When a heart is empty – words from conservative pundit David Brooks

I have shared before David Brooks is one of my favorite conservative pundits. I read his columns and have read two of his books, “The Road to Character” and “The Social Animal.” I even went to hear him speak when he came to town, as he focused on remembering community and community gathering places. Monday’s editorial column by Brooks is called “When a heart is empty.”

Brooks highlights how an unfeeling, self-absorbed author named Emmanuel Carrere is forever altered by a crisis, when he loses his granddaughter to a horrible tsunami. Per Brooks, Carrere “develops a deep and perceptive capacity to see the struggles of others” and he writes about the change in “Lives Other Than My Own.”

Brooks uses this change to contrast it being “opposite of the blindness Donald Trump displayed in quotes reported by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic and Bob Woodward in his latest book about the administration, ‘Rage’

Brooks goes on to say “Trump can’t seem to fathom the emotional experience of their lives (the deceased soldiers he called ‘losers’ and ‘suckers’) – their love for those they fought for, the fears they faced down, the resolve to risk their lives nonetheless.

If he can’t see that, he can’t understand the men and women in uniform serving around him. He can’t understand the inner devotion that drives people to public service, which is supposed to be the core of his job.

The same sort of blindness is on display in the Woodward quotes. It was stupid of Trump to think he could downplay COVID-19 when he already knew it had the power of a pandemic. It was stupid to think the American people would panic if he told the truth. It was stupid to talk to Woodward in the first place…

It is moral and emotional stupidity. He blunders so often and so badly because he has a narcissist’s inability to get inside the hearts and minds of other people.”

There is more, but the gist of the piece can be gleaned from these quotes. Brooks said earlier this year, “Donald Trump does not have a sense of decency or empathy.” He reiterates this theme above. And, there is a line from one of my favorite political movies “The American President” with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening. “Being president is entirely about character.”

Atlanta Rhythm Section – smooth but less known

The Atlanta Rhythm Section (ARS) is likely not a top of mind group. They formed as a session band in the early 1970’s emphasizing a rhythm guitar sound. Some of its members were in an earlier band, “The Classics IV,” while others came from “Candymen.” From Wikipedia:

“In the spring of 1970, three former members of the Candymen (Rodney Justo, Dean Daughtry and Robert Nix) and the Classics IV (Daughtry and James B. Cobb, Jr.) became the session band for the newly opened Studio One recording studio in Doraville, Georgia, near Atlanta.

After playing on other artists’ recordings, the Atlanta Rhythm Section was formed in 1971, with Rodney Justo (singer), Barry Bailey (guitar), Paul Goddard (bass), Dean Daughtry (keyboards), Robert Nix (drums) and James (J.R.) Cobb (guitar).”

ARS had a few hits “So into you,” “I’m not going to let it bother me tonight,” “Doraville,” “Imaginary Lover,” and a remake of a Classics IV hit “Spooky.” Another hit called “Champagne Jam” highlighted an Atlanta summer music festival by the same name.

The group is easy to listen to. One reason I highlight them is I used to live near Doraville when I was in university in Atlanta. If I had to recommend three songs – “So into you,” “Imaginary Lover” and “Spooky” have a universal appeal. I have provided a link to “Spooky” at the end. Let me know what you think.

Here are a few of the lyrics of each:

So into you

When you walked into the room
There was voodoo in the vibes
I was captured by your style
But I could not catch your eyes

Now I stand here, helplessly
Hoping you’ll get into me

I am so into you
I can’t think of nothing else
I am so into you
I can’t think of nothing else

Imaginary lover

Imaginary lovers
Never turn you down
When all the others turn you away
They’re around
It’s my private pleasure
Midnight fantasy
Someone to share my
Wildest dreams with me
Imaginary lover you’re mine anytime
Imaginary lovers, oh yeah

Spooky

In the cool of the evenin’ when ev’rything is gettin’ kind of groovy
I call you up and ask you if you’d like to go with me and see a movie
First you say “no”, you’ve got some plans for the night
And then you stop, and say, “all right”
Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you

Each of these these songs will likely resonate with their interesting lyrics and subject matter. I love the phrase “I am so into you,” as it conveys a deeper feeling than love or lust. “Imaginary lover” is self-explanatory, while “Spooky” reminds us of the person who fascinated us, but we probably should have not gotten involved with.

