Archive for the ‘Political and Social Activism’ Category

Warming Warning, Revisited   Leave a comment

Working in the music industry at the dawn of the 1980s I remember having mixed emotions about the state of popular music. My memory is that the best seller charts were beginning to reflect two concurrent trends.

 

     First, rhythm was more than a backbeat with disco and dance music taking an increasing share of the record-buying audience. Nothing necessarily bad about that but, frankly, A&M wasn’t a cutting edge dance/disco music label. Having ended the ‘70s with breakthroughs by artists like Supertramp and Peter Frampton, our artists tended to be more traditional pop/rock. However, in 1979 A&M Records co-founder Herb Alpert came roaring back on the charts with a huge instrumental dance hit record titled “Rise”. The tempo of “Rise” was noticeably slower than disco. Herb told us that he wanted  to “make a dance record, not a disco record.” He defined the difference as much in BPM—beats per minute—as musicality.

 

     The second trend was an influence of more synthesized recordings, many coming from the U.K. Think groups like Culture Club, Thompson Twins or Human League. Added to the evolving style of music was an obvious and open approach to fashion and sexuality. There was a more obvious use of makeup—for male and female performers—and a greater flair in wardrobe and hair. Along with a renewed influence in music, UK/European musicians (many of them with their 1970’s mullet hairstyle) brought their music and fashion to America in the ’80s.

 

     Songwriters have long incorprated social change into songs including issues of war, civil rights, and feminism. For example, there’s Pete Seeger (“Where Have All The Flowers Gone”), Bob Dylan (The Times They Are a’ Changing”), Helen Reddy (I Am Woman”) and Peter Gabriel (“Biko”). And another interesting topic was starting to rise to the consciousness of the public through the news, although not necessarily in song. To be honest, the size of the audience actually hearing this news was almost microscopic compared to the general population.
     A television listing appeared in Britain’s ITV Network’s evening programming on December 8, 1981. Scheduled to follow “Brideshead Revisited” at 9:00pm and the local news at 10:00pm was a program titled “Warming Warning”. Here’s how it was described in the newspaper listing:

 

     “A documentary about the serious effects our polluting of the atmosphere with carbon dioxide will have on the climate. Scientists are worried that at the present rate the Earth will be two degrees warmer by the middle of the next century with disastrous consequences for the polar regions. It is estimated that if the Ross Ice Shelf were to break up it could lead to an ice surge which would raise sea levels by up to twenty feet thus putting two million people, in London alone, at risk.”
     Produced in Britain by (the now defunct) Thames Television, it’s highly unlikely you or anyone you know ever saw “Warming Warning” in 1981.

 

     Most people, understandably, believe “climate change” is a recent topic, perhaps in the lexicon for 10-20 years. And millions continue to deny climate change is real, with many of those believing it’s a hoax.

 

     British journalist and writer Leo Hickman wrote about the documentary in 2017. In part he said that the broadcast of “Warming Warning” in 1981 “was among the earliest occasions—possibly the earliest—anywhere in the world where a major broadcaster aired a documentary dedicated solely to the topic of human-caused climate change. The documentary was broadcast seven years before Dr. James Hansen’s famous ‘it is already happening now’ Senate testimony in 1988, nine years before the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report was published, and 25 years before Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ was released. . . .”

 

     A decade after Dr. Hansen’s warning, and almost two decades after “Warming OCT 2019 Gen ProtestWarning” first aired in the U.K., the topic had reached the American congress. That is not to suggest United States senators were sitting around a campfire, arms locked, singing “Kumbaya”. The world was, in fact, talking about climate change and discussing the need to address the issue. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol—so named for having been adopted at a conference in Kyoto, Japan—was an international treaty which extended the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, committing signatory states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

