John Barry – the man behind the soundtrack of our lives

Many do not know the name of John Barry Prendergast who was born in York, England in 1933. More know him by his first two names, but when he died in 2011, I would wager the average person on the street would not know his name or what he did for us. He made his music our music by composing some of the most memorable movie scores. Mind you, these movies would have been good without his contribution, but the memories we have of them are significantly flavored by his contributions. So much, when we hear the beautiful music he wrote, we are transported to the movie. That is magical.

His most known piece is probably the theme from James Bond. He wrote music for eleven of the Bond movies starting with the very first one, “Dr. No.” Yet, that piece, while memorable, pales in comparison to the music he wrote for movies like “Out of Africa,” for which he won one of his five Academy Awards. The scenery, story and acting that make this movie memorable are leveraged by the, at times, exhilarating and, at times, reverent music he wrote. I cannot listen to his music without thinking of Robert Redford and Meryl Streep’s characters flying over the African tundra.

Yet, his first African score landed him two Oscars, the fantastic “Born Free.” Both the title song and movie score are as magnificent as his later “Out of Africa” work. He also won Oscars for two very different movies, “The Lion in Winter,” which starred Peter O’Toole as Henry II, and “Dances with Wolves,” with Kevin Costner. The latter movie is not unlike his Africa themes, as he is at is best when capturing beautiful vistas with a great story and time.

While he wrote many other scores, one that resonates with my wife and me is “Somewhere in Time,” with Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve. The story is enchanting and we fall in love with Jane Seymour just as Reeve’s character did in the movie, leading him to travel back in time. Yet, the music makes what could have been a cheesy story a classic in our view. It takes us from the present to the enchanting past, so much that the Grand Hotel, where it was filmed has “Somewhere in Time” gatherings throughout the year. One of my best Valentine’s Day presents was to give my wife the soundtrack to this movie.

If you get a chance, order these soundtracks or some compilation of his music. It is well worth the listen and, if you enjoys these movies, you will enjoy revisiting them through Barry’s music. It might make a great Valentine’s Day present.

Jingoism sells and the peddlers profit

Most Americans are exposed to jingoism on a routine basis, but many cannot define the term. Per the Merriam-Webster dictionary: Jingoism is the feelings and beliefs of people who think that their country is always right and who are in favor of aggressive acts against other countries. While it is good to be proud of our country and support those who defend it, jingoism is as ugly in meaning as it sounds.

We are a people of imperfections, yet our forefathers were able to craft a government construct that is the envy of many. Our government construct lives up to and supports our ideals and democracy. The problem has always been we have imperfect people who lead the country and their biases and conflicts of interest cannot help from being exposed. Even though leaders try to hide their biases, with so much money influencing elections and decisions, their opinions will flip back and forth depending on who they’re talking with. *

However, many politicians, funders and pundits like to play the jingoism card to garner support and gain public sentiment on doing something that usually needs much due diligence. The reason is jingoism is sells. And, the peddlers of this naïve “we are the champions” mentality know this. It makes the peddlers richer or promotes a cause that will win votes. Jingoism is intended to influence people with simple concepts, when the issues are more complex. A few examples may help:

  • After 9/11, the White House portrayed anyone who differed with their plan to invade Iraq as unpatriotic. Although I voted for President Bush, this offended me. The band “The Dixie Chicks” were vilified for daring to speak out against invading Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. Yet, they were representing what is best about our country, the right to speak up against our leaders. By the way, looking backwards with 20/20 hindsight, they were right to question the invasion.
  • We have many politicians beating on their chests to use more ground troops to fight ISIL. ISIL wants this as they can make it about “an us against the west fight.” Yet, this has to be a coalition effort where we support Muslim countries fighting these terrorists. One of the challenges for Americans getting involved is this is an extremely complex situation. Our troops are valiant warriors, but they have thanked others for speaking up against sending them to fight unwinnable fights. In fact, they would use a common military phrase, saying fighting in countries with so many factions is a “clusterf**k.”
  • The commercials that play on our competitive nature are back saying we are number one in the production of natural gas and soon to be oil. The caring and earnest actress notes how safe hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is. This is to combat the mounting evidence to the contrary. Our energy future must involve the growing renewable energy industry more than it is now. Yet, these commercials and similar ones tout our number one status like it is a football game. This is one game which we don’t necessarily want to win, so we need to think about the best path forward.

I will leave it at these three examples, but there are many more. We are a great country, but we are not perfect and it is more than OK to speak about where we have dropped the ball and where we could do better. This year will be the 50th anniversaries of some very ugly events in our country around denying blacks the right to vote, so we should never forget this history to avoid it from happening again. We must question things and protest when things are out of sort.

Yet, the folks playing these jingoistic cards want to gain by creating and playing on our fears. The issues are more complex than portrayed. Jingoism sells and the peddlers tend to profit. We need to listen, but ask many more questions and hold people to answers. This is the patriotic thing to do. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

* Note: Please check out this excellent post by Roseylinn about Jonathan Swift who saw the lack of truth-telling in politicians  over four hundreds years ago. https://roseylinn.wordpress.com/2015/02/05/jonathan-swift/

Some voices from real people in need

“I work. I have always worked, but need to find another job where the hours are more predictable, so I can be there for my kids, attend school events, help them with their homework.” – a single homeless mother, now housed with a temporary rent-subsidy.

“They have cut my hours at work, so I need to find a second job, so that I can feed my kids and pay rent.” – a single homeless mother, now housed with a temporary rent-subsidy.

