I read a technically perfect poem about absolutely nothing, by Antony Owen

I will keep this brief. I want you to read this poem. No, I want you to absorb this poem. It is about the Grenfell Tower fire. It is about much more. It indicts “esoterica” and the like. It prescribes a poem’s raison d’etre. It and its message are exemplary. Thank you for attending to this, it may save your soul.

 

Source: I read a technically perfect poem about absolutely nothing, by Antony Owen

What We Honor is Who We Are

This week is Days of Remembrance. Remember? Perhaps not, if not, I’m about to remind you. You surely remember this: “We are known by the company we keep.” It’s the same with our culture. Our holidays, observances, all add up to identify our identity as a society, and the days we make special as individuals signal who we are as individuals. If you wish think about it this way; it’s about branding. Who and what we associate ourselves with personally and publicly matters. Take a holiday like Martin Luther King Day, mandated by Congress in 1983. Some Senators opposed it. It passed 338 to 90. It is still working to take hold. There are a number of reasons for this, some bearing on the face we put on as a nation. The Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust (DRVH) is an annual 8-day period designated by Congress for civic commemorations and special educational programs that help citizens remember and draw lessons from the Holocaust. The period begins on the Sunday before the Jewish observance of Yom HaShoah. It is still working to take hold. A Facebook post from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum about the observance includes a reference to #DOR2015. The last time I checked there were but five posts associated with this hashtag, three of those from USHMM. Today is the first day of DRVH. Hardly trending. I’ll state it again: who and what we associate ourselves with personally and publicly matters. As a reminder, here’s a list of events. Here’s one reminder of mine, from my first visit to USHMM. It’s the Identification Card I was given as I entered. It is card #6706. The name on the card is that of Max Krakauer, born April 1, 1901,  the same month the Days of Remembrance commemorate to the victims. At 41, Max died either in the forced-labor camp at Rejowiec or in an extermination camp in Poland. This, I will always remember. USHMM ID CARD croppedUSHMM ID CARD 2 cropped  Note: On April 15, the start of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, On Being will present my essay “The Poetry of Bearing Witness” and from my Holocaust poetry series: “Terezin: Trilogy Of Names” — please share to help keep truth and memory alive.

Update — My latest in the Holocaust poetry series, “Pictures Of The Lodz Ghetto” reading:

 

Pete Seeger: A Personal Reflection on the Life Lesson He Left Behind

this machine surrounds hate and  forces it to surrender

This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender [“Pete’s banjo head.” Photograph of Pete Seeger’s banjo by Tom Davis (tcd123usa), via Flickr, licensed under a Creative Commons License.]

On July 14, 2013 I went online to the Woody Gurthrie.org website. It was Woody’s birthday after all. I was stunned to see a note of condolence to Pete on the loss of his wife Toshi. She had passed away just days before. I immediately composed a sympathy letter and sent it and less than three months later I received the postcard from Pete thanking me for my thoughtfulness.

He never wrote a memoir or autobiography per se. He did allow Rob and Sam Rosenthal to go through the boxes he kept of his personal papers, letters, and such to publish in 2012 Pete Seeger in His Own Words* in which is a letter from around 1986 to Tim Morris in which he wrote “The mail comes in to our house literally by the bushel, and I hardly have time to read it, much less answer it coherently.” But he did, answered them all, all in due time, as he answered mine.

I mentioned in mine to him a part of the lyric from one of the songs on his last album “A More Perfect Union” it goes: “Deep love, like a bountiful river/Fills the soul, renews the heart.” He said in his reply that those weren’t his words but those written by friend and fellow performer on the album Lorre Wyatt. But if you go to Appleseed Recordings’ notes about the album it clearly states “14 songs newly co-written with Wyatt.” this is just another illustration of Pete practicing humility, of giving not taking credit. His whole life was dedicated to giving, to including, to uniting — binding together, not tearing asunder. In that same letter to Morris he wrote: “there will be no world at all unless we change the directions of our lives.” And, “Pick some little struggles . . . little victories give us the courage to keep on struggling to win some bigger victories later.”