     President Bill Clinton never got the United States Senate to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and President George W. Bush had no interest in raising the issue, much less push for ratification. While Clinton failed, in part, due to a minor distraction known as the Clinton Impeachment, Bush could easily have gotten this through the senate had he wished. But, Bush decided to allow the most conservative (i.e., anti-climate change) members of his administration to influence the GOP writ large, and by the time the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act came up for a vote in 2005, it was defeated on a bipartisan basis, 60-38. To be fair, the American government did  not stand alone. We bravely and  boldly stood with Kazakhstan; the only two nations to ignore the Kyoto Accord and formally deny Climate Change.
     By the time President Obama had secured a second term, maybe people believed the United States could now join the world in an effort to fight climate change. The new opportunity was for America to be a party to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate. President Obama committed the U.S. to joining almost 200 other nations of the world and work toward change. Obama’s good intentions—again, a treaty that was never ratified—was a casualty of the 2016 presidential election. It took the current occupant of the Oval Office less than six months to decide that America would, indeed, withdraw from the Paris Accord. And here we are.
     This past week an estimated 4 million people marched to draw attention to climate change as part of the September 2019 Climate Strike. And one can assume the estimate of 4 million is all about big cities and ignores the dozens, hundreds or even thousands of OCT 2019 Gualala Protestsmall towns and rural enclaves where people also stood for the Climate Strike. 16-year old Greta Thunberg’s dramatic call to action (and the Swedish teen’s authentic passion) were virtually impossible to dismiss. Some did, but Thunberg spoke for many. (Watch her on YouTube).

 

And on a more personal note, the Climate Strike was clearly front and center on Mendocino’s south coast. As I walked and talked with fellow climate-strikers, and with representatives of organizations, I was struck by how many of my friends and neighbors were on the green. Smiles were everywhere. This wasn’t a group of angry people. But that is not to say they aren’t serious, concerned or committed. They are. And we should be too. I live on the coast. I see the Pacific Ocean every day. You can’t live in Gualala, Sea Ranch, Anchor Bay, Point Arena, Manchester, Elk, Stewart’s Point or in any other town and not be thinking about our ocean, our planet, and climate change. I’m happy we’re aware, active, and thinking. But we need more. The world needs to seize the moment.
David Steffen
© 2019 David Steffen
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Where Are The Muses, Where Are The Voices   Leave a comment

September 1, 2019

 

I was talking to a friend this week (yes,I have friends. Well, at least one. I’m pretty sure.) Our coffee conversations—usually an hour and a half or so—often cover a variety of topics including coastal stuff, travel, music, environment, movies, weather, politics and more. Back at home a little while later it got me thinking about writing.

I’ve been working to complete my second book, a book I started in 2003, put aside while I finished another book and then left it in a safe place (a digital file and a well-worn hard copy on my desk) to mature like a fine wine. Spoiler alert. It turns out that hard copies and digital files left on or in the desk don’t improve over time.

I’m not certain if I expected one of the muses to stop by and complete my second book for me, magically of course with a wave of her muse-powers, or if she would drop herself into my old brain and voila, a completed book. While not everyone assumes all muses are female (or even real), I know they are. Both. Real and female. Historians tend to agree that “the earliest known records of the Nine Muses tells us they are from the homeland of Hesiod”. The nine muses, in alphabetical order (in English, not Greek) are Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia, Urania. Here are their claims to fame.

 

Calliope (“The One with a Beautiful Voice”) is the Muse of Epic Poetry.
Clio (“The Proclaimer”) is the Muse of History.
Erato (“The Lovely One”) is the Muse of Lyric Poetry.
Euterpe (“She Who Pleases”), is the Muse of Flute-playing.
Melpomene (“She Who Sings”) is the Muse of Tragedy.
Polyhymnia (She of the Many Hymns”) is the Muse of Hymns and sacred poetry.
Terpsichore (“The One Delighting in the Dance”), is the Muse of Choral Lyric and Dancing.
Thalia (“The Cheerful One”) is the Muse of Comedy.
Urania (“The Heavenly One”) is the Muse of Astronomy.

