Raise The Banner

I’m a big fan of a quote that Martin Luther King Jr. once used, “…the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” but implicit in that statement are two things. First, is that at some points the arc is disrupted so that the naked greed and lust for power that men have is laid bare to remind us how far we have come and how far we must go and we are living in such a time. Second, while the statement is true it is not a passive one and requires us to do work to continue to bend the arc towards justice.

Happy MLK Day. Raise the standard. Follow the banner. The tortoise always wins.

Reclaiming My Time

I don’t like to get very political but social media has seemingly foisted it upon all of us, so one of my favorite moments this year was during a House Committee meeting was when Rep. Maxine Waters was interviewing the Treasury Secretary. As he dodged and wheedled his answers, Waters forcefully responded “Reclaiming my time!”, she was not about to let someone run out the clock on her without giving her answers and she had no time for nonsense. Now, I have a feeling Rep. Waters and I probably don’t agree on much else in politics but I’m taking her phrase and applying it to social media. I have no time for this nonsense anymore.

I’ve been a part of “social media” since before it was even known as social media. I participated on Bulletin Boards via modem in the early 90’s. I was an active participant in USENET groups in the later 90’s and I had a “journal” on a web site before “blog” was even a word. I dipped a toe in MySpace and was an early adopter to both Facebook (2005) and Twitter (2006). I’ve made a lot of friends and cultivated a lot of relationships, I’ve met up with people I met online at music festivals and even invited them into my house!
That was in a culture when the hosts of the social media were more interested in our participation and less interested in selling and molding us.

Elections have always had quite a bit of rancor online. I still have archives of e-mails of hundreds of lines of text from friends on how the Clinton (Bill, not his wife) Administration will ruin us all and most of it is (thankfully) lost to the mists of time but the arguments of “hanging chads” filled my inbox at one time. Even by those standards, the 2016 election might have been the most noxious of all. To top it all off, our country elected a fool completely unable to govern but completely content to wade into every aspect of my life on social media. Even sports and music are no longer refuges as he picks fights with athletes and celebrities. Every day I get a blindingly stupid tweet and then people on Twitter queue up to see who can be outraged the most.

Well, I’m not going to be a part of it. The year 2017 generated a lot of noise and there were positive moments. The #metoo response by women revealed to everyone something we knew but denied, sexual harassment is widespread and generally unpunished. Racial inequality is still very much a thing and the gap between the poor and the obscenely wealthy only grows wider. Unfortunately, most of the rest of social media was just noise and too much of it. Even on issues I agreed with, the constant drum beat of misery and anger was overwhelming. I was dismissed as racist and sexist when pointing out nuances by people I didn’t know. I’m no longer giving the outrage my time. People will sneer at me and say, “it must be nice to be so privileged as to ignore these issues” and I won’t deny privilege as it’s a status not a sin. I will leverage mine to be more effective to those I can help. Social media is not interacting with people in real life in my community. I’m still going to follow voices from different political perspectives but it will be friends that I trust and value who thoughtfully consider important problems. I’ll discuss politics with friends online in restricted environments but I’m not interested in a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend wading into the discussion with their terrible opinion any more. I’m also no longer giving this nonsensical government my time, I’ve blocked our president’s tweets. It’s impossible to miss his buffoonery and I’m sure I’ll hear about it through other channels.

So, in addition to that, I’m reducing my footprint on sites that get my content for free and return the gift with advertisements. I’m going to be posting here on the site that I own more and less on Facebook and Twitter. My goal is to figure out the best way to share items that are semi-private (like pictures of my children) with those that want to see them without sharing them with the Internet at large or making it so prohibitive to access them that no one bothers. In 2018, I’m hoping to shape my social media usage so that I can positively affect others better and have less of anonymous or second-hand and third-hand contacts shaping me.

2015: “Simplify” 2016: “Prepare”

2015 was a pretty good year and I’m happy to be able to say that. After some difficult years with a lot of loss and a lot of ending of eras, this past year seemed to stabilize a little bit. The girls started to take some big steps toward maturing into pre-teens, which is a little scary but at the same time we’ve reached a point where we are ready to move on to the next phase of life. They also had some great achievements of their own as well which had to be one of the greatest parts of being a parent.

We’ve been thinking about the “word for the year” for 2016. Adriene said her word for 2016 is “present” and I liked that a lot. My word in 2015 was “simplify” after I wanted to try and simplify my life after a crazy 2014. I think I succeeded for the most part until fall when everything went a little sideways. I think Fall 2016 will be a little different for us. My word for 2016 is “prepare.” I feel like there were a lot of times in 2015 where I was going by the seat of my pants. I also feel like a lot of the moments of stress this past year could have been prevented simply by taking a few moments before the week or next day started and planned ahead. In particular, I’m going to try to be more proactive in planning meals as I feel like too many nights everyone came home from work and school and said “what are we doing for dinner?” and we’d make a snap decision like order a pizza. I’d like to minimize that (or at the very least, order pizza a little less often)

We’ve had a week without children here so we’ve done a lot of throwing trash out and caught up on some tasks that have been pushed down the priority list. Tomorrow, after we celebrate New Year’s Eve tonight as a couple, we’ll drive down to Savannah and pick the girls up and come home and find what 2016 has for us.

