You Get The Media You Deserve

Can’t read it now? Listen to a narration of this post at SoundCloud.

***

Blaming the media is blaming the Constitution. But this is nothing new. After all, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed in the 1790s — the ink on the Constitution was barely dry.

For those of us born before the 1980s, we need to come to terms with something: there is no mainstream media anymore. The falling costs of audio-visual hardware and high-speed internet have made 21st century media a free-for-all. Let the buyer beware.

Sure, there is legacy media, what we used to call the Big 3 Network newscasts. And of course, there is cable news, which has largely devolved into opinion and personality driven programming.

And there are the local outlets. I have personally worked with people I would trust my life with at some of these local shops, and with good reason. By and large, local media are trusted far more than national media. These are people who live and raise families in the communities that they serve. They work very hard to get the best information they can to you. But you need to know something.

They are under tremendous pressure. Especially now. But they were under pressure long before this.

The most comical thing I repeatedly read is that the people in the media are telling you what they want you to believe. More ludicrous is the idea that one outlet, or another, is telling you the real story, while everyone else is lying.

The goal of television news is to get you to watch. Period.

The means to that end may differ among outlets, depending on what demographic they are trying to attract, but it is the same goal.

It is why managers and ownership groups spend ungodly sums of money researching what kind of stories viewers want to see.

Station owners – corporations, if you will — are sinking tremendous resources into figuring out what types of stories you want to watch. Viewers have more choices now than in the 1970s, ‘80s, or ‘90s. Far more. Eyeballs are going elsewhere.

What types of stories are these? Ones that get you emotionally involved so that you continue to watch. Facts are boring. Emotions? Well, that hooks you. That pulls you in.

Does the story piss you off? Does it make you feel good?

Does it expose the powerful abusing the weak? Or perhaps the weak getting revenge?

Does it make you feel nostalgic? Does it make you feel good about being an American?

Or does it push the most primal button of all?

Fear.

Fear of things, ideas, or people you don’t understand. A threat to your job and livelihood, a threat to your health or the health of your family, or even a threat to your life.

A threat to long held, yet potentially incorrect ideas that you have otherwise grown quite comfortable with. Ideas that you’ve based your entire identity upon, which may not actually be true.

Look, I’m not a fan of this model. I shake my head when I see large text across the bottom of a screen that reads, MILLIONS UNDER TORNADO THREAT or TERRORISM ALERT DESK.

***

This emotional aspect is especially true of cable news programming. Bring on commentators that are going to stroke your ego and tell you what you want to hear. After all, it’s cheaper that way. Pay a talking head to get people riled up so they keep coming back to watch. It’s easy. You don’t have put any resources — time or money — into gathering information or vetting its credibility. And if you’re not reporting on facts, the threat of legal action against you is minimal. You find just enough of an audience to get emotionally involved and develop a small but loyal following for a program.

You show advertisers that your program has a loyal following, and just like that, you turn a profit.

***

I have not watched much television media during this pandemic. And I feel like I owe my friends working in local broadcast media an apology, but there are certain facts that I am in search of that take too long to find while wading through the ocean of information that is television media. I am fortunate — I know people who work in science and science journalism who know how to make complex science topics more understandable.

The current pandemic does not scare me, but it does give me pause. I’ve spent my career in science and science communication, and this does come with some basic scientific training and the desire to put emotions aside and view the information through a scientific lens:

  • Understanding probabilities and risk
  • Knowing the difference between linear and exponential growth
  • Learning that plain old bar soap breaks down the outer walls of a virus, collapsing it and rendering it harmless
  • Understanding the strengths and limitations of mathematical models

But recognizing when you are out of your league is just as important. I’m not a doctor or a virologist. So, I make it a point to find a few of them and listen carefully to what they say or share on social media.

Maybe you will too.

In this crisis, the people doing the groundwork in the media — the producers, the editors, the reporters — are doing their best to inform under a bizarre set of conditions. I’m not certain the media evolution of the last 20 years has them prepared. But I know they are working hard and doing everything they can.

If you think the media can go to hell, then you can go with them. Don’t blame the media. Blame yourself.

The media are a reflection on you… and on all of us.