 

As if I had a choice I wondered which muse would pick up my unfinished book and help me complete it. Could I count on Calliope? Nah. I’m not a poet. Even starting with a brilliant classic like “Roses are red, Violets are blue”, I got nothing. How about Clio? Maybe she’s for me, since she’s into history. Erato favored playing the lyre and lyric poetry. I’ve played guitar since I was 12. My telecaster is not a lyre so I’ll just say no. Euterpe is all about flute playing. Well, I did borrow my sister’s flute—she was 13, I was 11 and when I put my lower lip to the lip-plate and blew, the sound that came out of the instrument was akin to stepping on the tail of a large angry feral Siamese cat with asthma. Melpomene is the muse of tragedy. Let me ask, who would want to be the muse of tragedy? And who would want assistance in being a tragic figure? Although in these trying times, perhaps she’s working full time in politics. Polyhymnia favors hymns and mime. I admit I sang a lot of hymns growing up in Milwaukee but mime? It ain’t me. Terpsichore favors choral dancing and song. I can sing but if you’ve seen me dance, well, let’s just say it has all the beauty of watching Elaine Benes dancing on Seinfeld. I’ve always been credited with having a good sense of humor, so perhaps Thalia, the muse of comedy and light verse could help me out. Urania, is predictably, about astronomy. It’s clear. No help from her. I’ll keep an eye out for Clio.

Three

This week I received an email from an online group that I’m a part of—along with one or two million others—who follow the music of Lana Del Rey. Lana—I call her Lana, because, well, that’s her name. Actually her name is Elizabeth but she gave herself a stage name and Elizabeth Grant became Lana Del Rey. Never mind.

I wrote about Lana in February 2016 when she first got my attention. I found her music compelling then, and she continues to successfully expand her repertoire and audience. Her vocal style has been described as Dugazon—Mezzo-soprano without the puffery—and her recordings are filled with high production values, big atmospherics. Think orchestral arrangements of ballads for a pop singer with a punk attitude. Never mind. The point is they are big, rich, emotionally-charged recordings.

My go-to track to get people to try a dose of Lana is “Born To Die” which is easily found on YouTube. I suggest listening to it BEFORE you watch the official video so that you won’t miss the music and the lyrics instead of focusing on the visuals. Believe me, it’s easy to find yourself staring at Lana, looking beautiful in her drop-dead gorgeous white dress, seated on a throne in the opulent Gallery of Diana at the 17th century Palace of Fontainebleau near Paris, flanked by two live Bengal tigers. . . . Oh, nevermind, too late.

 

Let’s get to the new music. I received the aforementioned email to announce that Ms. Del Rey just released a new track titled “Looking for America”. The lyrics include,

Took a trip to San Francisco
All our friends said we would jive
Didn’t work, so I left for Fresno
It was quite a scenic drive
Pulled over to watch the children in the park
We used to only worry for them after dark
I’m still looking for my own version of America
One without the gun, where the flag can freely fly
No bombs in the sky, only fireworks when you and I collide

 

It’s a different sort of song for Del Rey. It’s actually a protest song, about guns, violence and lost innocence in an increasingly violent America. You may have to listen closely to appreciate the protest. Clearly it was a whole lot easier decades ago to recognize a protest song, as when Barry McGuire sang “Eve of Destruction”, or Bob Dylan sang “The Times They are a’Changing” or when Creedence Clearwater’s John Fogerty sang “Fortunate Son”.

Del Rey’s lyrics are, indeed, reflective of current events. Points of reference: El Paso, Texas, Saturday, August 3, and Dayton, Ohio, Sunday, August 4. The New York Times’ Jon Caramanica wrote about “Looking for America” in the paper’s August 9 edition. “[The song was] Written on Monday, teased with a snippet on Instagram that same day, and then released in full on Friday, Lana Del Rey’s ‘Looking for America’ is a rapid-response protest song—following a slew of mass shootings—from an artist whose tortured relationship to an idealized America has always been central to her persona.”

 

All of this got me wondering just what is the current state of protest songs in America? Certainly there’s plenty of material out there to inspire writers (or incense them). The message of “Looking for America” is clearly not ‘in your face’ but then again at least Lana’s millions of fans are reminded that the times are, in fact, a-changing. We still need our writers, musicians and muses to give us a push in the right direction. Music is not simply about the atmospherics. It’s also about the times we live. I’m wondering just where is our musical outrage? Where are our voices? Where are our muses?

 

David Steffen

 

© 2019 David Steffen

Note: L-R: Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, Lana Del Rey.

We Were Going Down To Yasgur’s Farm. . . .   Leave a comment

August 1, 2019

 

  It was a random concert some fifty years ago, with an audience—almost all strangers but some of those strangers would become and remain friends. To this day. In travel terms, it might as well have been happening in a ‘galaxy far far away’, considering the distance from Milwaukee to Bethel, New York. But I was in the right place at the right time to hear about an amazing concert event and be in a position  to get in my car and drive to the event.