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=atlanta+rhythm+section+spooky&qpvt=atlanta+rhythm+section+spooky&FORM=VDRE

Tuesday’s Gone with the Wind – a few thoughts

With all due respect to “Ruby Tuesday” and “Tuesday Afternoon,” I chose this song title for my random Tuesday thoughts. “Tuesday’s Gone with the Wind” has the right melancholy feel.

Starting with the last part of the title “Gone with the Wind,” it reminds me that the entertainment world has finally figured out the famous movie and book are racist and poor renditions of the events surrounding the Civil War. We actually discussed this misrepresentation by the movie and book in my World Literature class in 1977. But, propaganda about the war has been around since white slaveowners got poor whites to fight for a more righteous cause of states’ rights than the real one to let them keep slaves.

Remember how states’ rights were cited by the president for delegating his responsibility to fight COVID-19. Yet, states’ rights are less important if he must flex his law and order muscles. Both the Kenosha mayor and Wisconsin governor asked the president not to come to Kenosha as he would not help calm the situation. Well, he is coming to get his photo shoot, but he should not be surprised if he is not well-received. Uniting people is not the mission of this president as noted by General James Mattis, his former Secretary of Defense.

The president’s actions and words concern me on so many levels. One is his fanning the flames of racial unrest to win an election. He offers it is not his doing, but he is the one walking around with a gasoline can. All lives and Blue lives, of course, matter, but those mantras denigrate the message of Black Lives Matters. What this white washing misdirection does is ignores that too many Americans do not feel Black lives matter or that Blacks are overstating their strife. And, the president is catering to these groups with his divisive rhetoric and gasoline.

The vast majority of BLM protests are peaceful and civil. They are also well attended by multiple racial groups. But, the smaller few need to cease the violence. It devalues the message. Violence also feeds directly into the hands of the president who looks for wedge issues. In three and half years, many have become weary of this me, me, me focus of the president who cares more about his perception than solving problems. These things are happening on his watch and he is making things worse, not better.

On the Blue side, the police must better police themselves. They need to weed out any bad actors and recognize, address and train-to-minimize bad actions. A former FBI domestic terrorism expert said she shared with the Justice Department that a few police officers are sympathetic with white nationalists. But, the police union and management must stop doing what the Catholic Church did for decades and ignore bad apples. They do spoil the impression of the whole bunch. Just like only a few priests were pedophiles, only a few police are overly racist.

Fixing problems requires leaders to acknowledge them. And, understand them. As I noted earlier, using problems to be a wedge issue to win does not solve the problems. It makes them worse.

The Go-Gos – an underappreciated group

The Go-Gos are the first popular all female band that played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. There were earlier female bands, but this New Wave group catapulted to the top of the charts faster than others and belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A Showtime documentary called “The Go-Gos,” produced by Alison Eastwood, provides a great look into the band.

The Go-Gos are usually identified by the five members when they hit it big – Belinda Carlisle (lead singer), Jane Wiedlin (rhythm guitar), Charlotte Caffey (lead guitarist and keyboards), Kathy Valentine (bass guitar) and Gina Schock (drummer).

Ironically, they started as a punk rock band as the initial members felt they were not part of any other culture. Their initial drummer was Elissa Bello and initial bassist was Margot Olavarria. Even more surprising, none of the four initial members knew how to play instruments. Fortunately, in punk rock, belng a bad musician was not a total liability. So, they played and learned. Caffey joined them and brought musicianship and song writing. And, when Bello left due to a paying career, she was replaced by Schock who had been drumming for years. Valentine would replace Olavarria later.