Posted in Reflective, Sociology | Tagged

The Well-Regulated Militia

Amendment II, ratified December 15, 1791:

A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

***

Last Saturday, my daughter and I spent the day at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. Our republic is 243 years old, and we still cannot agree on what the above amendment to our constitution really means. I’m not a constitutional scholar or an attorney, so I’m not going to fix this here (and you probably won’t either).

The shooting in El Paso happened while we were at the museum, relearning about the sacrifices that different people, in culturally different colonies, had to make together (as Ben Franklin’s 1754 image suggests) to begin this experiment of a self-governing republic… a representative democracy.

1200px-Benjamin_Franklin_-_Join_or_Die

The political cartoon largely credited to Benjamin Franklin, which first appeared in his Pennsylvania Gazette, May 9, 1754.

After the immediacy of the horror Saturday, the same tired talking points emerged, either on television or social media. And we now live in a time where you can get whatever argument you want validated; an unfortunate drawback of the information age is the prevalence of bad information.

So let me say this up front. If you want a gun, or even a few guns, to protect yourself, your family, your property, your farm, or your ranch… you should be able to have them. I hope you have the sense to learn how to operate them correctly and keep them away from children. If you want to hunt, you should be able to do so. In fact, I love it when my brother-in-law brings me ground venison at Christmas.

But that’s not what this is about.

The question at hand is this: “Is there anything we can do about this problem?”

The answer is certainly not to take away everyone’s guns.

But that’s what the Democrats want, Sean!

No. They don’t. You’ve let influential blowhards in the media or in politics (or perhaps behind a pulpit) convince you of that. And your response smacks of sloppy and poorly thought-out paranoia.

Yes, they do, Sean! They want to disarm the population and install a socialist state!

No. You’ve lost the good sense God gave you. You are letting people ignite your otherwise well-buried fears and insecurities.

Well what do you expect when we’ve removed God from all traces of public life?

Spare me your arrogance. Spare me your smug self-righteousness. It is not the job of the government, or you for that matter, to tell me how or when to worship. I’m rather tired of hearing such a simplistic and cowardly argument tossed around.

There are people (mostly men) who pervert Christianity and its scriptures to build personal wealth and to maintain power. The examples are numerous and go back centuries, and it goes on to this day.  The people I know who do not follow a religion walked away from it for just this reason. It wasn’t because they were lost. It was because they grew tired of how people in power abused it. This is a country of 300 million people. Not everyone needs the same theology as you. Go twist scripture for your own benefits on your own time.

Guns don’t kill people. We need to punish the criminal, not the gun. We are punishing the responsible gun owners.

Yes. We need to punish the criminals. Yes, people need to be held accountable for their actions. But what level of weapon is enough to defend yourself? You don’t need an assault rifle. Are you just that delusional? Or worse, does it just make you feel more like a man? Go back and read the first few words of the Second Amendment: A well-regulated militia.

It’s not a free-for-all. Regulation is spelled out in those first few words.

Criminals don’t obey laws.

You can’t even be serious. Why have any laws to begin with? To dissuade us from our darker nature. Humans repeatedly make poor snap judgements. Easy access to this level of weaponry only invites problems.

But Sean, all these violent video games…

Again, you are being lazy.

No other Western country has this problem. Not Canada, not Great Britain, not Germany, not Australia. They have the same video games, they have people with mental illness, and if anything, they are far more secular than the United States.

This is a uniquely American problem. Too many of us are too hard-headed to learn how other Western nations have dealt with this level of weaponry. Too many are too stubborn to have the courage to mold other ideas into a solution that improves the situation while still preserving individual liberties.

What about personal responsibility?

There are mentally ill people in this country who have been teetering on the edge. Some for a long time.

When the chief executive repeatedly uses the power of his office to denigrate and dehumanize others, it justifies the feelings of these ill people. Enough so that they act upon them. Words matter. This is not policing of thought or forcing political correctness, this is dangerous. The current executive has done this over and over during the last several months. He sows this hatred and violence, and he does not care. No, he didn’t pull the trigger, but he motivated the shooter.

But Antifa…

Stop it. You’re changing the subject. The current executive is an individual who is supposed to represent all citizens of the United States. There is no reason to support him any further. He is a reckless, power-hungry demagogue who has benefitted from Russian interference in our elections.  There is no comparison.

***

Article II, Section 4:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Based on the testimony of Robert Mueller, Obstruction of Justice would be my charge.

***

At the end, this is about fear.