 

     Sitting in the studio at WZMF-FM radio in Milwaukee I would sometimes answer the phones. We were a station with a small staff so we all did a little of everything. In fact, I remember we all had 3rd Class FCC licenses. We needed this basic permit as we were required to take transmitter readings. Test qualifications for the permit: breathing, ability to sign ones name, answer a few questions, and pay the fee.

One morning in July I received a phone call from a potential advertiser. They were putting on a rock concert and thought advertising their event on Milwaukee’s “Original Album Rock Radio Station” would be a good idea. Duh. So I took down the information and by the time I got off the air George, our intrepid ad sales guru, was in the office. George was one of those guys who could sell one-pound boxes of sand to people sitting on a beach. He called the concert promoter, got the information, and in short order (the concert was about a month away) spots were on the air. A lot of spots. It seemed like woodstock_posterevery couple of hours another 60-second commercial aired promoting this concert. On a closer listen to the ads I realized that it was more than a concert. It would be a multi-day rock music festival, and it was taking place ‘out of town’. Still, it sounded great and I’m thinking “I gotta go.”

     More than 30 acts were signed to perform including Richie Havens, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie (Safka), Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Country Joe McDonald (and the Fish), Santana, John Sebastian, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, and Jimi Hendrix. Tickets were priced at $18 advance, $24 at the gate. If you were driving to the show you’d fill your car’s tank with gasoline that cost just 35¢ a gallon. The festival lasted three days and drew about 500,000 people. And while there was no significant security force to mind the masses, the festival was relatively peaceful. It was reported that two people died (insulin killed one and a tractor the other). Two babies were born.  Chaos was part of the mix but so was a sense of humanity and mutual good vibes.

 

     All in attendance will attest to Woodstock delivering an amazing three days of peace, love and great music. August 15, 16, & 17, 1969 branded everyone of an age (and certainly all who attended) as the Woodstock Generation. I know that I felt it then and feel it now. And like most of the people you meet who tell you how great it was to be at Woodstock, most of those people weren’t there. An unscientific fact is that if everyone who says they were at Woodstock were actually at Max Yasgur’s farm that summer, the number attending would have equalled the population of Philadelphia. But in reality it was nearer half a million. The festival was documented with a feature film and multiple soundtrack albums. And my memories of Woodstock are crystal clear. After all, I saw the film and listened to the albums. And truth be told, I was NOT there. (To my credit I’ve never told anyone that I was there. Honest.)

 

     On the surface Woodstock seemed like a very good idea. Create a live music event with every big name in music, advertise it all over the country while still in the glow of the “Summer of Love”, put tickets on sale, and wait for the money to roll in. The festival was an absolute success, except for turning a profit. It wouldn’t be the first time that a successful idea can go awry. After all, it’s been proven that idiots can go bankrupt operating a casino. At least Woodstock had a successful film and series of albums. And an amazing amount of good feelings. So let’s celebrate. Music is in us and we are in music.

 

     I was fortunate enough to have worked with four HITH-remembering-richie-havens-ten-things-you-may-not-know-about-woodstock-Eof the Woodstock performers, promoting and marketing their music: Melanie’s “Gather Me” album. That was in, ah, no, really. . . 1971. (Geeeeez). Three of Joan Baez’s albums in the 1970s including “Diamonds and Rust”); Joe Cocker (including “I Can Stand A Little Rain” in 1974); and Richie Havens (“The End of the Beginning” in 1976.) Richie and I reconnected when I booked him for a sold-out concert performance at Arena Theater in Point Arena in 2007.
My good fortune of working with, listening to, and connecting with Havens, Baez, Cocker and Melanie is cherished. But in reality, we are all connected just by listening. And perhaps there is something to playwright John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation”. Or the variations, as in the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”, “Six Degrees of der Kommissar” or your own life experience. We are all connected. What we do and say and how we live is all connected. And thinking of Woodstock, maybe we all were, in fact, at Max Yasgur’s farm. At least when we’re within those six degrees. Peace and love, man.

