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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Freedom of Speech …

Once upon a time, your humble Walrus was a journalist. It was a noble calling, ended only by the grim realities of newspaper economics. It was a glorious time.

When I was new to the job, I arrived one day at my first fire scene.  Luckily, no one was injured, but there was a huge crowd clamoring around the building, and I couldn’t get close enough to talk to the people I needed to interview.

So I did the only thing I could.

I shouted “THEATER!”


Paradise by the …

So it comes down to this.

Meat Loaf endorses Romney.

Billy Ray Cyrus endorses Obama.

We’ve reached the point of C-list (at best) celebrities endorsing politicians. And for what purpose?

Honestly, does ANYONE think the opinions of these fine gentlemen will influence even ONE vote in this year’s presidential election? Neither one is exactly burning up the music charts these days.

What is it that makes famous folks of any stripe — actors, musicians, chefs, authors — think their endorsement matters? Do they really belive they can make a difference in the way people vote?

Don’t get me wrong. I firmly support the right of celebrities and non-celebrities alike to speak their minds. That’s a fundamental part of American democracy. But there’s no reason to expect that their opinion is any more valuable, or any more rational, than my next door neighbor’s.

Mr. Loaf might believe his presence could sway undecided voters toward Romney. But think about it.  His biggest hit album (Loaf’s, not Romney’s) was released in 1977.  He hasn’t been a significant presence in the music world in decades. He’s actually never had a presence in politics.  So why would we consider his opinion relevant?

And Billy Ray Cyrus’s career follows a similar trajectory. Today’ he’s better known as the father of Hannah Montana.

Do political endorsements matter at all? Sure. An endorsement by a respected diplomat or statesman or stateswoman carries some weight.  But in the end, the vast majority of voters are far more likely to make up their own minds about a candidate than listen to any outside voice. And that’s as it should be.

Ah, but if only we could get someone (Cee Lo?) to create a mashup of  “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and “Achy, Breaky Heart.”

Coming Soon — A Better Walrus Cafe

That’s right, folks. The blog you know and love will soon be even better! I’m taking a WordPress class online. It’s great, and I’m learning lots of new things to create a better blog experience for you.

Who says you can’t teach an old Walrus new tricks? Watch this space in coming weeks for a bigger, bolder, better blog!

The Benefits of A Little Seasoning

Ah, youth. That golden time of life when we’re at our physical and intellectual peak. The time when we think we can take on the world — and often do, with winning results.

And yet, there’s something to be said for aging as well. With age sometimes comes, if not wisdom, at least a more mature, complex worldview.

Think of it in terms of food. Some things just taste better with a little time to season. Cheese. Wine. Good Kentucky bourbon.  It takes a little while to knock off some sharpness, to mellow the disparate ingredients together into something more enjoyable.

Such is the case with people too.  While there are certainly exceptions, most people in their teens and early 20s simply lack the life experience to process life events and prioritize them.

We had a coworker here at Walrus Widget Industries a couple of years ago who was fresh out of college, and of course, that meant he had all the answers. He knew the latest techniques, the newest methods, and of course, knew many things we oldtimers couldn’t possibly know.

He was happy to tell our entire four-person department how badly certain things were designed, and that he couldn’t understand why they were done that way — as he sat next to the person who designed them.

He had no self-doubt, no modesty, false or otherwise. He knew best, and expected to be treated as the special person he knew he was.  In other words, he was annoying as hell.

He reminded me of someone — me.

I was exactly the same way when I was his age. I was arrogant, I was outspoken, I knew best. In other words, I was every bit as annoying as he was.

It takes a while, and a few hard knocks from life to learn that your place in the universe isn’t quite as exalted as you think it is. It takes a little time to season. You learn to get along with coworkers, to temper what you say, to get along with folks you have to be around 8 hours a day or more.

And you learn that not everything is a crisis or a tragedy.

Said coworker came in one morning quite irate. Seems he had received a speeding ticket on the way to work.  From the moment he entered the office, he was complaining bitterly about the injustice of it.  Continuously. For more than a half hour.

When I gently suggested that all of us had been there, done that, and that he shouldn’t let it ruin his whole day, he responded that I had just ruined his whole day.  In fact, he didn’t speak to me from that point until he left eight hours later.

I’ve noticed something similar in social media and blogs lately.  From my vantage point, best described as comfortably middle-aged, I’ve noticed some of the younger folks do a lot of what I’d call whining.  They seem to be of the opinion that everything that happens to them is of epic proportions.

Case in point. I recently read a blog post written by a woman who was having a bad day.  She had a minor fender bender. She had a minor problem with her bank. Her computer broke — under warranty.

She called it her WORST DAY EVER.

OK, I understand where she’s coming from. I was once a college student too.  A costly breakdown of my ancient VW was catastrophic at the time.  This was the Dark Ages, BPC (Before Personal Computers). But I still had typewriter malfunctions to deal with. Money was tight, time was tighter and there was always too much to do.

At that time, maybe I would have described the day the battery fell out of my VW — on the Interstate, at 65 mph — as my Worst Day Ever.

But here’s the thing — with a little time, that event became something to laugh about. And life quickly teaches us the difference between things that seem big and things that ARE big.

Fender bender? Not a big deal

Broken computer? Not a big deal.

The day my Mom died while my wife was a thousand miles away getting ready to go into the hospital for a life-threatening procedure? THAT was a big bleeping deal.

I’d probably call that my Worst Day Ever.

