Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Certain Sadness of a Soon To Be Forgotten Man

All eyes now are focused on America's tomorrow. Many thinking it likely bright; others frightened by its possibilities. Regarding our tomorrows, of course, in the end only time will tell. But less open to question, and being given relatively little thought, is the end of he who once was seen by many as The Great Hope: Barack Obama. And that fact, while understandable -- and perhaps well deserved -- strikes me still as rather, well, sad, Unlike every previous President, Barack Obama will not upon leaving office be grabbing a carriage, taking a train, or flying out of Washington DC to somewhere else -- to a true "home." No, Obama is staying in Washington. And even there he is said to have no real friends. Sycophants he has had aplenty, of course. Just being President assured that. But friends? Or even people who look to him for his wisdom and experience? It is generally agreed, of these he has, really, none. (Thus his need to so often sing his own praises and "toot" his own horn.) The sadness of this goes way beyond the sadness of, or for, the man himself. No, it is the sadness of lost promise and promises. For just eight years ago so many people had so much hope. For President Obama as a man, and for the promises he was making And now we just need look at the world -- or, really, even, at just our own nation -- and we cannot help but see how empty those hopes and promises proved to be. Other presidents, too, left office without great honor. Richard Nixon comes to mind. But in truth his -- Nixon's -- list of accomplishments was quite large. -The EPA. A major reduction in nuclear arms proliferation. Greatly improved international relationships -- such as those with China. And this list could go on. But Obama's main "accomplishment" -- Obamacare -- forced through without anything but single-sided support -- is seen as a failure. And, many say, was doomed to be that failure from its very start. This because of poor design, and by its having been built on even then known falsehoods. And thus with its -- Obamacare's -- crashing failure we see Obama's own, personal, failure as well. Yes, as he boldly told the nation after it elected a congress hostile to his further acts, he had "a phone and a pen." But nothing beyond that. No wisdom. No actual vision. No real accomplishments. Nothing that unites -- only that which divides. And so all that follows him is... emptiness. Like the sound of a hollowed out log. Yes, I, as do so many, wish to put both President Obama and his entire era behind me/us -- to be forgotten as quickly possible. But still, with our doing so, there is -- there should be and there has to be -- a certain sadness. -For the greatness that so many looked and hoped for, but for which we must now look to another.To possibilities -- those of unity, prosperity and peace -- that so many yearned for -- but that still remain far out of reach. I, like many I suspect, will rarely think of President Obama once he has left office. But, thinking about it, that itself is a sad, sad thing. So, yes, a new tomorrow dawns. It, quite properly, has our full attention. But Obama, even now (it seems to me) deserves a moment of silence. For he who promised so much -- and left behind so, so little.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Everything Is Hype (And Why It Matters)

Back in the "old days" -- and, yes, I know saying that well demonstrates my advancing years -- only BIG news got BIG headlines.

And by "big" I mean big.  Like this...

No longer.

Today everything is a big deal. Everything is hyped. Everything is designed to take your breath away or get your heart pounding. Yes, everything.

Now to the quite young -- and by this I wish I could be referring merely to actual "children, but, alas, no - everything is "big" even if it is small; commonplace.  "Wow! Tomorrow I turn two!"

Thus when bad things happen -- the dog dies for instance -- parents of young children have to deliver the news carefully. And with a bit of sweetener.

I still remember when I was about five my older sister's kitten died. My parents told us they'd taken it to the veterinarian (she knew that) and that it had "run away."

Uhuh.  (If I believed it then would I remember their saying it so clearly now?)

But when dealing with children such at least seems necessary.

No longer.  Today college kids, too, need to have reality broken to them very, very gently. And the news breaker has to be prepared for what may come. (A copious supply of Play-Doh is said to help. Along with available counselors.)

Maybe that is because the big and the small are today confused.  The small is made big.

Take the current cold period.

Is it "cold" out? Yes it is. Fourteen degrees f. (-10 c)  Cold enough that one better wear gloves and keep the ears covered.  Especially as it is also windy. But really, is that a big, big deal?

No.  The fact is that we have on numerous occasions seen temperatures 'round here of minus 14 f.  And colder.  That's -25 for those used to the centigrade scale.  Perhaps that is 'a biggie', but if so it's a not rare one.  As I said, we've seen it many times.

Yet from the POV of the headline writers our present temperature is a big deal.  Big enough that the networks and newspapers have been hyping its supposedly dangerous coming for days. And now that's it's here -- 14 degrees! -- they are writing about the tragic consequences.

I.e,, one person somewhere in the mid-west is said to have died of exposure.