David Steffen

©2019 David Steffen

 

NOTE: I met and worked with Henry Diltz 25 years ago on a video project. The above image of Richie Havens is probably one of his. Henry’s been a great photographer and historian for half a century. Thanks Henry. (He’ll be 81 on September 6.)

 

A Rally Sparks A Memory   Leave a comment

March 1, 2019

  I remember the Tuesday morning. As usual, I drove from my home in West Redding, Connecticut, to the Metro-North Commuter train station in Westport. It was my first day of classes as I started grad school at the New School in lower Manhattan. (I transferred to NYU the next semester, but that’s not really germane to this column.)  My Tuesday classes began at 11:00am, so my plan was to catch the 8:50 train to Grand Central Station, catch a subway to Union Square, and then walk to the campus. I parked the car at the Westport Station about 10 minutes early, and sat waiting for my train. As I sat in the car I heard a report about a small plane hitting the World Trade Center. It was 8:46am. Bad, obviously. But some of us remember reading about another crash.

 

     On July 28, 1945, a B-25 Mitchell Bomber got lost in the fog over Manhattan and crashed into the Empire State Building between the 78th and 80th floors. Fourteen people died, including 11 in the Empirestate540building and 3 on the plane. Significant damage, as one can imagine, was done to the building but the structural integrity was not compromised and tourists can still ride elevators to the 102nd floor observation deck. Sitting in my car on September 11, 2001, I could convince myself that just like the 1945 crash, the World Trade Center would survive this disaster.
     My train came into Westport and the conversation went through the car. The question we heard as the train left Westport was “Did you hear?” or “What do you think?”. At the next stop in Norwalk, Connecticut, more Manhattan-bound travelers got on the train, and the conversations continued. Somewhere past Norwalk we got the report that another plane had hit one of the towers. It was 9:03am. At the next stop, Stamford, Connecticut, almost everyone—me included—got off the train, crossed over to the other side to head back on the next train.
     When I arrived in Westport I got in my car and headed straight to Waterbury where our daughter Caitie was in school. She was 13 and I decided it would be good for her (and for us) to call it a day.  Classes at the university were all canceled for the week.

     The following week I, once again, caught the 8:50am train for New York, went to classes, and more or less, resumed some normality. What wasn’t normal were the impromptu memorials in Union Square.

USQ

September 11 Archive, Gift of Marisa Palmisano.jpg

Almost everywhere in this very public place there were candles and flowers on the ground, flowers and notes stuck between fenceposts; pictures taped to walls, fences, and lampposts. Union Square had become a church and home to hundreds if not thousands of very personal memorials. As I passed through the candles and alongside the tears, the magnitude of the prior-week’s horror drove even deeper into all of us.

     A couple of months later I ventured to ground zero. By that time a makeshift wooden walkway had been created to enable all of us to quietly walk past and look up into the now empty sky, look down into the hole, or share a glance, touch, hug, smile with the others in the quiet, non-denominational congregation.
     Almost 18 years later I was listening to an interview with comedian-turned talk show host-turned-advocate Jon Stewart. I’ve always liked Stewart, and view him as a rationale, credible voice. And I still do. He left comedy at home. Here was Stewart adding his potent voice to a rally in New York City. Who can, for a moment, rationalize just why there has not been continuous funding for all of the needs of all of the first responders who walked into hell on Tuesday, September 11, 2001? We’ve all gone on with our lives, but every year 9/11 is a potent number for many of us but perhaps it’s been completely ignored by others.
     As reported by many news outlets on February 25, 2019 “More than 17 years after the 9/11 attacks, first responders and their advocates were back at Capitol Hill urging Congress to ensure that a victims’ compensation fund does not run out of money.” Stop there for a moment. Congress had the energy to write a tax cut into law benefitting mostly the wealthy, but they couldn’t find time to secure funding for these “veterans” of that awful day. The website nj.com covered the day, the crisis, and the reality very well. On February 25,
“Members of the New York delegation, joined by first responders, survivors and family members, lamented an announcement by the Justice Department that the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund is running low on money and future payments may be cut by up to 70 percent.”

Comedian Jon Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, called the Feb. 15 announcement by the fund’s special master “unconscionable” and said Congress has a moral obligation to step in . . . .  “This is nonsense. This is theater. You know it and I know it,” Stewart said. “If the American people in their busy lives had any sense that these shenanigans were going on, they would be outraged.”