Older Americans, generally Christians who are of European descent, have held power for the entire history of the republic. And world history has shown that ethnic groups who have long dominated in government will not suddenly begin to share power. On the contrary, they will dehumanize others and fight to the teeth as soon as they feel threatened by something remotely out of their comfort zone. Witness the madness in some of them at the election of our republic’s first mixed-race president. We have seen many of them wrap their fears around their faith and the flag, denigrating those who dare to question them. Taunting others like bullies on a middle-school playground, insisting theirs is the only right way for the republic.

It’s not. History will remember them as it does George Wallace. Don’t be George Wallace.

Posted in Reflective, Sociology | Tagged , ,

Hatteras

Hatteras Forecast – made Wednesday evening, June 26. Update coming Thursday evening.

Overview:

  • A good week. Highs generally in the 80s, lows in the 70s.
  • No sign of a washout this week.
  • Small chance of scattered showers/thunderstorms on Sunday… then again Wednesday night, Thursday, and Friday, but no reason to change any plans.
  • Typical high summer humidity, although a small easing of the humidity on Monday and Tuesday.
  • Water temperatures 75-80.
  • Sunrises around 5:55. Sunsets around 8:20.
  • New moon on Tuesday. Great stargazing.

Saturday travel: Mostly sunny, hot and humid. High in the low 90s, 80s on the Outer Banks.

Sunday: Mostly sunny… isolated showers or thunderstorms late in the afternoon or evening. High 86. Wind SW increasing to 5-15 mph in the afternoon. Waves 1-3 feet. High tides at 5:55 am and 6:33 pm. Low tide at 11:57 am.

Monday: Mostly sunny and windy. Turning a little less humid. Daybreak temperature 74. Afternoon high 84. Wind NNE 10-20 mph with some higher gusts. Water a few degrees cooler. Waves 2-4 feet. High tides at 6:45 am and 7:20 pm. Low tide at 12:45 pm.

Tuesday: Sunny. Daybreak temperature 74. Afternoon high 86. Least windy day of the week. Wind SSE 5-10 mph. Waves 1-3 feet. High tides at 7:35 am and 8:08 pm. Low tide at 1:35 pm.

Wednesday: Sun and clouds. High humidity returns. Daybreak temperature 78. Afternoon high 88. Wind SW 5-15 mph. Waves 2-4 feet. Scattered showers and thunderstorms Wednesday night. High tides at 8:26 am and 8:57 pm. Low tide at 2:25 pm.

Thursday and Friday: Sun and clouds. Humid. Isolated showers and thunderstorms. Daybreak temperature 78. Afternoon high 88. Winds generally SSW 5-15 mph. Waves 2-4 feet.  High tides 9 to 10 am and 9:30 to 10:30 pm. Low tides around 3 to 4 pm.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Hurricane Florence Update – Sunday afternoon (Sept 9)

3pm, Sunday, September 9, 2018

There has been no fundamental change in the thinking of Florence.

Watching the satellite imagery suggests a hurricane that has begun the process of strengthening rapidly.

There will be two major impacts. The initial hit on the coastline… with wind damage and coastal flooding from the storm surge. This looks like it will be somewhere between Wilmington, NC and Cape Hatteras… but areas south to Myrtle Beach and north to Virginia Beach still cannot be ruled out as the initial hit.

This will probably happen on Thursday… leaning toward afternoon or night. But 12-24 hours of wiggle room should be considered.

Likewise, it will very likely be a Category 3, 4, or possibly a 5 at coastal impact (aka landfall). Everything we understand about hurricane intensity indicates a rapid strengthening should take place between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon. I would not get too hung up on small fluctuations in intensity, say bouncing back and forth between a 3 and 4 or a 4 and 5, as there is nothing to suggest a miraculous weakening would happen before landfall.

While the strongest winds are concentrated in the wall of clouds and rain around the eye of the hurricane (the eyewall), damaging winds usually are found at least a few dozen miles away from the center, so please do not focus solely on the point of impact.

After the initial landfall, the storm will turn north through central North Carolina and into Virginia for Friday and into the weekend (Sep 14-16). While still having some 40-50 mph winds by then, the devastating wind impacts from the storm will probably subside by Saturday. Nonetheless, at least scattered tree damage would probably happen in central NC (Raleigh, Greensboro), and into southern Virginia (Roanoke to Richmond)… and perhaps farther north toward Staunton and Fredericksburg.

