Saturday, April 27, 2013

The way it is

The last couple of weeks have been crazy in our country, but that should not be a total surprise because we live in crazy times. I know it is an old cliché, but the only aspect of our society that is predictable is its unpredictability.
Where do we begin? The obvious place is the terrorist attack in Boston on April 15. In only a matter of seconds, a simple sporting event was turned into the most significant terrorist attack in our country since 9/11. Even if some of our leaders refuse to say the words ‘War on Terror,’ this situation clearly demonstrates the war continues.
However, there were other events that took place during this time that were significant, but they got lost in the shuffle somewhat because of the Boston crimes.
For example, someone mailed letters laced with ricin to President Obama, a Republican senator from Mississippi, and a judge from Mississippi. Under the right circumstances, exposure to ricin can be extremely harmful, but the judge was the only one of the three to actually come in contact with one of the envelopes.
As this incident shows, terrorist attacks are not just limited to bombs. Tainted mail can cause a lot of trouble if handled in a certain way.
On the local level, a threat forced the closing of a high school in Nashville. Because of a threat on social media, Father Ryan High School decided to close its doors for a day and cancel extracurricular activities. Though officials there were tight-lipped about the exact nature of the threat, schools cannot be too careful when it comes to these situations.
Perhaps the proximity of the threat to the anniversary of the Columbine mass shootings factored into the closing of the school. The shooting at that school back in the late 1990s seems to have taken school threats to a whole new level, and it is another unfortunate sign of the times.
All this news is sad, but it is just the way it is. This is the world we live in, and it is fractured and bleeding. The unfortunate aspect of all this is that events like this will happen again.
If we are not too careful, we can get so afraid of these events that it will impact how we live our lives.
However, we cannot do that. We cannot live our lives hiding under our desks because events out of our control might happen. Though we do not always realize it, we live under these circumstances every day.
In fact, we are put in situations that are out of our control every day that could be very dangerous. I am sure everyone reading this is a careful driver, but what about the other people on the road? We cannot control whether that other person is paying attention or not. Despite this, most of us do not think twice about the peril we face simply by driving.
The same principle should apply as we consider the events in our country the last couple of weeks. A terrorist attack could happen anywhere including here. After all, an event as large as Bonnaroo could be a juicy target for some idiot looking to make a name for himself. The people in charge of Bonnaroo will use state-of-the-art techniques to make sure the event is safe, but if some nut wants to try something crazy, he will.
The bottom line is we have little control on whether mayhem will enter our lives. We can plan all we want, but the whirlwind sometimes comes our way. Proper planning is important, but we can only do so much.
My advice is to relax and enjoy life.

Friday, April 19, 2013

‘The Office’ ending nine-season run with strong finish

The end is soon.

The Office is in the final weeks of its nine-year run on NBC, and there has been much discussion about whether the show can recapture its past glory as it ends. Can it raise itself back to the high level of its prime years?
To a certain degree, the answer to the question has been ‘yes.’ Though the show has meandered somewhat this season, shows in recent weeks have been consistently funnier than most episodes of the last couple of years.
In recent weeks, the show has been working to resolve long-running storylines as it heads to its finale on May 16. As those storylines continue to unfold, the show is reminding us just how funny it can be.
The April 11 episode was probably the funniest episode since Steve Carell left after the seventh season. The show was both funny and dramatic as it dealt with different characters.
On the funny side, Stanley (played by Leslie David Baker) stubbornly refused to go out on a sales call, which forced Dwight (played by Rainn Wilson) to stoop to ridiculous levels to get him to do his job.
How ridiculous? Dwight shot him with three bull tranquilizers and dragged him down a flight of stairs to get him to the sales call on time. With Stanley still groggy, Dwight guided him through the sales meeting with fine laughs provided.
On the dramatic side, the marital problems between Jim (played by John Krasinski) and Pam (played by Jenna Fischer) continued to unfold. While the end of this storyline is a tightly-guarded secret, it is hard to imagine them not pulling it back together. Their romance and subsequent marriage has been one of the most pleasing aspects of the show, and if their marriage ends, the show will be on the receiving end of a lot of raspberries.
Also, the impact of the “documentary” that has been shot about the Dunder Mifflin office continues to develop, and it is my gut feeling it will be a major player in resolving the differences between Jim and Pam, as well as other storylines.
The show’s resurgence has been a relief to long-time viewers. When Carell left, he left a huge hole. Though the ensemble cast is one of its strengths, he was clearly the glue that held it all together.
In its eighth season, the show struggled mightily after he left plus Fischer missed several episodes while on maternity leave. New characters like Robert California (played by James Spader) did not work, and viewers could almost see the actors trying to pump water out of a sinking lifeboat.
This is what has made this recent resurgence satisfying. Instead of going out with a whimper like other long-running shows, a little bit of fire is being breathed back into it.
During its prime, The Office was one of the finest shows on television. While that may be faint praise given the current state of network television, the show’s quality was high. Beginning late in its second season through its fifth season, the show rarely delivered a clunker.
However, like most long-running shows, there are only so many situations that characters can be put in and remain fresh. We have seen it happen to shows like The Simpsons, M*A*S*H* and others.
It appears the five- or six-year mark is the most appropriate life span for a television show. Shows like the old Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Tyler Moore show knew it was best to get out while on top.
This is easier said than done. After all, with success comes money, and it is not easy to say ‘no’ when executives start offering piles of money to people.