His beloved Hudson River; his beloved America; his beloved folk music; the confluence of all of these reflect the life of a man, reflect his demonstration of how to live a life, a life admired by so many if only practiced by a very few. Still we can strive to do so – live a life worth living – if we listen to the lesson of Pete. In my letter to him I said: “Thank you for continuing to change the world, one person at a time” — and so he shall, through the legacy of his music, his words, and his shining example.

*Quoted from with permission from Paradigm Publishers

Pete’s banjo drawing from postcard, enlarged

Pete’s banjo drawing from postcard, enlarged

Pete Seeger passes from our midst

I started to write a tribute to Pete for this blog, having just learned today that he passed away last evening,  Monday January 27, 2014. I probably will post such a tribute in due time, given some time to think about what I want to say about the life of this true American icon. In the meantime I want to share the reflections of Lawrence Bush, Editor of Jewish Currents Magazine:

 

Pete has left us. He died at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York last evening.
For years I’ve been listening to his gorgeous song, “To My Old Brown Earth,” and wondering if and when it would be played at his funeral. You can hear it by clicking the link below.

To My Old Brown Earth

My first experience of thrilling to live music was attending the 1963 Weavers at Carnegie Hall reunion concert. I was 12. The Beatles would arrive a year later and capture my aesthetic sensibility for the rest of my life, but Pete and the Weavers never went into exile for me. I would listen to him in his amazing productivity over the years and always, always be reminded of the fundamental values of international solidarity, love, humor, joy, justice, and faith in human potential that have informed and inspired my life — no matter how often I’ve wanted to retreat from them into a kind of uninspired safety.

Pete was one of the few great souls, and one of the greatest songwriters, of our lives.

My claim on him was slight. He was a Life Subscriber to Jewish Currents. He performed at our long-time editor Morris U. Schappes’ 70th and 75th birthdays three decades back. He encouraged me with notes and drawings and small contributions when I became editor of the magazine in 2002. And over the past few years, we had a few precious phone conversations, in which he invariably told me about his optimism that human beings would work it out — eventually. Now we’ll have to work it out without having Pete to lead us in a sing-along. That makes it much, much harder.

I thank him for the Hudson River. I thank him for “Wimoweh” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “We Shall Overcome,” and “Sailing Down My Golden River,” and dozens more unforgettable songs that he either wrote or popularized and then used as organizing tools. I thank him for teaching my generation how to play the 5-string banjo and the 12-string guitar. I thank him for enduring everything from the blacklist to his unwelcome fame with equanimity and undaunted humanity. I thank him for touching my political soul over and over and over again.

Pete Seeger, of blessed, blessed memory.

Big Brother is here, it’s the bots

June 25 would have been the 110th birthday of George Orwell. I was reminded of this by the article in Popsci which features some pretty odd photos, here’s an example:

Surveillance camera donning hat in celebration of Orwell birthday

Surveillance camera donning hat in celebration of Orwell birthday

So they say one picture is worth a thousand words; in this case that’s not the case. Facebook, Google, et.al. are taking your words (and pictures too), thousands, millions of them and crunching them into big data piles that then get analyzed and simonized and turned into the real truth about you, which then gets turned into “gold” for the data miners who make sure the information gets into the right hands.  How important is all of this in the world of goods and services? Very important. McKinsey&Company, one of the “mining companies” that stands to gain by all of this makes it abundantly clear how critical the data is to our future as a society in the “picture” they paint in their post:

Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity

They’re not kidding around. The larger question is whether all of this manipulation and usage of personal information is innocuous, beneficent, or malevolent?  It is not yet clear what the big picture will be.

Howard R. Debs, The Blogger returns!

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I’m actually an optimist, but I’m heading the same way Sandburg did.

I’m back, occasionally.