Now I'd not want to make light of a single death or the pain that came with it.  Yes, every life is precious -- especially to that someone and their family and friends.  But in truth, is there ever a day when someone does not die?  No. And in a nation of 300,000,000+ such tragedies are, and will remain, common.  Yes, even deaths by exposure. So the thing that is creating the headline and the News Flash isn't the newsworthiness of the event, it is the need for the hype.

Does this matter?  Yes.

Most of us know the story of the boy who cried wolf.  And how his calling out to his neighbors, bringing them running day after day when there was no wolf, left him defenseless when an actual wolf showed up.  And so it is today when small news, or no news at all, is hyped.  -Made to appear as something big.

But the dulling of the senses to real newsworthy events -- events that call for immediate awareness and action -- is only part of the problem with the hype. Two others come to mind. Possibly more damaging to society.

The first is mistrust.

Today each supposed news source is using what once would have been called "large type," not because the stories warrant it, but to grab readers.

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." -So goes a popular saying.

And it is true.  No one likes to be fooled.

"Made you look! Made you look!" so said the schoolyard smarty pants of old.

Or in its slightly more modern iteration...

What's the effect?  We -- and (hopefully) McFly -- eventually stop looking.

But worse yet, if little things are big, what are bigger things?  Or REALLY big ones?

When commonplace things are described as big we lose, not just our vocabulary to describe truly big things, but -- and this is far more serious -- our emotional ability to deal with them.

How many young people are right now staying indoors because of fear of the cold who could be outside enjoying themselves?

Again, yes, I know it marks my age, but we never worried about the "wind chill factor" when I was a kid.  (Did the phrase even then exist?)  If it was cold we called it "Winter." And then we bundled up and grabbed our sleds. Or we went to school.

Yes, true blizzards kept us home, but only from official functions.  "School is closed! Woohoo! Let's go skating!" Or sledding.

Today mommy won't allow it.  The headlines warn against it. And such are quickly followed by the network nags. -Those pompous know-it-alls who tell parents and teachers -- everybody within the sound of their droning voices -- what "good" parents do. And don't do. What they allow (little it seems) and don't allow (most everything).

What will happen to a generation raised in such an environment?  If the little things get large frightening headlines followed by a thousand "don't dos" how will people -- both adults and young adults -- react if ever a real threat comes?  -One that requires action -- either personal of societal?

To know we just need look at the colleges with their "safe zones" Play-Doh and therapy puppies.

I haven't played with Play-Doh in years.  (Did I ever?)  But I do love puppies.

Still, when the challenges in life come -- and they always will and do -- that is not where I was trained to look.

Hard times will come again.  Maybe very hard times.

Will we as a people be ready?

Or will we just read the headlines?  And hide?

Yes, the hype matters.  IT is a BIG DEAL.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Joy! Joy! To Be Able To Really Hear Again!

Back in the days when I was rockin' with a band we didn't know anything about the effect of exposure to loud sound levels -- be it the noise of an air compressor, the repeated discharge of a firearm, or, yes, loud rock music. But our ignorance did not lead to any bliss -- well, apart from the possibility of "blissful" forced silence.

I.e, "old" people went deaf. 'Twas just the way of things. ("Eh? What's that you say sonny?")

Now we know otherwise and hopefully younger guitar slingers are taking that painfully learned truth seriously.

For older rockers such as myself it is too late. The damage was done. And apart from the use of devices to regain some of what has been lost, irreversible.

But, oh, those devices! As I have learned recently the progress in "hearing aids" has been as great as in all the rest of the world of digital processing and miniaturization of electronic amplification and speaker technology.

My first foray into the world of electronic hearing correction, two years back, was a relative baby step. I researched, and then purchased for about $1000, a basic set of hearing amplifiers -- no prescription -- ones made with musicians in mind. That is, ones that amplified every sound frequency that is generally affected by hearing loss, equally.

They did what I'd hoped them to do. Well, much of it anyway. Music sounded good with them on -- nuanced -- not tinny, tubby or artificial.

My ability to understand speech was also helped a little -- but not as much as I'd have liked.

Jan, and others, were instructed to face me directly when speaking. The "TV" was turned up fairly loud. Not because I needed the volume to actually "hear" it -- but I did need it to understand what was being said -- to make it other than audible 'mush.'

But the passing of yet more time took yet more of a toll -- that is what happens over time once the mechanism of our ears has been damaged. Progressive loss continues on, diminishing our ability to hear a little more with each month by month; each passing year.

About a year ago my know everything (really! or so it seems) son, Aaron, had warned me of another deleterious effect: That hearing loss, if left uncorrected, leads to losses in mental capability as well.

I recently met with a PhD hearing professional and she reiterated that fact -- and explained it.

Senses such as hearing and balance use parts of the brain used for little else. When the auto functions start to fail for any reason other parts of the brain start to be utilized to make up for that loss, and with that comes noticeable (and measurable) cognitive losses.