This leads to the second impact, which often gets lost in the runup to landfall… inland flooding.

There are very worrisome indications that the storm center will stall somewhere over Virginia or North Carolina Saturday and Sunday and then slowly drift back toward the coast… or perhaps back out to sea. However, that is still 7-10 days out. And the storm will continue to weaken as it drifts, so the wind threat will be long gone.

But as mentioned above, the storm is not a point, the rain from these post-landfalling systems extends far out from the center, and the rainfall pattern is NOT symmetric around the center. So there is much uncertainty about precise rainfall estimates next weekend. Having said that… it could mean historic flooding for Virginia. Flooding would first hit streams and creeks Friday and Saturday…. and then into the state’s larger rivers Sunday and into the following week.  Is it definite? No. But there is a very serious flooding risk developing for Virginia, and it should be taken seriously.

Specific to Virginia… how much rain? Over the course of 3 days (Friday through Sunday), 5-10 inches is a conservative estimate… probably highest in the areas west of I-95 and toward the West Virginia state line. More disturbing is that some of our more reliable computer simulations suggest 12-16 inches of rain covering several dozen square miles in the western part of the state. Imagine encircling an area that includes Danville, Lynchburg, Charlottesville, Staunton, Covington, Roanoke, and Blacksburg. This would be devastating to the James River (all the way to Richmond) and the Roanoke/Staunton Rivers. But the Shenandoah (and ultimately the Potomac), York, and Rappahannock Rivers would also be at risk.

It is my hope that in the next day or two, there is some trend in the simulations away from this phenomenal rain idea for Virginia, so there is still another day or two to refine the forecasts. But these are the kind of figures that make me think about the James River flooding from Agnes in ’72 and Camille in ’69.

Below is a map of Virginia River basins. Know where the heavy rain is falling, ’cause this is where the water ends up.va

I have also enclosed one rainfall totals simulation below (from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting), indicating the total amount of rain between now and 8am Monday morning (17th). Do not focus on the specific amounts in small numerical print. The broad area of very heavy (purple) rain is what is most troubling. This particular simulation was from 8am Sunday, Sept 9. A quick review of the data shows that 80-90% of that rain would come from Florence. Again… it is one simulation, but it does underscore that there is a legitimate risk of a once-in-a-generation flooding scenario for Virginia.

ecm

On a personal level, I will not be able to spend as much time as I would like on the analyses of the storm in the coming few days. Find a trusted meteorological source in your area. I encourage you to listen to his or her words and the tone in his or her voice. Do not get caught up or distracted by flashy television graphics or fanciful wording from news anchors. Do not fall for click bait on the web. Some trusted media colleagues that I have known for a long time… John Bernier, Jim Duncan, Andrew Freiden, Brent Watts, Will Stafford, Jeff Lawson, Aubrey Urbanowicz, Travis Koshko. And the National Weather Service offices in Blacksburg, Wakefield, and Sterling are staffed by good people who live in their communities and know their areas well. Follow them online.

Sean

Posted in Uncategorized

PBS NewsHour – Hurricanes and Climate Science

Thanks to the folks at PBS NewsHour for inviting me to discuss hurricanes and climate science on Labor Day weekend.

Posted in Climate Change, Weather Communications | Tagged , , , ,

Moby’s Memoir and Alternative Histories

Porcelain-Book-3D-image-3-800x941I bought tickets to see Sting and Peter Gabriel last winter, and to my surprise, an introductory subscription to Rolling Stone came with them.

Paging through the magazine, I came across an ad for Moby’s memoir, Porcelain. I only knew his music from his popular CD Play, but the advert made me curious, as it discussed his personal struggles leading up to that CD’s release.

I enjoy memoirs from popular musicians that discuss what their lives were like before they made it big. Sting’s Broken Music and the early parts of Sammy Hagar’s Red were page turners. But those artists became huge. Although Moby has had a successful career, he has not attained stratospheric pop star status. As a result, I imagined I could relate to Moby in a way that was far removed from Sting or Sammy.

I downloaded a free preview of the book out of curiosity. One page into the prologue, I was hooked. Moby is only 4 years older than me, had been an awkward and skinny kid, and watched his hair line recede rapidly during his 20s. But the passage that grabbed me described his childhood in 1976 as the son of a financially struggling single mother, riding along with her in her Chevy Vega.