Yes, for those who have missed me during my ramblings, for those who have yearned for more erudition about the things that matter most, I am back to post! Hey, that rhymes. Which is appropriate, since one of the many errands that took me away from this mission to explicate on the verities and related matters, was my penchant for  creative writing and determination to hit the literary trail. As The Little Einsteins say at the end of an episode, “Mission completion!” (yes I actually watch and enjoy The Little Einsteins); the mount of literary publication has been reached and you can go to a separate page on this site to see a selected list of publications graced or soon to be so with my presence. But enough about me.

This site was and is devoted to advancing the art and science of communications.  Now, in posts to come, I intend to expand on the subject matter to be covered, using this bedrock principle as a measure for all that appears here: if it can contribute to better more effective communication, private or public, it shall be admissible.

So thanks for allowing me back into your virtual hearth and home, I will try to make my stay pleasurable and productive. Stay tuned.

Thoughts upon entering hiatus

This blog regrettably will have to rest on its laurels  for an indeterminate period,  until it can be  resumed at the level of quality expected for its readers. Being engaged in a variety of major enterprises for the foreseeable future precludes adequate attention being paid to this blog for the time being. Microblogging or what has  been characterized as “mindcasting” will continue unabated on Twitter.

Considering that the majority of pieces posted here, regardless of the passage of time,  deal indeed with the verities of that which constitutes effective communication, it is hoped that they will remain “evergreen” and worthy of your perusal until the blog returns to active status.  Adieu, sine die.

Amazing media audience defines itself and its role

(one in a series of Strictly Opinion posts)

In June of 2006 Jay Rosen (journalism professor at NYU) punched out a blog piece for The Huffington Post under the title “The People Formerly Known as the Audience”  originally aired on his own blog PressThink, which took  Dan Gillmor’s (Director, Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at ASU) “former audience” idea from the book We the Media and punctuated the point.

It includes clenched fist verbiage. Those in the forefront of a revolution often need to express a point with an exclamation point. Now that a lot of the dust has settled – and the point itself has been settled – there can be no real question in February of 2010 that media communication needs to be a two-way street, irrespective of who initiates that communication, it seems appropriate to invite consideration of the basis for relationship/interaction models for now and the future .

The movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind  demonstrates that music is quite literally a universal form of communication. With this in mind, I want to give some examples from the world of music to make a point about media communication and “audience” participation.

I have a passion for music, in most all its myriad forms, from tabla (type of drums played in India, more about these later) to banjo, from classical harp to jazz flugelhorn. In my youth I was very immersed in the American folk music revival of the time. Later I was part of a singing group called “The Evening’s Entertainment”  with gigs ranging from charity events to nursing homes (not the big time to be sure but rewarding nonetheless). As a singer/songwriter I sent a demo tape into the great Nashville vortex never to be heard again.  I have been on  the stage and in the stands and it is from this perspective that I want to review the proceedings.

Speaking of folk music, when Pete Seeger, the folk music/activist icon “took” the stage, he never for a moment construed his goal as – be quiet and listen vis-a-vis those who sat or stood before him; his modus operandi has always been – get everybody singin’ – his intent is to ensure that everyone in the hall/on the shoreline, wherever, participates in the moment, creating a collective “experience” which by its very nature moves mind and emotion. This isn’t a just found “theory of practice”, it is an approach that comes naturally to a natural-born communicator who has been around the horn.  The idea of participation of this sort is nothing new.

Many “primitive” types of music involve “call and response” in which one participant initiates a musical statement and this is answered by other participants. This has evolved into very sophisticated forms – but it all relates back to this basic one. There is the traditional jazz ensemble in which each instrument takes a turn with a lead solo of specified length, improvising – everyone knows the “changes” (the chord progressions and structures for a particular piece) – and  “working around” the melody produces sometimes very innovative and novel results. In classical music, somewhat the same process is achieved through “variations on a theme”.