It’s all a matter of gaining perspective.  And with that perspective comes a new appreciation for the good things in life as well.  That’s the trick. When you’re forced to confront some of the truly bad things in life, you discover the sheer volume of good things — and good people — all around you. Things are seldom as bleak as they first appear.

And my young blogging friend, I truly hope that day you described IS your worst day ever. For if it is, you will enjoy a truly blessed life.

I Stand With Lance

So Lance Armstrong has been stripped of 7 Tour de France victories.  He allegedly has been exposed as a fraud, a cheat, someone who routinely used performance enhancing drugs to conquer cycling’s toughest challenge.

In the eyes of many, Armstrong has been disgraced as nothing more than yet another in a long line of heroes with feet of clay. To some, the allegations taint everything the man has touched, negating his astonishing feats of athletic ability and his extensive work over the past decade-plus for cancer research funding and support.

Armstrong has stepped down from the chairmanship of the Livestrong Foundation, the cancer charity he established.  Some people argue that the iconic yellow bracelet has become a badge of shame instead of one of courage.  Faith shaken, many will never wear their Livestrong bracelets again.

Not me. I stand with Lance. I will wear the yellow bracelet as a badge of solidarity.

Why? Not to condone blood doping or any other cheating Armstrong is accused of.  IF he’s guilty of committing such acts — and from where I sit, that’s a very big question mark, given USADA’s tactics — then yes, there should be consequences. But consider this — if Armstrong was doping in a sport in which doping was rampant, what exactly was he doing that others didn’t?

Let’s face it, cycling has had a doping problem for years. With Armstrong stripped of his titles, the International Cycling Union acknowledges the second-place finishers for most of the years he won also doped. Now we’re told the record books for those 7 years will indicate no winner. Sounds like Armstrong was still the strongest athlete out there, even among fellow users of performance enhancing drugs.  Should he pay a greater price than the others?

But the real reason I remain an Armstrong supporter is his work with the Livestrong Foundation. In the past 15 years, the foundation has raised nearly a half-billion dollars for cancer research, awareness programs and patient support. Whatever else Lance Armstrong has or hasn’t done, he has been a godsend for cancer patients and their families. He’s been a living example that cancer CAN be defeated. And no one can deny that.

That means a lot to me.  Like many, my family has been touched by cancer.  And that’s the thing — it’s not just an individual disease. It affects an entire family.  The good work of the foundation is crucial to people in desperate situations.

Whether Armstrong cheated is irrelevant when you’re trying to cope with the possibility of losing someone you love. As Armstrong himself noted in the title of his book, it’s not about the bike. Even if, as some allege, Armstrong started the foundation to deflect criticism of his cheating in his chosen sport, I don’t care. The work of Livestrong remains worthy of support, and it will remain a solid part of Armstrong’s legacy.

So yes, you will see me wearing a yellow bracelet. In my book, Lance Armstrong remains forever a champion.

The Trouble With Music Today…

OK, you can relax. This isn’t going to be one of those “get-off-my-lawn” curmudgeonly rants.  I promise, I’m not going to be complaining about how much better things were way back in the Dark Ages when I attended Walrustropolis High. (Go Pauls!) — although our football rivalry with Carpenter High was the stuff of legend.

No, this is a complaint about SOME of today’s music. The kind that’s disposable, formulaic, overproduced crap.

Now I’ll be the first to admit there was some fantastic music made in the happy corners of my youth, lots of classic stuff that still gets airplay today.  And I’ll also grant that there’s good music being made today. But so much of today’s music played on commercial radio is dull, repetitive noise.

So what prompted my complaint? Two recent listening sessions on my lunch hour.

A few days ago, as I was driving to lunch, the car’s satellite radio presented me with something magical: a Bruce Springsteen concert recorded in 1976. It was vintage Springsteen, with all the passion, the fire,  the wonder of youth. The music that spoke to a teen-aged Walrus in a small town in  the midwest, music that showed, as Springsteen put it, “it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” It was glorious, capturing all the hope and energy of life, with just a trace of the desperate suspicion that it won’t work out the way we hope..

That’s classic music that speaks to people.

Then came today’s contemporary  station on the way to Subway. They were playing fun’s We Are Young.  To my admittedly middle-aged ears, it sounded like a dirge. There was no joy, no celebration in the music. Even while singing “let’s set the world on fire,” the band sounded resigned, depressed.

Now I don’t expect every song to be Springsteenesque, even from Springsteen.  There’s a place for downbeat quasi-ballads. There’s even plenty of room on the charts for bad music.  The #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for this week in 1976 — the same week as Springsteen’s concert — was Disco Duck by Rick Dees.

Yes, the charts have always had some degree of really bad music.  But there’s always been a lot of great stuff around too.  The trick has been separating the rockin’ wheat from the boring chaff.

But in the last 15 years or so, the advent of the dreaded Auto-Tune and the near-takeover of pop songs by drum machines has made that sifting harder than ever. There’s just so much dreck out there.

Lana Del Rey.  fun.  (I’ll honor their style and not capitalize the band nane.)   Justin freakin’ Bieber.

Sure, there are still great artists recording.  Cee Lo Green.  Pink. Lady Gaga. Mumford and Sons. Drive-By Truckers.  And what do they have in common?

No obvious Auto-Tune.  No drum machine. Just a good to great voice,  ability (in most cases) to play their own instruments and a passion for the music.

And that’s what’s missing from the wannabes. Passion.  Without that, well, sorry, fun — your music isn’t.

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