I instantly remembered the fall of 1976 when my single mother, my sisters, and I briefly lived in a small apartment in Harrisonburg. I was a few months shy of my 7th birthday. Mom was working toward a degree at James Madison University that would lead to a better job to support us. And at the time, she drove a forest green and very unreliable… Chevy Vega.

We did not last in Harrisonburg very long. Within a couple of weeks, I casually ventured off with a new friend and his parents for a few hours without telling my mother, which of course, panicked her to no end. A few days later, I let a kid borrow my bicycle, and I never saw him or the bicycle again. Mom, my sisters, and I went back to Richmond a few weeks into the experiment. Mom continued her course work at John Tyler Community College.

A few years ago, on one of my numerous trips along Interstate 81, I diverted into Harrisonburg and found that apartment complex. It was occupied and functional, but not in good condition at all. Eerie.

When I reached my 30s, Mom would occasionally tell me how lucky my sisters and I were to have turned out as well as we did. Perhaps even blessed. The odds had been stacked against us: three kids who had not even reached school age when our mother made the agonizing decision to divorce my father.

Over the past few years, I have thought more about what Mom had said. I sometimes think that if 2 or 3 decisions had been made differently by the adults in my family before I reached my 10th birthday, my life may have gone in a very different direction.

With that backdrop, I began to read Porcelain as a potential alternative history of myself. What could’ve happened?

Moby relives the ’90s in Porcelain. Living in an abandoned factory in Connecticut. The struggle to find work. DJ’ing questionable clubs in New York City. Drug use all around him. His time as an alcohol “enthusiast”, only to go sober and start drinking again. Discordant relationships with high-risk emotionless sex. Deep depression.

I will not profess to be a saint, but his memoir gave me insight into a dark world that I suppose I knew was out there, but I have never had to face. So yes, I have been fortunate. It reminded me that there are people living lives that I simply cannot imagine. They are beyond the scope of my experience. I have occasionally had the opportunity to glimpse into to some of those lives, but I had no true frame of reference to comprehend them.

The constant in the book and with me was the early relationship with his single mother. Moby reminisced about laughing and listening to the Bee Gees on the AM radio with her, recounting some of the brighter moments as she struggled through single parenthood. I remember much the same, telling my mother how cool it was that Cheeseburger in Paradise was sung by a guy named Jimmy Buffett… my 8-year-old brain thinking Buffett and buffet were closely related. Moby summarizes what I think we both felt:

I loved my mom. She was one of the smartest and funniest and most interesting people I’d ever known. But growing up with her had never been normal.

Indeed. Mom had to make tough decisions about educating us. The school year following the failed Harrisonburg experiment found me being bused into inner-city Richmond for 3rd grade. Four months and a head of lice later, I was living with my grandparents to get into the Chesterfield County schools. The homesickness set in within a few days, and I was back at home with Mom. Despite the cost, she enrolled me in a private Christian school for the rest of the school year. A few weeks later, I was nearly expelled for swearing.

But I was lucky. No drugs. No hard alcohol in the house.

Moby alluded to it late in the memoir: how his early childhood struggles still haunted him and many others into early adulthood. It took me years to understand how the things I experienced early in my life color the way I see the world even today.

Perhaps I’ll write something when I’m 50, but I can’t imagine my stories will have quite the impact as what I read in Porcelain. Wow.

Posted in Reflective, Sociology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Opening the Ears to Prince

lanza

My brother from another mother, Matt Lanza, does sum it up well.

We watch the passing of these pop/rock performers, and for many of us, we watch another little piece of our youth go with them.

Prince was different. Which, of course, is obvious.

The first song I heard from him was 1999 in late 1982. As a 13-year old living through the height of the cold war, and living in an area of the country in which some people seemed infatuated with the End Times, the subject matter resonated with me.

But I was largely an album-oriented-rock (AOR) kid at that time with a bit of new wave streak. I was more likely listening the The Police, Men At Work, or The Cars. So I didn’t warm up to Little Red Corvette or even When Doves Cry. At least not right away. However, when the second single from Purple Rain hit the radio in 1984, it changed some things.

The guitar solo at the end of Let’s Go Crazy screamed rock and roll. So much so, that it got substantial airplay on the local AOR station that I listened to religiously, XL-102 in Richmond. One of the teachers in my high school even asked a group of us at the lunch table one afternoon, “Is he trying to be the next Jimi Hendrix?”