They hit it off with Madness and The Specials, two Ska revival UK punk rock bands, when they played in the US. So, The Go-Gos joined these groups on a tour of Scotland. It should be noted their first manager Ginger Canzoneri sold everything to underwrite their UK trip. Now, the Ska bands attracted a white nationalist fan base that did not like non-Scots, Americans and women playing in a band, so the group took a lot of grief which toughened them and made them a more cohesive group.

They released “We’ve got the beat” as a single under Stiff Records in the UK. When they returned to the US, they signed with IRS Records and released their double platinum album “Beauty and the Beat” which soared to #1 on the Billboard charts. The album included their hit single and “Our lips are sealed,” “Get up and go,” and “This old feeling.”

They would release “Vacation” as their second album, whose biggest hit was the title cover. “Talk Show” followed, but by that time, the band was having troubles. Personal differences, song writing revenue sharing and drug issues led to the eventual split. Wiedlin left and was replaced by Paula Jean Brown, but the band would not last long after that.

The band would break up in the mid-1980s, but tour off and on in the 1990s through today. There was even a Broadway show called “Head over Heels” about the band. Carlisle would go on to have a successful solo career and the others would form or join bands. Yet, they would reconvene to celebrate and re-perforn what made them great.

The Go-Gos had a fun, energetic sound. They also played with a joie de vivre. They influenced many a young girl to strive to be a musician or artist or follow a passion. Seeing someone like you on stage is an inspiration.

Do you think they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. What are your favorite songs or memories?

Small great things – a tough, good, and necessary book

Jodi Picoult has written a book that is necessary for today’s time – “Small great things.” She makes us confront our racism through a page-turning novel. The strange sounding title comes from Martin Luther King. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

Telling a riveting story in first person through the eyes of three people, Picoult makes us confront our racism. She notes racism is more than prejudice, it is the systematic privilege that some don’t realize they have over those who realize they don’t have it on a daily basis.

Ruth, is a Black nurse with over twenty years of well-respected experience in neonatal care. Turk is a White Supremacist whose wife Brit has just given birth in the hospital where Ruth works. Kennedy is the attorney that Ruth will eventually need, a White public defender. Not giving too much of the plot away and gleaning from the back cover summary, Turk has Ruth removed from caring for them when her shift brings her to their room.

The baby later dies after complications following a circumcision, while Ruth was asked to sit in to monitor the baby as the White nurse was called away, since they were understaffed that morning. Ruth was asked not to provide care, but her oath makes her act to try and save the baby. Yet, she was conscious of this dilemma to act or not act and hesitates before acting. She is eventually accused of murder.

The first person story-telling offers insight into the mind of a White Supremacist. It is an interesting and unnerving experience. Yet, while Turk, his wife and her father show what overt racism looks like, through the lens of Ruth and Kennedy, we learn what passive racism look like, which is even more present in society.

I won’t give any more of the story away. The book reads more crisply as Picoult alters the first person telling from chapter to chapter. On a few occasions, she repeats what just happened through the eyes of another perspective. It allows you to invest in each character. You feel for the loss of any child as a parent, even if the parents are not ones you would agree with. You pull for Ruth, even though she will leave you frustrated, but part of that frustration is confronting the racism that lies in all of us even Kennedy.

If you have not read the book, I encourage you to do so. If you have, please let me know your thoughts below. For those who have not read it, you may want to stay away from the comments.

A boyhood crush passes away

Many great people have died in the past week, Congressman John Lewis, leading the pack through his advocacy and courage. Yet, someone this old fart had a crush on passed away over the weekend – Olivia de Havilland. Here is a brief snippet (courtesy of Wonderwall) of an article that tells more about her to those with whom her name is not familiar.