Seasoned with salt

When we do not choose words wisely, the problems in our lives become much more intense. Seriously, who among us has never gotten into trouble for words that carelessly tumbled out of our mouths? “Foot-in-mouth disease” is a malady not for the weak of heart.
Culturally, it seems we have gotten much looser with the words we say to each other. In politics, Democrats and Republicans often throw terms at each other that make us cringe. In these situations, it is funny how often the person speaking negatively winds up being the one looking bad.
All this political rhetoric would not be so destructive if it did not impact other parts of our culture. We have a lot of negative communication taking place. When we hear somebody speaking negatively on television or the Internet, it becomes that much easier for us to do the same.
We certainly see this in entertainment. There is a lot of emphasis on “reality” programs on television, and a staple of this type of programming is conflict. Makers of these shows apparently believe verbal jousting is a one-way ticket to good ratings, and many times, they are not wrong. After all, they keep making these shows so somebody must be watching.
Despite this, choosing our words wisely is one way we can make life go more smoothly for ourselves and the world in general.
This is an important concept. For example, The Holy Bible has this to say about our speech in Colossians 4:5-6: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
As with everything in the Bible, context is important when looking at just a couple of verses. This comment was directed at believers and the approach they should take when talking to other believers and non-believers. However, this has a universal application.
The words “seasoned with salt” is the phrase that especially leaps out. One biblical commentary correctly summed up the importance of this phrase when the writer stated: “This image carries with it several ideas, including preservation and something that is necessary to life. Down through the centuries salt has been used as a food-preserving agent because it destroys what is harmful in the food. Likewise, our speech should preserve by destroying harmful ideas with the truth, which we speak with love. Like salt, our speech should also provide what is necessary to life.”
The interesting aspect of that comment is it does not say we should not boldly stand up for what is right. The key point is we must commit ourselves to delivering these words with a heart of love that keeps the well-being of who we are talking to as a priority.
Too often in the arena of debate, the sole focus is on the making of a point without care for the person we are taking to. When it comes to swaying opinions, a popular technique can be the attacking of the person instead of the content of what is being said. While the credibility of a speaker is important, this approach is often used as a crutch to justify a “win at all costs” approach to conversation.
Whether this debate takes place in the political arena or a conversation between two people, the principle remains the same. We are all in this together, and unless it is an extreme case, we better be willing to keep the well-being of others in mind rather than just steamrolling them with our ideas.
We can make our points but still respect other people.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Last tour for Bob Seger?

Seger worth seeing if he comes near you
Long-time rock and roll singer Bob Seger has begun his 2013 tour and published reports indicate this could be the last time he hits the road. Seger, who is in his 60s, hinted to Rolling Stone last year this could be it when it comes to touring.

At this point, he is not scheduled to come close to this area. The closest date is currently a visit to North Carolina later this month. However, since most of the dates are located in the Midwest, it is hoped he will take the tour nationally later in the year.
He has played Nashville in the past. The only time I saw him in person was in the late ‘80s at the old Municipal Auditorium. The joint really rocked that night, and it remains one of the more memorable concerts I have seen.
Though Seger has long been an elder statesman of his profession, his career is also an example of perseverance. Though it is easy to forget, Seger spent the first 10 years of his career as a wandering performer who could not quite get over the top.
The album that really broke him out was Live Bullet.  In general, I am not a big fan of live albums, but this one really cooks.  Backed by the Silver Bullet Band, it was a multi-platinum release that took him from regional journeyman to national star.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Welcome spring, finally...