A brain is too valuable a thing to waste. Hearing is best done by the parts of the brain normally assigned to it. And we should thus do whatever is in our power to assure such.

Okay, all that was the bad news. The good news, for me, was learning that here in NH insurance companies are required to include hearing devices in their coverage -- a minimum of $1500 per ear every five years. And with family medical expenses this year already having used up our deductible that gave me $3000 to put into trying to resolve my hearing loss issues.

The same professional mentioned above helped me evaluate what I needed as well as desired. And Jan and I both agreed that for me hearing was a worthwhile investment even if such cost quite a bit more than that provided by the insurance coverage. Music. Conversation. Cinema. All were essential to my quality of life. To the extent possible then, we decided to approach this with the attitude of "money be damned."

And so earlier this week I was fitted with the best. -Digital hearing devices exactly "tuned" to my personal hearing loss -- and with very advanced computer and electronic capabilities to allow the devices to do even more.

Now wearing them for several days of a trial period I am completely blown away.

The "speakers" themselves are so small they they fit in the ear. That is the actual speakers mind you, not just a tube carrying such speakers' output. A small (almost invisible) wire leads form the in-the-ear micro speaker to super-miniaturized digital processing and amplification units that sit (again, almost invisibly) behind each of my ears.

The full sound spectrum is amplified so as to exactly make up for the loss in my hearing across the entire frequency range and at various db levels. But that is just the start.

The two devices speak electronically (via Bluetooth technology) to one another -- analyzing the type of sound and it placement in space -- and then maximize the output to each ear -- even negating sound that the computer models see as unimportant.

For instance when driving a car with passengers in the front passenger seat and the rear, the units determine that the car's drone should be minimized, and then analyze each of the voices as to its placement. They then amplify each of them so it sounds natural, is fully understandable and properly placed in space -- front, rear, sides.

Driving home from the clinic following the initial fitting I was able to have a completely natural conversation -- this despite our driving on a rough, somewhat snow-covered, road. And this even if Jan intentionally whispered. Amazing!

It was suggested to us that we visit all sorts of environments as part of the test. Yesterday we 'did lunch' in a restaurant with quite a bit of ambient noise.

I had to remind Jan that she need not raise her voice. ("It sounds to me like you are shouting." ) She wasn't -- but was, through habit, speaking a bit louder than she otherwise would. Now that is no longer needed.

Nor is turning up the TV.

Oh, and music. Did I mention music? Wow. It now sound much as it used to --  before I got "old."

The 'units' do other things as well.

For one they can, if I wish, connect to my iPhone, MP3 player, the TV or our Alexa devices via Bluetooth. Thus providing me with wireless stereo hi-fi with access to my entire music collection. And that with a range of about 100 feet from the device.

They units are rechargeable. Three hours on the charger gives 24 hours of continuous use. Or twelve hours of regular use plus six more of Bluetooth listening. And the  lithium ion batteries they contain can't over charge. Thus I can take them out/off at night, put them in their small storage/charging case, and in the morning they are all set to go for another day.  No batteries to change. No fuss. No bother.

Equally wonderful is that they are comfortable.  So small and light that I am barely aware of their presence. The micro-speakers almost float in the ear canal, with no feelings of pressure or sensation of clogging.  Too they are virtually waterproof, dust proof, and require almost no care.

Anyhow, it is so nice -- so cool! -- to be able to really hear again.

No, they weren't cheap, but they are truly worth every penny.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"Fake News" - Can You Believe It?

"Everything" is a big deal today. "Everything" is worthy of network news alerts. Reams of digital paper and barrels of digital ink are used to cover the story 24/7.  -As if our lives depended on the networks doing so.

Every storm is life threatening. Every act of a miscreant puts all of society in danger. News Flash! News Flash!

Haven't you noticed?

Except what I said above isn't true. No, not even half of it.  For in fact only certain news stories get the News Flash treatment. And which stories those are is determined by how each fits the desired narrative. -Which one move forward the stories favored by the media itself.  Yes, and their masters.

Now there is a new, and especially loud, "hue and cry" --  as in earlier times the calls alerting the people to an impending danger, and/or calling for the capture of an evil doer -- was called. But this time the supposed danger is those who will no longer play along. Or of those who insist on bypassing the official town criers and insist upon having a voice of their own.

That the media and those who empower it are frightened by this trend is fully understandable. Probably there is no greater danger to such keeping things as they are then having the official heralds ignored. Or, worse, laughed at.

Thus the current cry of an impending danger: That of "fake news." And the call to silence those to share it.

The laugh here is to be found on two levels. One is the "who," the other the "what" of the "fake news" story.