This musical interlude has been presented to show that, just as in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind  an optimal way to generate communication – given varying circumstances and the desired outcome -can be achieved when there is a sincere motivation and commitment to do so.

What is touted as new  is the application of these musically common approaches to another form of communication – but everybody is not in fact always equal in the endeavor. There are Andrea Bocelli moments in the world of journalism for instance, which warrant just “listening to”. To suggest we are all in this together is fine, but sometimes we – the people formerly known as the audience – can contribute most effectively by just clapping our hands in time to the music. The term “audience” is not yet ready to be relegated to the archaic. The audience defines itself and its role. An audience, as such, can be very much involved in any given instance. The performer  requires an audience as much as the other way around – if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This is a well-known philosophical inquiry and applies in this case. Speaking of philosophy,  there is another important concept that bears on the  nature of participants and communication, that springs from this discipline.  For Martin Buber the eminent philosopher, the idea of “dialogue” is an essential building block of community, and involves communication in which relationship and connection are achieved between the participants. It involves having regard for both self and the other. It is the difference between talking with someone and talking to someone.

Back to the tabla drums of India as mentioned earlier. The two tabla drums are played in combination to produce very complex rhythmic and melodic patterns which are steeped in long-standing tradition, and passed on from tabla master to disciple. (tabla example). Each of the two drums produces its own unique set of sounds and played together the blending of these sounds is equally unique. The tabla drums are a metaphor for any form of what might be termed interconnected communication, including media communication as it is evolving. This concept of interconnected communication stems from collaborative method theory which provides, along with the concepts of music and dialogue referred to here , an excellent basis for considering what is possible with media. In the end, the goal is that each “actor” brings their own value to the final result produced by the interconnection. Bravo!

 

Is handwriting doomed?

To borrow from and revise Shakespeare (quite audacious of me ), I come not to bury handwriting nor to praise it.  Much has already been written – or should I say put in print – by technocrats signaling the assumed demise of handwriting, particularly cursive writing, and with no regrets mentioned. Just another pre-computer age relic, so be it. But before we bid adieu to the power of the pen, axiomatically being replaced by the power of the keyboard, let’s reflect on writing by hand.

At the conclusion of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 the anti-intellectual hedonistic society that bans and burns books has all but collapsed and it is given to the “book-keepers” to start anew; in cases like this, those who possess fundamental skills are called upon;  survivors who are aware of how to apply rudimentary means to solve essential needs.

I remember an experience with a long-ago acquaintance who had a passion for sailing. He built a beautiful sailboat by himself and after it had proven seaworthy, he invited me to go sailing with him. One of the many fascinating features on the boat was that he had opted for a tiller rather than a steering wheel. When I questioned him as to why he had chosen to use the more labor intensive older means of maneuvering the vessel, he was quite clear: for him, the tiller was more responsive, more reliable, and simpler and therefore less prone to mechanical trouble. In fact much later I learned that emergency tillers are quite often used at least as a backup in case the steering wheel on a vessel fails to operate.

There is a story, a folktale of sorts.  It tells of a particular community that had invoked an involved ritual since time immemorial to protect its village. The knowledge of this was taught from generation to generation and thereby kept intact. But little by little as time went by, succeeding generations were less and less rigorous about learning the intricacies of the ritual, and subsequently forgot and left out steps one by one until all they could remember was the very basic incantation they had been taught, but  when this  itself was uttered,  amazingly it brought about the desired result.

GFDL or CC-BY-SA*

I reference these anecdotes here as they relate to handwriting. It may very well be a fundamental skill,  and a survival skill. It may also be a mind enhancing skill. Vanderbilt University education professor Steve Graham maintains that handwriting is a necessary building block: a number of studies show that quality of handwriting can affect everything from students’ grades to the complexity of expressed thought.