Spring began on March 20, and when that date was approaching, I was waiting on it with breathless anticipation. I do not like winter, and when it goes away, it is like being released from an odd form of prison. I feel that way for a number of reasons, but I will not be sharing any of them in this column.
When spring hits, it literally is a breath of fresh air most years. Temperatures quickly moderate and we see lots of color sprouting around us. Charcoal is replaced by blossoms.
With this in mind, I have been quite disappointed with how this spring has begun. It did not begin with a bang last month because it was cold and we even had a little bit of snow during the first few days. High temperatures in the thirties were not what I was fantasizing about while I was lingering in my winter cell.
However, this is not unusual. It is not realistic to expect spring to begin with 80-degree temperatures and trips to the lake. In fact, I can remember some March weather that ranks right up there with the most severe winter weather we have experienced in this area.
For example, the Superstorm of 1993 dumped more than 10 inches of snow here and that took place in the middle of March. Technically, it was still winter, but it was an example of how weather can march to the beat of its own drum.
Now that we have segued into April, spring seems to be climbing out of its funk, but I am not entirely satisfied. The average high temperature for this point of the season is in the mid to upper 60s, and we seem to be having problems hitting that with consistency.
I am looking for those glorious days where it is still cool enough to wear a sweatshirt but warm enough to wear shorts. When looking around me, I see some people have already reached that point. I am happy for them, but I still have to wear a light jacket when walking out to the mailbox. Maybe my delicate pink skin is getting too sensitive as I age.
Spring brings simple joys that often cannot be experienced in winter. For example, I enjoy mowing my lawn. While some may scoff at that being a simple pleasure, I like getting out there and pushing that little mower around.
Of course, I do not have a very big yard, so maybe that is part of why I enjoy it. It is not too big to become a nuisance.
However, the bigger point is the season allows us to get outside more and rid ourselves of the claustrophobia that being in the house can bring. ‘Claustrophobia’ is probably too dramatic of a word to use, but I do not like being cooped up. A couple of walks around the block is about the best tonic there is if a person has had a bad day. And it is tougher to do that in the dead of winter.
Sure, there are plenty of places to exercise indoors, but it is not the same as being engaged with nature. Spending a couple of hours just walking around a place like Old Stone Fort is infinitely healthier than mindless time on a treadmill.
Not that time on a treadmill is entirely bad. After all, some exercise is better than no exercise, and if a treadmill is all a person has, then he should go for it.
So, it is only a matter of days before spring completely comes out of its shell. Let us hope it is sooner rather than later.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Macca set to rock Bonnaroo in June

Paul is coming to Manchester

I have lived in Manchester for most of my 48 years, and I have seen several things occur that I thought I never would as a boy.
As a music lover, one of those things is the remarkable array of musicians that have visited our community as part of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. I know this event can polarize some of us because it brings both good and bad elements of our culture to our town in a mighty way.
However, when it comes strictly to music, a tremendous list of artists has come here. Of course, the definition of the word “tremendous” can vary depending on who a person is talking to. For people of my generation, identifying a tremendous artist might be a totally different process compared to how somebody half my age might do the defining.
My definition of “tremendous” includes artists like Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, and Bruce Springsteen who have all played at Bonnaroo. Seriously, if anybody had told me when I was a teenager that Bob Dylan would someday play three miles from my house, I would have told that person to seek professional help.
The latest list of performers for Bonnaroo was recently announced, and the first artist to catch my eye was Paul McCartney. A Beatle is coming to Coffee County? Chalk this up as something else I thought I would never see.
Even if McCartney’s career had ended in 1970 when The Beatles broke up, his status in modern popular music would have been secure. The Beatles’ influence on music and our culture cannot be overstated. The band took what Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and Fats Domino started and took it to a whole different level.
The Beatles growth as artists over just an eight-year period is startling. When “Love Me Do” was released in 1962, it was a quaint love song most significant for its use of a harmonica as a lead instrument.
Compare that song to songs like “A Day In The Life” only five years later, and the growth of the songwriting team of McCartney and John Lennon was obvious.
Though McCartney and Lennon wrote less and less together as The Beatles progressed, it is interesting how the perception of them as artists got so rigid. Often, Lennon was designated as the genius with words while McCartney was noted for his melodic flair.
This is not entirely true, and it does McCartney a disservice because he could also come up with fine sets of lyrics. For example, “Hey Jude” is a fine set of words, and the song is almost entirely McCartney’s.
In the final couple of years of The Beatles career, McCartney got on a hot streak that would be a career for most musicians. Songs like “Get Back,” “Let It Be,” and “The Long and Winding Road” all hit the top of the charts and were his babies despite sharing songwriting credit with Lennon. Sometimes the fog of time can dull memories and cause us to miss how much quality product he produced in such a brief period.
Now, McCartney will be visiting Manchester, and he will have a rich catalogue of songs to choose from when entertaining the crowd. Now that he is 70 years old, it is fair to wonder just how many more times he will tour America.
Hopefully, he will visit many more times, and this June he will being playing songs that he has not often brought to our area.  A couple of years ago he played in Nashville, but that was a very rare visit.
This will be a great opportunity to see a legendary artist.