Likewise, the opening monologue of that song spoke to me… as I’m sure it still does to many… about the internal struggles of life.

Sign O’ The Times resonated as well. A straightforward commentary on life in the middle 1980s.

Is it silly, no?
When a rocket ship explodes and everybody still wants to fly

Some songs you remember at precise instances of your life. I remember that one coming on the radio while I was in a pensive mood on the way to my senior prom. One of those moments of adolescence when you realize that some the biggest steps of your life are just around the corner. I would go to Penn State 4 months later in a leap of faith, hoping to walk down a path to make my career choice a reality.

In time, I grew to appreciate his musicianship, and enough of my naivete faded away that I finally understood Little Red Corvette. Of course other songs weren’t so subtle, smashing the listener over the head. I still remember a former girlfriend trying to embarrass me by making me listen to Darling Nikki in 1988.

PurpleA few years later, in graduate school, 7 hit the radio, and again, while no one could accuse me of being a massive Prince fan, I admitted to my roommate that there were certain songs of his that I just thought were incredible.

Prince made me open my ears to other styles of music. And taught me to enjoy them as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Reflective, Sociology

Star Wars, Snark, and Climate Change (Global Warming Episode VI)

A long, long time ago, our home planet more resembled Hoth, the ice planet in the Star Wars universe. While Earth was not entirely blanketed in glaciers, large sheets of ice covered North America, Europe, and Asia. This was during the peak of the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago.

At that time, the average temperature of Earth was only about 5.5°C (10°F) lower than the middle 20th century. The atmospheric carbon dioxide level was 180 parts per million (ppm), less than half of the level today. More striking, the sea level was 400 feet (120 meters) lower than today.

For comparison… some present elevations above sea level:

  • Raleigh, NC:   435 feet
  • Richmond, VA:   166 feet
  • Philadelphia, PA:   30 feet

But subtle changes in Earth’s orbit altered how the planet absorbed solar energy, and there was shuffling of ocean circulations. By themselves, these were not enough to drive Earth out of its glacial state. However, they did lead to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide to 280 ppm, warming Earth and helping make it the hospitable place we enjoy today, more along the lines of Endor, the forest moon where the Ewoks made their stand in Return of the Jedi.

Aldnds3

Ominous approach of the fictional Death Star toward the peaceful planet of Alderaan (otherwise not featured in this article… but shown for dramatic effect…’cause it looks similar to Earth… don’t ya think?).

Human emissions of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, have increased dramatically over the last century, dwarfing the natural cycle. The concentration is at 400 ppm and climbing, which is the primary reason that the average global temperature has risen about 1°C (1.8°F) since pre-industrial times. This type of rise took several centuries to occur naturally, yet it has occurred in the last hundred years due to human activities.

Untitled

From the Climate Central office. Simulations of sea level rise in Sydney, Australia after 2°C of warming and 4°C of warming.

While no one expects Earth to turn into the desert world of Tatooine (after all, that planet has two suns), further carbon dioxide emissions will create more planetary warming through the end of the century and beyond. The amount of warming will determine how much more ice is lost at the poles, and thus, how much further global sea levels will rise, with big differences for each degree of warming.

Fictional spaceship from the author's favorite Mel Brooks' film.

Fictional spaceship from the author’s favorite Mel Brooks film.

So. Have a nice day.

Posted in Climate Change | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Scott Weiland and the Past

There has been a lot of death in the news recently.

A friend shared what Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins wrote when he found out about the death of Scott Weiland, the troubled singer best known for fronting Stone Temple Pilots.  He says it better than me. In part:

… I will not pretend to know more than I know, or add some sad homily to how he loved his life. At least in that, may I now say he is undoubtably in the arms of grace and eternal love.  May I also offer my humble condolences to his family, friends, and band mates; who have, and are, suffering this great loss.

When the Big Hair Metal Bands went out of vogue in the early ’90s, I could not wrap my head around the grunge thing. At 23, I still wanted more Def Leppard, but alas, my time had passed.

Ninety3

December 1993

I could not quite get into Nirvana. Pearl Jam was okay. But Stone Temple Pilots resonated with me. Plush is easily one of my favorite songs of that decade. I still remember December ’93, singing it while riding a in car in Upstate South Carolina with two of my best friends, Corey and Mark.