How the 2014 Yellow Jackets Saved Football For Me

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I played a lot of sports as a kid. Soccer was the only organized sport that I played, but I played lots of games with the other kids in the neighborhood in our cul-de-sac. We imagined we were the Atlanta Braves with a wiffleball and bat. We played lots and lots of kickball. The sport that was the most fun, however, was football. We would gather together in someone’s backyard (“home” and “away”) and all we needed was a football and we would just run around and tackle the fool out of each other. Darkness would fall and we would return home covered in bruises and cuts to our horrified parents. We had made up rules (5 “Mississippis” before you could sack the quarterback. Everyone was terrible at place kicks so we just threw the ball instead of a kickoff.) and made up teams. Football captured my imagination so much that I had entire imaginary teams and players in an imaginary league as a child.

My dad went to Georgia Tech and was a casual fan of football. My grandfather was a huge football fan, his team was Georgia, but since his money was going to Georgia Tech he paid a lot of attention to them, too. I grew up with football on the TV and on the radio. I sat in the old South Stands at Grant Field around 1984 and I vividly remember listening to the amazing 1985 Georgia-Georgia Tech game on the radio. I was hooked. By 1990, I was in high school and pretty sure I would be going to Georgia Tech for college and the National Championship season was a crazy, unbelievable ride. My dad and I bonded together over a lot of those games, even riding the train out to Athens for the 1990 game against Georgia. As a student at Tech, though, the heady days of the National Championship had already subsided and football was kind of a drag. I went to many games just because that’s what you did as a student at Tech but my interest was waning. Then in 1998, I met a girl and Joe Hamilton started throwing the ball all over the place and that girl and I went on a lot of great dates to the stadium and also to Raleigh and even to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl and that 1998 season will always have a lot of romance and legend associated with it.

After graduating, I kept on buying tickets and before I knew it I had gone to some 10 years worth of games all full of ups and downs. Chan Gailey became coach and Tech became good, but not great. There was Calvin Johnson, but Tech lost to UGA every year and stagnated. Paul Johnson arrived and suddenly football started to be fun again. Adriene and I got to celebrate New Year’s Eve with old college friends in downtown Atlanta and we had a great time even if Tech got paved by LSU. We spent a week in Miami for the Orange Bowl and though we froze in south Florida, once again we have fond memories intertwined with football.

In the last couple of years, though, football stopped being fun again. I’ve never been a huge fan of the NFL, but I began to be repulsed with the off-field behavior of the players. The domestic abuse cases and the violence associated with the sport began to gnaw at my conscience. Research about concussions only made my enjoyment of the sport even more conflicted especially every time I watched a defensive end gyrate and celebrate over a prone sacked quarterback or hear an announcer say “ho ho! He got his bell rung!” The comical enforcement by the NFL made players, coaches, and owners all look bad even as they grabbed for more money by building new stadiums to replace the ones that weren’t really that old and sell pink merchandise to women while looking the other way as women were victims of attacks by players over and over. All of this happened while Tech continued to limp along to 6 or 7 wins a season and fall farther and farther behind UGA and I started to wonder why I even bothered anymore. Soccer was happening more and more often on TV and the Premier League captured my attention. Maybe I didn’t really need football in the fall anymore.

Maybe sensing this, I told Adriene I wanted to move our seats at the stadium. For a long time we sat in the corner of the stadium with a large group of friends, but as time passed and they moved away from Atlanta or succumbed to the grind of Saturday children’s sports our group shrank until it finally dwindled away to just Adriene and me. We were sitting around people we didn’t know, many of who were quite frankly rude, sometimes inebriated, and angry a lot and it wasn’t a very healthy place for enjoying the game and it didn’t put me in a very good attitude. I hoped if we paid a little more for our tickets, maybe we’d end up sitting around a little more refined crowd. Adriene was for anything that would allow her to be a little more pampered at the game. (You may be surprised to hear she is not a huge fan of sitting on a metal bench in searing heat, freezing cold, rain, and blowing wind.) I bought the tickets with the attitude of “if I don’t enjoy this season even after getting nice seats, maybe it’s time to give it up and just watch from the TV. This is too much effort to not enjoy this.”

The 2014 season started out mostly like every season with a couple wins over some overmatched teams and then Adriene and I went to London during the Georgia Southern game. I sat in a pub on a Saturday night and listened to the game and tried to enjoy my vacation while Tech nearly gave the game away to Southern and then somehow pulled it out at the end and no one at the Zetland Arms cared, but I was a pretty excited Tech fan a couple thousand miles away. We came back home and the games turned fun again with big wins over Miami and Clemson and in a comedy of errors beat Georgia in the kind of game Tech almost always loses to Georgia. Tech made their way to the Orange Bowl again and for a variety of reasons we decided to pass on it. That’s too bad because Tech ended up cold-cocking Mississippi State in one of the best games of the season, leading to my all-time favorite moment in Tech football in the last 10 years with running backs Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey dancing to Apache while enjoying such a big lead with plenty of time left in the game. How can you not love this?

