at the late night congestion caused by the numerous young folks who flooded the Sunset Strip area to hit the clubs and bars. So when the government put their foot down and enacted ordinances to curtail their outlandish behavior, the youth protest. This protest became civil unrest.The song opens this way:

“There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down (?)”

What Sills complained about in his lyrics is that the authorities were able to tell him and his fellow “children” (how apropos) what to do for the sake of others who were affected by their actions. But I don’t see his complaint as valid. If we are going to live in a civil society, we must have some common standards of decency for the sake of all. With freedom comes responsibility to others.

When human beings don’t voluntarily submit to some sort of standards of good behavior, then I am afraid they must be provided with incentives, even negative ones. I once heard of a new prison warden who asked an aide,”How much power do I have in this prison?” He was told that he had what amounted to dictatorial powers. When he heard this, the warden issued a fiat that there would be no profanity allowed in his prison. I imagine any rule breaking was punished. Over time the enforced manners resulted in a sea change of positive behavior in this jail.

Despite a huge swing toward incivility, I’m not asking for a fascist state to control all words and actions in America. I am not in favor of, for example, extreme self restraint of the media as new White House adviser Steve Bannon suggested when he said that it should “keep its mouth shut.” The Founding Fathers allowed for a free press as a watchdog on corrupt government. In our current society, however, the more recognized media companies have tended to be selective about which party’s corruption to expose.

This tendency of the press to shut down points of view it does not agree with has resulted in a media civil war. The battle has flooded over to the Internet and its social media sites, where every Tom, Dick and Harriet can have a say. Unfortunately, as I noted at the beginning of this essay, these interactions on Facebook, Twitter and other sites are filled with meanspirited, cowardly and selfish behavior.

The consequence of all this online heat has been the fracturing of relationships. During a concise and balanced discussion on media bias on CNN this week Christiane Amanpour said,”We should be able to have a huge variety of views without calling each other and treating each other as enemies.” What Amanpour says should apply not only to media types, but to we rubes on social media and individual friends, individuals and even strangers as well.

All I am asking for is some heart change that leads to obeying the laws, rules and principles developed by those who went before us to create a civil society. In order for that to happen we are going to have to quit being so self absorbed and start thinking about the welfare of others.

In addition to looking within for refinement, there are some things we can do. We can learn to listen. We can learn to listen ro understand. We can learn how to debate logically and ethically.  We can begin each interaction with goodwill. We can be kind. We can stop assuming that those with whom we disagree are inherently evil, bigoted, and criminal.

There are those who think that there are more important things than civility. Vann R. Newkirk II in a post in The Atlantic on December 5, 2016 notes that in matters such as racism that shaming can be an effective tool toward pushing whites in America toward confronting their bias. He writes:

Civility is not the highest moral imperative—especially in response to perceived injustices—nor is hand-holding and guiding reluctant people to confront their bigotry gently. American history is full of fights, including the ongoing struggle for civil rights, that have been as fierce as they are ultimately . Civility is overrated.

With the extremely marginalized, I can see Mann’s point. I don’t imagine a Jewish politician from 1930s Germany getting anywhere in persuading a Nazi counterpart to drop their racially stained views. Sometimes there is no other resort than war.

But as General Sherman said,”War is hell.” Those “ongoing fights” Newkirk speaks of were quite costly to America and Americans at times. Real change in these United States has only come it seems from either such conflicts or from persuasion.  It would seem to me that persuasion should be attempted at all times until there is no other recourse because of the insanely damaging effects of war.

Was war necessary to free the slaves in the United States? Perhaps. But there were some who believed that America would eventually be persuaded to ditch slavery. Instead, the opponents opted for civil war. After the war, the winners eventually made a political bargain to give control back to the losers. These people instituted Jim Crow, which carried racism over for almost another century. Thus, before we go to war it would seem to me that a long-term strategy for dealing with its effects be developed.

What is telling is that Mann believes there are other goals in argument besides persuasion. He writes:

Sometimes the goal of argument is to vent. Sometimes it is to simply tell the truth. Sometimes it’s just to loudly proclaim one’s own humanity.

Mr. Mann and I could have a civil debate on such a statement. I would take the position that shouting is not an appropriate method of argument, at least from an Aristotlian perspective. Furthermore, those “telling the truth” may think they are, but like us all these folks are subject to their own limitations. What they believe to be the truth may indeed not be.

What Mann’s discussion of the goals of argument has done for me, though, and why his comments above are telling is  that it explains why there was such profanity and base statements coming from speakers at the recent Women’s March. Those speakers represent a point of view which says that their opponents will not listen to reasoned argument. Only stigmatizing the opposition will do. My one complaint of this approach is that I am doubtful that Madonna or Ashley Judd had attempted accepted modes of persuasion prior to their profane rants.

Even though I don’t agree with many of the points in Mann’s article, it is well supported with academic research and nods to the arguments of opponents. That kind of argumentation I can respect. Thus, it makes his piece well worth the read.

Abhorrent perspectives like racism are a matter of the heart. I am afraid there will always be people with evil views. Where it gets dicey for all of us is when these folks begin to act on their beliefs. So there must be some control of evil.

If we don’t transform ourselves, I am fearful that the outcry will be so great that we could lose our hard-won freedoms. If we don’t do this as individuals on a voluntary basis, then I am afraid others with powerful institutions behind them will MAKE us behave.

When they do they won’t be bringing lollipops to persuade us; they’l be sporting hammers.

 

 

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