“Olivia de Havilland, an icon of Hollywood’s Golden Age and the last living star of ‘Gone With the Wind,’ has died at 104. The five-time Oscar nominee, who twice won the Academy Award for Best Actress, passed away “peacefully” in her sleep at her home in Paris, her publicist announced on Sunday, July 26. De Havilland became a household name after starring alongside Errol Flynn in films including 1935’s ‘Captain Blood’ and 1938’s ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood.’ As she took on more serious roles, like that of a patient at a mental institution in ‘Snake Pit’ (1948), awards poured in for the actress. That continued through the end of her career and included a National Medal of Arts honor in 2008. Shortly before her 101st birthday, Queen Elizabeth named the star a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. De Havilland was also known for a long-running feud with her sister, actress Joan Fontaine, and for her historic 1943 court victory over Warner Bros., in which Hollywood’s unfair suspension clause was deemed unlawful.”

While she won her two Oscars for Best Actress in “The Heiress” and “To each his own,” this young boy remembers de Havilland for her work with Errol Flynn in “Captain Blood” and as Maid Marian in “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” She said in an interview, she was smitten with Flynn, but never acted on it. This is apparent when Flynn’s Robin Hood climbs up to her room and her Maid Marian blushes way too easily. For little boys, we were Errol Flynn, and she was the object of our affection.

While she is best known for playing Melanie in “Gone with the Wind,” she won her awards when she demanded better parts. However, playing Melanie was so well done, I remember my mother saying how she did not like how Melanie’s husband Ashley Wilkes treated her. Melanie deserved better than the wishy-washy Wilkes’ inattentiveness. De Havilland made us pull for Melanie even more. Please note, I am setting aside the disservice this movie did for how it portrayed slaves.

I recognize fully de Havilland is not a John Lewis or a CT Vivian. But, for this grown-up boy, she will forever be the woman blushing in the window with Robin Hood.

The music of The Bridges of Madison County

A few months ago, I rewatched the movie “The Bridges of Madison County.” The movie stars Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep and is directed by Eastwood.

The movie is about a weekend tryst between a photographer who traveled to the area to take pictures of the county’s covered bridges and a woman in a routine marriage. Her husband is away with the kids camping.

The movie is very good, but is bathed in wonderful music of the 1950s and early 1960s. Eastwood is very musical, so he took time to select music that accentuated the romantic scenes between the two.

Johnny Hartman and Dinah Washington are featured several times. If you don’t know Hartman, think Nat King Cole with a deeper voice. Irene Kral appears a couple of times and Barbara Lewis sings “Baby I’m Yours,” her biggest hit.

My kids bought me the soundtrack CD for Father’s Day. It is smooth listening music. If you are looking for a birthday present, it is a nice treat. And, it is not just for older people, as my oldest son in his late twenties knew who Hartman was.

We have several soundtracks that well-accented the movie they were in. They range from “The Big Chill” which has artists’ songs to “The Last of the Mohicans” whose score is marvelous. And, if you want to get a selection of themes, John Barry has a CD of several movie themes he wrote such as “Born Free,” “Somewhere in Time” and “Out of Africa.”

What are some of your favorites soundtracks?

Straight talk from Tom Hanks on COVID-19 – there is a part we can all play

Last night, Tom Hanks was interviewed by Lester Holt on NBC News (the three plus minute interview can be linked to below). Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson caught COVID-19 while traveling and self-quarintined in Australia. Hanks tends to be worth listening to, as he speaks in a straightforward, reflective and unthreatening manner.

When Holt asked him about the concerns and uncertainties of many, Hanks noted how to address such by doing what is asked of us. Hanks said what we have been asked to do to help each other and our community is the least we can do. It is disappointing that it is even an issue as there is a part we all can play. Wear a mask, socially distance and wash your hands. Something so simple that requires so little effort.

Hanks noted earlier that he and Rita are doing fine after quarantine and are participating in blood work studies now that they are back home. He said they both have fewer antibodies, so they remain at risk of getting a recurrence. He said their symptoms were a little different, with both feeling at first they were a little “punky.” They have been open about their illness, treatment and recovery so that people are aware.

Please watch the interview from the link below. It is refreshing to hear straight talk from someone who we feel we know from his career and how he has conducted himself. I kept thinking these are the simple messages more people in leadership positions should be saying.

https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/full-interview-tom-hanks-on-coronavirus-pandemic-87167557813

Where the crawdads sing – a terrific page turner

A few weeks ago, I asked my wife if I would enjoy Delia Owens novel “Where the crawdads sing.” I had given it to her for Christmas a few years ago and was looking for a good fiction read. I had bought it for her as it was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and recommended by Reese’s Book Club (that is Reese Witherspoon). She said I would and she was correct.