Keeping things in perspective, communication technology has certainly evolved; from Oral Culture, to Manuscript Culture, to Print Culture, to the present Electronic/Digital Culture. There are some who project a future, enabled by technology, in which a neo-oral culture will emerge. I have mentioned this in a previous post. As each successive innovation arrives it tends to impact but not necessarily displace previous means – back in 1955 a Saturday Evening Post article bemoaned the sure to come end of handwriting due to: “an increasing reliance on telephone, typewriter, dictating machines and electronic brains”.

To be sure handwriting was not always egalitarian. In ancient cultures scribes, persons educated in the art of writing, were an elite group. During medieval times, this exclusive competency became much the province of cloistered monks, whose painstaking copying of manuscripts is typically regarded as saving, along with the work of less heralded Jewish and Islamic scholars of the period,  a legacy of knowledge through the dark ages. In colonial times in America, there was a clear distinction between acquisition of skill in reading versus writing; the former, fairly universal, while writing on the other hand was generally reserved for males in the professions and the merchant class. By the eighteenth century, writing had become a usual skill of the well-bred, both men and women. Eventually, teaching penmanship passed from writing masters to public schools. The Spencerian method, first introduced in the 1840’s, and later superseded by the simpler, less elegant Palmer method in the early 1900’s became de rigueur as a part of everyone’s elementary education. Everyone developed a distinct if not perfect handwriting in the process.

Indeed, handwriting is very personal. This is something to recommend it. Historians can pour over a rough draft of a handwritten document, replete with strikeouts and word revisions, and garner much of value through such analysis. The personal touch of a handwritten note has a value as well, to the recipient.

When all is said and done, any advance assumes a cumulative aspect, not a zero sum approach. In origin, the word advance in fact comes from the idea of being in front (of ); implying something is backing up whatever is in front – in the case of tools of communication, handwriting is the ultimate backup.

Two good books on the subject of handwriting are Handwriting in America: A Cultural History by Professor Tamara Plakins Thornton and the recent Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting by Kitty Burns Florey.

*Vintage Esterbrook Pen Co. Ad, copyright (c) 2009, Communicators & Communications. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation;
with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.
A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “GNU
Free Documentation License”
.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/10/30/is-handwriting-doomed/

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William Safire moves on to another plane

I would hope Mr. Safire, who passed away Sunday at age 79, might appreciate the title of this piece I write in his memory (The New York Times for whom he wrote an op-ed column for 32 years preferred the word “article” for his columns, but he used the word “piece” at times himself), as he was a master punster – as well as a profound alliterator, just to name two of his laudable attributes.

As with other noted communicators, how he used language was of importance in its own right separate and apart from his subject matter, and it is how he used language, and how he attempted to advance the use of language that I praise irrespective of the topics he chose.

Language is a building material for communication, and William Safire must be considered an architect extraordinaire of and for language.

While the accomplishments of his career are certainly impressive in themselves – from the “kitchen debate” he has been associated with orchestrating between Nixon and Khrushchev in 1959 to the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1978 to the Presidential Medal for Freedom in 2006, with over 25 books including 4 novels, and as he calculated it some 6 million words to his credit, it is the New York Times Magazine column “On Language” , which must be considered synonymous with his name.

Safire suggests (apocryphally or not) that “On Language” got its start in 1979 because the Times executive editor,  A. M. Rosenthal, needed a topical column that would work in the Times Magazine which had back then a 10 day publishing lag. To borrow from the idiom, The press grinds slow but exceedingly fine. From that pragmatic beginning until his last “On Language” column just earlier this month, with several compendiums along the way, William Safire pointed out how language is used and should be used. He has enlightened and enlivened the debate. Some say he was “old school”, yet one of his most strongly held views was regarding the importance of openness to change, to new beginnings – “Never Retire” he urged in one of the last of his op-ed columns. In fact, his body of work will continue to be employed in the interest of language, and that’s as it should be, afterall, he was the self-described language maven – noun: an expert or connoisseur of language.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/09/28/william-safire-moves-on-to-another-plane/

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