“AND I FEEEEEEEL IT……  AND SHE FEEEEEEELS IT…”

Thanks, Scott… for the music.

This reminds me of the fluidity of time and the stresses of success. Not just having to battle internal demons, but having to do it in the public eye, when someone always wants to write something about you. Sometimes positive, but often negative. Things that are written that would never be said in a conversation with that person around a lunch table. Some handle it better than others.

I think about Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Winehouse. I am guilty of internally mocking their inner demons in the past. But that self-righteous voice in me is not as loud anymore.

I remember being 16 years old, and beginning to notice that creative minds all seemed a little weird. And a few weeks later, our 11th grade English class was given an article to read from our teacher, Joey Boehling: How Inner Torment Feeds The Creative Spirit.

It was a bit over my head at the time, but upon re-reading it recently, one passage was striking:

There may be just as many self-destructive bakers as painters, but psychiatrists and biographers do not analyze their cakes. It is the tormented artist and not the untroubled one – the Vincent van Gogh, not the Peter Paul Rubens – who provides the stuff of tabloid notoriety and romantic embellishment.

That was written in 1985.

***

I have to think social media makes this worse. No margin of error. Long diatribes between “friends” about the emotional issues of the day: guns, marriage, ethnicity, religion, economics. And for a subset of us, climate change.

I see people post, “What’s wrong with people?”

The same thing that has always been wrong with people. We just see it more. We are letting our emotions override our logic.

We didn’t start the fire. It was always burning since the world’s been turning.

Billy Joel has had his share of ups and downs too.

And this one, penned by Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist of Rush. From the 1987 song, Lock and Key (come on, you didn’t think you were going to make it through this blog without a Rush reference did you?):

We carry a sensitive cargo
Below the waterline
Ticking like a time bomb
With a primitive design
Behind the finer feelings
This civilized veneer
The heart of a lonely hunter
Guards a dangerous frontier
The balance can sometimes fail
Strong emotions can tip the scale

This is the way of the world. I take issue with those who would like to spin it as the end times.

I have the same emotional reactions to things I see online as well. Things that I see our elected officials do. Memes that people post without actually researching them first, as if to shout, “Yeah… me too… if you don’t agree with me… you’re stupid.”

I’ve done it. I try not to. But I slip. I’m human.

It is important to remember that most of us are going through something. I’m sure there are some of us who are sailing through life without a care in the world. I’m happy for them. I try to be positive on line, but I will have moments as well. Don’t think that picking up your life and career after 20 years and moving it 350 miles away comes without some emotional consequences (by the way… massive props to my military friends who have done this on a routine basis).

I have friends who have lost to their demons. Alcoholism, depression, even prison. Others have been taken from the earth too soon, either by disease or horrifying accident.

Which returns me to Corgan and the opening words of my favorite Pumpkins’ song, Bullet With Butterfly Wings:

The world is a vampire.

Still… I make every effort to consider the 7 billion people on this planet, and I realize that I am fortunate. Some would say blessed. I have electricity and running water. I have a roof over my head. I do not worry where my next meal will come from. I have good scientific training, so I’m not bothered by superstitions or conspiracy theories. I have a good job.

It could be worse.

It could always be worse.

Posted in Reflective, Sociology | Tagged , , , , , ,

5 People I’d Like To See Again

February 1979 in Richmond. A group of us in the neighborhood built this little snow dog once the snow stopped falling

Earlier this year, I changed career paths, moving my family from southern Virginia to southeastern Pennsylvania. I suppose in quieter moments, it was inevitable to look back and see what has gotten me to this point in my life.

With the horror in Paris this month, I found myself thinking about the fragility of life and the people in our past who have affected who we’ve become in the present. While I have reconnected with several people from my youth via social media, there are people who, for whatever reason, I am no longer in touch with, but they remain as distinct threads in the tapestry of my earlier days.

In fact, when I stop to think about it, I realize that none of my current friendships began before 1980. This is mostly a consequence of moving from Southside Richmond to eastern Henrico County in February of that year. I was in 5th grade at the time.

Below are 5 people I’d like to see again. I met three of them before 1980. Alphabetically…

Maricel Barrett

In the year or so before the move, I became friends with Maricel. He was a guy that everyone seemed to like. He had a great laugh and was as fast as bullet on the playground. In the fall of 1979, we were on the same pee-wee football team. If memory serves, he was both a running back and a defensive back (I was merely a second-string defensive lineman).