He and other speakers urged Congress to act quickly to restore the fund and ensure it has enough money to pay benefits for the next 70 years — or as long as victims need it. Obviously we have a problem in Washington D.C. Sometimes it seems as if much of “flyover” country in America may be against money for a city like New York. Or maybe it’s just that it’s 17+ years since the attacks.

     On a personal level, what I didn’t mention earlier is the unique odor that hung over lower Manhattan in the weeks and months after the attacks. I’ve smelled any number of things during my decade in New York, but that odor, at least for me, was unique. It was memorable in the worst possible way. There were human beings helping on that Tuesday morning 17 years ago, more human beings helping and working to reclaim ground zero for years afterwards. In my opinion, if we can debate the need for a wall on our southern border, we can at least bring a debate about victim and first responder’s compensation to the forefront as well. Healthcare in America is a for-profit business. Unfortunately. If we had healthcare for all, perhaps there would be no need for a rally this week. But we did.
     At the very least let’s take care of these people. Take a moment. Let your representatives in Washington know that it is time to act. Act now.  While some of them are still alive.
David Steffen
©2019 David Steffen

Media’s Absentee Landlords   Leave a comment

April 1, 2018

    Most people of a certain age can probably recall their discovery of the first local newspaper carrying their favorite comics. It almost doesn’t matter what those comics were, as there was something for everyone. I never read Prince Valiant. Too cheesy. I did read Blondie but felt it hit a little too close to home. Beetle Bailey. Fun. Peanuts? My ‘peeps’. Li’l Abner? Could have been one or two of my neighbors. Hi and Lois? Too vanilla. I’d follow some or all of these in glorious black and white during the week, and on Sunday, magically, we found that they had all erupted into living color. We were too young to understand that the comics had two reasons for existing. First they were entertaining. Second, they trained children (future subscribers) to get into the habit of reading the daily newspaper.

Growing up in Milwaukee we had two choices. There was the morning Milwaukee Sentinel and the evening Milwaukee Journal. I was one of those “paper boys” who got up early in the morning, picked up my bundles of Sentinels and delivered them to homes along my streets on the south side of Milwaukee. I earned more money than my days of setting pins at the local bowling alley, but after a year or so decided the little bit of income it provided wasn’t worth the effort. Besides, I was part of a 4-piece band which gave me more spending money than the paper so, hey, why not stay with rock ’n roll.

The Milwaukee Sentinel had long been a money-loser for William Randolph Hearst’s empire. Matthew J. Prigge wrote in the March 2016 Shepherd Express “Hearst hung on to the Sentinel, losing money every year, until his death in 1951. Hearst Publishing continued ownership until a strike in 1962 shut the paper down for six weeks. With Hearst Publishing prepared to fold the paper altogether, the Journal Company stepped in at the last moment and—feeling that Milwaukee needed more than one voice in its daily news—offered $3 million for the sheet.” For the next 30 years the papers continued to be published as separate entities, only to be merged into a single paper—the Journal-Sentinel—in 1994. Milwaukee wasn’t the only city to become a one-newspaper town. As the century turned, cities all over the country saw their two-newspaper towns become one newspaper towns, and many smaller cities and towns watched as their local papers shrunk, merged, or closed down altogether. Print media was becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer publishers.

Radio and television suffered a different fate. The Federal Communications Commission has long been the radio and TV regulatory arm of the federal government. For most of the post-war period (beginning in 1953), companies were allowed to own no Puppet CR (1)more than one AM, one FM, and one TV station in any one media market. Furthermore, they were limited to a maximum of seven of each nationwide. Period. The original 7-station limit was to prevent any one company from having undue influence over the American public by dominating the media, locally, regionally, or nationally. During the 1980s this restriction was seen as “heavy handed”. Under the Reagan administration the FCC saw fit to allow companies to own as many as 12 AM, 12 FM, and 12 TV stations. Got the math: companies could now control 36 broadcast outlets nationally. With a straight face and a nod to George Orwell, in 1984 the government told us that fewer companies owning more stations would “encourage media competition”. The FCC concluded that the concentration of media in fewer hands posed “no threat to the diversity of independent viewpoints in the information and entertainment markets.” The new rule included another trigger. In 1990 the FCC would further relax the broadcast ownership by any one company to, well, unlimited. A little more than a decade later alarm bells began going off. According to Deadline Hollywood, by spring 2007, “91% of the total weekday talk radio programming was conservative, and only 9% was progressive. . . .” And those numbers are more than a decade old.