For those who have read the book, I look forward to your comments below. If you have not, please avoid the comments, as my wife did a great job of not telling me things I did not know yet as I read. Plus, it won’t take you long to read, as the story, main character, and setting are very intriguing. I will not give anything away here.

Owens does a great job of toggling between two time periods, one that ages with Kya, the main character, and the other one set in 1969, when a body is discovered beneath an abandoned Fire Tower on a coastal region of North Carolina. We meet Kya in 1952 when she is only six and her mother leaves her family to get away from an abusive, drinking husband. As this occurs very early in the book, her older siblings also leave as they experienced verbal and physical abuse.

They lived in the marsh of this coastal area and we begin to learn about the differences between marshes, swamps and inlets, through this girl’s eyes. This “Marsh Girl,” as she will become known as to the small town of Barkley Cove, cannot read or count above 29, but she is very resourceful, knows the area, and briefly learns a few useful things from her father during his nicer periods. She also befriends a boy older than she, named Tate (who had been friends with her closest sibling Jodie) and a Black man named Jumper (who has a coastal filling station for boats) who are helpful to her journey.

The book is told largely in first person through Kya’s eyes, but we do get the occasional thoughts of other key characters, that help shape the story. They also offer a glimpse of the bias toward Kya as evidenced by the nickname, plus why those who help her, do so.

I highly recommend this book. The story and characters will intrigue you. You will also learn things that Kya learns or be amazed at what she had gleaned by age six, about the marsh, animals, birds, and fireflies. The title will also reveal its origins along the way. And, you will also learn through Kya’s eyes how people in different classes are treated or made to feel inferior.

Let me know your thoughts. Do your best not to give too much away for those who have not read the book, but they have been forewarned.

A unifying person – a tribute to Carlos Santana, the person (a reprise)

The following was written and posted in 2014. The theme is so very relevant today as a much needed approach to emulate. Carlos Santana is known for his collaboration with singers and other performers.

I was watching an excellent documentary film on HBO about Carlos Santana, which included the lead up to and concert in his birth country of Mexico at the Festival of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The music is terrific, but the stories from Santana and his fellow performers, friends and family are enlightening and confirming. Santana received a Kennedy Center Honor from President Obama in December, 2013 for his life’s work and devotion to making great music and sharing it with us and his fellow performers.

As one of the best guitarists around, Santana has a gift of working well with other performers and using their talents to make beautiful music. In the documentary, he was described as a “unifying person” which may be one of the nicest compliments you could pay to someone. The story-teller said Santana had a gift for unifying diverse music and musical talents to make a unique and wonderful sound. Three quick stories, two from Santana and one from his wife Cindy Blackman, will provide great glimpses into Santana’s make-up.

Someone asked Santana how he was able to collaborate so well with other musicians in recordings and in performances. He said, “I just show up with a smile on my face and a willingness to work together with others.” If we could bottle that and give it to everyone to drink, what a difference that would make. A simple example of this was when Santana was talking to his fellow musicians about “not playing too loudly, so as not to drown out the voice of the singers.” I had heard him earlier describe that you have to provide some space for people to listen to the various subtleties of the music. To me, this is giving of himself to make the whole sound better.

The last example comes from his relatively new bride, Cindy Blackman, whom he married in 2010. She was describing how at the Kennedy Center Honors banquet, Santana went back to the kitchen to thank all of the chefs and wait staff for their help that night. He noted later in the documentary, many of us immigrants came to America and took jobs to have a chance to live in a great country. They work hard and we should acknowledge them.

I purposefully did not make this about his wonderful repertoire of songs. His music will live on. I was so moved by this quote of him being a “unifying person” I felt the need to share his example for us all. Muchas gracias, amigo.