When the old dog media daily passed the accepted word of their masters that the then newly proposed health insurance law (now called "Obamacare") was going to reduce the average family's healthcare costs by $2500 a year and require no sacrifice in personal choices as to care -- this despite the fact that such was known to be false by those writing the law, and by at least some of those sharing what has proved to be total falsehoods -- that was not "fake news."  No, it was just...  Well it was just something that happened.  A mistake. ("oops")

When the accepted meme was put forth by all the officially sanctioned criers that Donald Trump had no chance at all of becoming president -- and all the stories were printed and posted telling us why that was so -- that was not "fake news" either.   No, it was just... just... just.... Yes, more of the same. Another "mistake."  (oops again)

But what about the sources that were writing and saying what contradicted this supposed "real" and true news --that accurately foretold events, be it about the costs of Obamacare or the outcome of the recent election? They, we are being told, are "fake." And as such are about to be banned from places such as Facebook's news feed and Google's searches. (As, indeed, they have long been from the pages of the NY Times, the Washington Post, and many of the lesser sycophant news sites such as Yahoo News and the Huffington Post.

What can be done about this?

The Man of the Hour -- the about to be President of the United States, Donald J. Trump -- has an answer. One  that is working very well for him.  He simply makes news and spreads it himself via midnight tweets and direct-to-the-viewer YouTube videos -- many of which he broadcasts live on his own, and other supporting, Facebook pages. -Tweets, videos and live presentations seen and followed by in some cases hundreds of thousands of readers,viewers and listeners.

"Boo hoo hoo."  That is the new cry and hue. This time a wail of self-pity by the miscreants themselves -- those self-appointed heralds who also have seen themselves as defenders of the city gates-- the official media

Gates erected to keep out whom?

More and more would answer "us" -- we the people. Yes, and simple truth.

Only time will tell how effective at silencing truth this "fake news" meme will be.

And only actual "fake news" would deny any of what is written above.


Monday, December 5, 2016

The Day of "Mr. Jones"

When, not too many weeks back, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature I thought, frankly, that such was pretty lame. Well maybe I was wrong. Because has anyone better described what is happening in the world today than did Dylan in his song "Ballad Of A Thin Man"?

     You walk into the room
     With your pencil in your hand
     You see somebody naked
     And you say, “Who is that man?”
     You try so hard
     But you don’t understand
     Just what you’ll say
     When you get home

     Because something is happening here
     But you don’t know what it is
     Do you, Mister Jones?"

Yes, such as Dylan's "Mr. Jones" can see the outline, but only the outline. He/they with shock and dismay read the headlines on November 9th. He/they saw what to him was incomprehensible -- that the people were rising up. He/they knew that somehow he'd/they'd missed what was happening. -But just what it is that is happening he/they -- the "Joneses" of the world -- still do not understand.

They -- today's "Mr. Jones" -- cannot conceive that the "something" that is being rejected and cast off is their entire worldview.  -The idea that they -- these "Joneses" -- are the betters; the ones with understanding. -That those who they -- the "Joneses"-- view as their inferiors (and that, it is worth noting, includes everyone with a different point of view than their own) need to be understood and reckoned with. No, and not just somehow placated. Not just patted on the head.  Not just given a bit more bread and/or a bigger circus.

They -- the "Joneses" -- cannot conceive that their fundamental plan of a borderless world where the only fences that exist are those they themselves have built to keep these lessers out of their own lives -- that all of this is itself based on selfish and demeaning falsehoods.

They -- the "Joneses" -- cannot conceive that 'average people' should be the masters of their own destinies. -That such one's "common sense" is proving to be the only real sense there is, and it is something that they -- these "Joneses" -- these elites -- for all their education and self aggrandizement, lack.

As Dylan says of his "Mr. Jones"...

     You’ve been with the professors
     And they’ve all liked your looks
     With great lawyers you have
     Discussed lepers and crooks
     You’ve been through all of
     F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
     You’re very well read
     It’s well known

     Because something is happening here
     But you don’t know what it is
     Do you, Mister Jones?

The future -- the path back to a world where such "common sense" prevails -- may be fraught with many unknowns and enormous difficulties and challenges, but it is the only real future there is. For the common man with his common sense understands common humanity with its common needs. -Needs not taught by the "professors" Dylan's "Mr. Jones" has studied with. And that people -- real, human, "average" people have needs not included -- indeed, in many cases denied -- in the "books" these "Joneses" have read and studied.

No. Nor that the power and authority the "Joneses" have taken on, they have taken on for themselves. And that now the people are wanting it back. Taking it back. And that, apparently, not just here in Donald Trump's America, but, seemingly, world-wide.

Want some free advice Mr. Jones?

You'd better get used to it.