“Two professionals helping me were talking about me, in front of me, as if I could not understand them. Since I did not know middle class English, people would not ask for my opinion. I grew up a migrant worker picking crops. I did not know I did not speak middle class English.” – a former homeless person, who is now a Ph.D. helping people in need.

“People who have never lived in poverty, do not know what it is like to have to decide on whether to eat or pay rent. They say why don’t you get a job? I have a job. I have more than one and I work hard.” – a homeless father, now housed with a temporary rent-subsidy.

“My husband is no longer a part of the picture. We are on our own doing the best we can, but it is hard with only person working.” – a domestic violence victim and homeless mother, now housed with a temporary rent-subsidy.

“I never thought it could happen to us. We both have college degrees, but when my wife was also laid off, we had to come here and get help. We did not know how.” – a father of a homeless family who is now housed with a temporary rent-subsidy.

“When your poor, you feel like you do not belong. How do you think a kid feels when she goes to school on picture day and her envelope is empty? Or, at the book fair, when the teacher compliments the person in front of her on the book they chose and skips over her.” – a former homeless person who is now a Ph.D. helping people in need.

“I made a bad decision when I was a teenager and now have a criminal record. Can you help me get considered for this job? I just need an opportunity to tell my story.” – a single homeless mother now in housing with a temporary rent-subsidy.

“I am embarrassed that I cannot keep a roof over my kids’ heads. They say they understand, but it is not fair that they have to.” – a single homeless father living out of his van with his two kids.

“We did not know this until later, but our daughter was volunteering at a food bank helping people in need. Mind you, we live in a tent in a homeless village, but she was volunteering to help others after school.” – a homeless family, who is now housed with a temporary rent subsidy.

We need to walk in other people’s shoes to understand why they are in poverty. It is not laziness, as the homeless people I see work their fannies off.  It is not due to lack of virtue, as the people I see are more devout than others as their faith is all they have. It is mostly not due to substance abuse, as the homeless have no greater degree of substance abuse than the general population. Poverty is the lack of money. This lens is critical. Let’s understand this and help people climb ladders to self-sufficiency.

I am a tree hugger and a capitalist

It is not uncommon for me to be called a tree hugger when I am speaking about protecting our environment, addressing man-influenced climate change or the perils of some fossil fuel retrieval processes that can and are wreaking havoc such as fracking or mountain top coal mining. Some who use this term intend to belittle my arguments, as they espouse the belief if you label something with a moniker that has a negative connotation in some circles, it dismisses my arguments as not worth heeding.

Yes, I am a tree hugger, but I am a capitalist as well. I firmly believe we do a disservice to the need to protect our environment without fully addressing the cost/ benefit analysis of fossil fuel retrieval processes or chemical use both within and to protect crops. Often, we do not fully measure the cost impact to net against the revenue impact. If we did more of this, then we may forego some measures as not justifiable from a cost/ benefit comparison. This would go on top of other impacts that may not show up directly in costs.

Here are few examples of what I mean.

– The city of Burlington, VT is now 100% powered by renewable energy including bio-mass, hydropower, wind and solar energy. Per the Burlington Electric Department, they have not had a rate increase since 2009 and their future projections said this package of renewable energy sources was the cheapest and most sustainable model. An environmental scientist with the University of Vermont noted that Burlington is not uniquely situated. The wind does not blow any more than elsewhere and the sun certainly does not shine as often as anyone would like, but their model is based on decisions leaders started making ten years ago.

– The state of North Carolina has spent a lot of time paving the way for fracking in our state trying to make an increasingly apparent unsafe process safer. After spending all this time, there may not be any takers as there is not much natural gas to frack in NC, which they knew beforehand. After the rules were finalized, the committee noted we knew it would be a stretch. Then, with so many problems, why did you go down this path wasting everyone’s time, energy and money on a bad process with little promise?

– The President has said he is OK with the pursuit of offshore drilling off the coast of the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland. The two Senators from NC support this as well as our Governor. Yet, NC has a huge tourism business that is in the billions of dollars as well as a huge fishing industry. These folks are not too keen on this exploration given the risk and damage the operations bring. Further, just off the coast of North Carolina, wind energy could power the entire eastern seaboard of the US. And, as opposed to the Horizon oil rig collapse, when a wind mill crashes into the sea, it causes only a splash.

– When we speak of doing more fossil fuel development, we consistently hear jobs are one of the reasons. Yet, this is not an either/ or as there are jobs in the renewable energy industries as well. Just in solar energy, the numbers of jobs tally 174,000 in the US at year-end and more than double the number of coal industry jobs. Plus, the growth rate in solar jobs is double-digit the last five or so years, with 2014 seeing 22% growth. Those 25,000 new permanent jobs added in 2014 almost equal in one year the estimated temporary jobs from the Keystone pipeline. Plus, the sun shines in all states, so jobs can be spread around, especially with the even more compelling cost of solar.

The parts of the cost/ benefit equation that do not get factored in enough are the costs of cleaning up the messes and repairing the road and environmental degradation which is usually left for the state, the cost of healthcare when the environment is trashed or chemicals are used inappropriately or in excess, and the opportunity cost of lost water resources, which is one of our two dearest resources and is called the new oil. These latter two factors are reasons the state of New York said no to fracking.

Being totally frank, it makes economic sense to treat our environment well. It is so important, you can even find bible passages where we are compelled to take care of the environment. So, yes I am a tree hugger. My question is why isn’t everyone?