The 2014 season was so much fun, especially at the end, that it’s pulled me back in. On top of Tech’s season, my daughters started cheerleading for football this year. The summer was a hectic mess with so many practice sessions, but once the season started I can’t overstate how entertaining football was with first graders. They aren’t strong and fast enough to really hurt each other yet and they wander around aimlessly to the frustration of coaches and I could not stop laughing at each game. The games brought back memories of those backyard brawls I had, but we never had the helmets or this much padding, and we pretty much fought over what the score was and when the clock finished. I didn’t have any child in the game, so I was able to enjoy it win or lose without any stress. As long as my girls cheered, it was a good morning.

I know it is a fool’s quest to believe that Tech could match the success in the 2015 season that they did a year ago, but maybe the games will at least be entertaining this time around again. I’m well aware that none of the problems of football have been solved (and the whole “deflated football” mess between the New England Patriots and the league makes me like the NFL even less. There is no one coming out looking good in that.) I’m still very troubled about the head injuries and the off-field behavior and while I’ve never had a problem with rich owners I have a hard time taking anything they say at face value when their only concern seems to be gobbling up even more money. I don’t know how much I will follow the NFL this year, every time I think about it I get a little queasy, but I am on board for another season of Georgia Tech football and I am hoping to make it to a couple high school games around the neighborhood.

The only hope I have for football is that it has always been a very evolutionary sport. Baseball and soccer rules for the most part haven’t changed in a 100 years. Basketball’s rules have really only changed to make the sport more entertaining. Football, however, has from the very start modified it’s rules to try and become a safer sport. Even at the beginning, in the 1890’s, the mother of a UGA player had to beg the state not to ban the sport altogether even after her son died playing it. Technology and rule changes have improved the safety of the sport, but it’s clear it will need to continue to evolve and change or parents will steer their children towards basketball and soccer in even more numbers. I still think there is too much money and too much affection for football by too many people to let football fade into the marginalized realms of boxing and UFC. I hope so, because I have to many good memories of football games to let it all go.

Steve Taylor and The Perfect Foil

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Steve Taylor hasn’t played a show in Atlanta in twenty years. The last time he was here, Bill Clinton was president and Nirvana was dominating the airwaves. While that’s a long time, it’s not as if Taylor has been slumbering. When he has not co-written songs for other bands, he directed Don Miller’s movie adaption of Blue Like Jazz, but Wednesday night he was doing what he does best. Taylor’s acerbic lyrics have always found home in a variety of musical styles, first in Bowie-esque New Wave and later the very grunge sound that the aforementioned Nirvana brought to the radio. He brought a new collection of songs from his new album, also his first in 20 years, to go alongside his classics. For me the new songs all sound a little bit the same, but Taylor’s wit has not diminished one bit and the sound, well it rocks and that seems to be an increasingly rare thing these days. The rocking sound comes from a band that is an all-star super group. John Mark Painter of the duo Fleming and John played bass, along with some saxophone (a long missed and vital part of Taylor’s music) and even french horn. Guitarist Jimmy Abegg has been associated with a variety of artists including Rich Mullins, Charlie Peacock, and even his band Vector in the 80’s. He may look like a homeless man, but he added a nice biting edge of guitar. Former Newsboys front man Peter Furler played drums.

The set list was a mix of the new album combined with some classics, including the cover-of-a-cover “I Want To Be A Clone” and “Moshing Floor” which was kinda funny because everyone in the crowd was too old to mosh. Taylor finished the night up with his newest epic “Comedian.” The encore of the evening was a tounge-in-cheek rendition of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” which led directly into “Cash Cow” and he finished the night with a serious song, “Hero.” All through the night, Taylor was ageless. He may not do cartwheels across the stage anymore, but the leaped and spun like a man who hasn’t aged in twenty years. I know I was more tired than he appeared to be at the end of the show.

Peter Furler opened the night with his three piece band. None of his new songs stood out to me, but it was fun to hear him cover some old Newsboys songs like “Not Ashamed” and “Shine”. The songs were fun to hear again and had a very different take with a raw power-trio with all of the drum machines and backing tracks stripped away. Perhaps the best old Newsboys cover that fit his new sound was “Lost the Plot” which remained powerful and loud. While the Newsboys have always seemed a little phoney, Furler was soft spoken and authentic, he seemed to enjoy the smaller crowd and simpler vibe.

So many of my favorite musicians have changed so much in twenty years, and many not for the better. Taylor however seems to be trying to pick up where he left off and while he does have some momentum to regain after being away for so long, his return to the music scene is a very welcome one and I hope there are more tours and more albums to come from here.