I still remember one football game in which we played the Broad Rock Rams, who were considered to be the toughest team in the league. Late in the 4th quarter, with no score, our team managed to drive down to the Rams’ goal line, but we could not convert on 4th and goal. On the following series, our team stopped the Rams’ running back (or maybe it was their quarterback) behind his goal line. We won the game 2-0, and I remember our team congratulating Maricel as he returned to the sideline after the safety. I don’t remember if he actually made the tackle, but I know he was part of the defense.

My last day at that elementary school in Richmond, there was a going away party for me. I was picked up by my mother at the end of the day, but before leaving, I stayed in the classroom as successive groups of my classmates were dismissed to the buses. A few seconds after Maricel’s group had been dismissed, I ran outside to chase him down, and I gave him a hug before he got on the bus. I never saw him again. Given he is African-American, I now think about the symbolism of that moment, and how when we were younger, that it didn’t seem to matter.

Lisa Branch

While attending that elementary school in 4th and 5th grade, I was in the gifted program with a few other kids. There was one other student in an accelerated math program with me, Lisa Branch. At that time, I thought we were a couple of kids who were just a little different that the rest of our classmates. As a result, we got along quite well. So well in fact, that I remember a fair bit of good-natured teasing by some of the students that Lisa and I were a couple. She is the only other person I remember in that gifted program, and I remember her having more confidence than a lot of the other kids. I cannot help but wonder what path she took through adolescence and adulthood.

Russell Tilley

Immediately after our family moved in 1980, I found myself in a new elementary school, knowing no one. The first friend I made was Russell Tilley. He and I shared the same off-the-wall sense of humor, and in the closing months of 5th grade, he would often get disciplined for some of his silly, but harmless indiscretions. We remained good friends through middle school, and I distinctly remember the two of us coming up with a juvenile poem to describe our 7th grade teachers. I can still quote it (just not here).

I may never have laughed as much or as uncontrollably as when he and I hung out together. One event comes to mind: We were walking through the hall one morning in 7th grade, just trying to make each other laugh. And I don’t even remember how the subject got started, but he said, “You gotta be careful of that radioactive waste.” By coincidence, he began that sentence just as we walked by the closed door to the teachers’ lounge. And as he finished the sentence, our biology teacher opened the door and appeared. He and I paused, looked at each other, and laughed hysterically for what seemed like 10 minutes as we continued down the hallway.

In high school, our different academic paths caused us to drift apart, but I never forgot how much better I felt in a new environment because of his friendship. I last saw him in 1997 at a 10-year high school reunion. I hope he still has that sense of humor.

Frederik Wenzel

Frederik and I met as freshmen at Penn State in 1987. He was born in West Germany, with his family emigrating to Virginia Beach when he was young.  While he was more adventurous than me, we got along very well, sharing a love of Virginia, and commiserating about being in a place that was 300+ miles away from home.  We often carpooled back to Virginia and had great talks about Europe, Virginia, and of course… girls.

In the 1988-89 academic year, we shared an apartment, which tested our friendship, but it persevered.  He went on to join the Penn State International Student Council and I moved into my meteorology coursework. We mutually decided sharing an apartment the next year wasn’t the best idea, nonetheless, I always valued his European view on the world.  I remember how excited he was when West Germany won the World Cup in 1990 and how emotional he was when Germany reunified later that year.

After the Berlin Wall fell, he briefly visited his home country, and when he returned, he gave me a small concrete rock. I was awestruck when he told me it was a piece of the Berlin Wall, and I still have it to this day. We communicated more sporadically with time as our paths diverged, and I haven’t seen him since the early ’90s.

Michael Widener

When I was living in South Richmond in the late ’70s, Michael and his family lived about 4 houses away. I remember playing on competing Manchester Optimist Little League teams in 1978.  There was a small area of woods adjacent to his backyard, and we would go exploring back there once in while, looking for caterpillars, like many other 8-year old boys would do. Mike was the last of 3 friends in that old neighborhood who all moved away before my family followed suit. Ironically, his family moved to the Roanoke Valley in 1979, a place that I would later call home from 1995-2003.

Who knows. Perhaps I will see them again. Life has a way of dealing the unexpected.

Posted in Reflective, Sociology