Obviously media consolidation has done nothing for diversity. iHeart Media now owns 845 stations in the United States. Cumulus Media owns 500 stations. Other companies like Entercom, Cox, Clear Channel, and CBS, are approaching another 1000 stations in total. Both iHeart and Cumulus are operating in bankruptcy, and bankruptcy means there will be little interest in balanced programming or local concerns, and more interest in cutting costs. As management focuses on “efficiencies”, many of these corporate-owned radio stations will have little or no staff in the cities and towns they serve, enabling them to save money by doing away with local hosts, local news, and local weather. The “local” newscast you hear in Topeka might be coming from a voice in Chicago. And that’s on top of corporate ownership that caters to the expansion of a conservative audience mind-set. Then there’s Sinclair, the conservative broadcast business which is expanding (perhaps soon to own 200 television stations) and vying with Fox to become a kingmaker in American politics by shaping and supporting conservative opinions in the vast majority of American media markets.

This is not meant to be a sentimental look at ‘the good old days’, or an exercise in hammering large corporations. It is rather a recognition that as technology continues to evolve we need to hold precious those things that we’ve come to appreciate including the importance of local radio stations, newspapers and magazines, with local information, prepared by local people.  The adage to “Think Globally, Act Locally” has never been more appropriate.

Lobster, Privacy   Leave a comment

“Peekaboo. I Can See You”
December 1, 2017
     I can’t remember the moment I first tasted lobster—or “lopsta”, as I learned the correct pronunciation while living back east—but I truly enjoy it. Broiled, fried, steamed, if it’s the real deal from the coast of New England, I’m there. Unfortunately, Maine lobster is $30-$50 per pound in restaurants. (The Palm Restaurant, famous for steaks and lobsters, is reportedly currently charging $75 for a 3-pound Nova Scotian—not Maine—lobster.) Needless to say it’s been a long, long time since I had dinner, much less order lobster at the Palm; it’s simply too pricey for most of us. As an alternative to dining out, there are deals on the internet where you can order live lobsters, at a much lower price, and get them shipped to your home. But then you have more issues.
     I recall a New Years Eve get-together twenty years ago where everyone knew lobster was one of the food items for our celebration. I ordered live lobsters from Maine, shipped to our home in Connecticut. Once the carton was opened, the enthusiasm of friends and family quickly waned; they didn’t even wish to look at the living creatures. Comments were swift in coming. “You’re really going to kill them? I can’t eat him, her, them.” As for me, I looked the lobsters in the eyes, and carefully explained about the pot,Happy-lobster-cartoonREV the steam, butter, sauce, and their expected place on the table. In reality, lobsters seem to lose interest when they understood that they’re not ‘coming to dinner’, but rather ‘were to become dinner’. As I couldn’t send them back, I persevered and cooked them. No one else ate the lobster that evening.
     From a physiological standpoint, whether lobster or fried chicken, everything we intake (eat), travels along our internal highway, on its way to an eventual “outflow”. All of this brings me to something I recently read.
     It appears that lobsters (and other menu items) may need to get dressed up so that they can smile for the camera during digestion. In an article titled “FDA Approves First Digital Ingestion Tracking System Med”, the Associated Press reported that the Food and Drug Administration “has approved the first drug in the United States with a digital ingestion tracking system.” That’s right. Swallow this little pill and not only may it make you feel better or cure what ails you, but in theory your doctor or primary care provider will be able to determine the exact location of that pill. I am not making this up. The pill, or as it’s referred to by the drugmakers—the “digitally enhanced medication”—sends a message to a sensor on a wearable patch somewhere on your body. At first glance some might shrug and say, “so what, big deal.” However, given what the Russians have been doing for the past few years, it’s entirely likely that the Kremlin will be able to track my lobster dinner as it travels through me. Let’s be honest. It might also be tracked by the FBI, the NSA, or the CIA (the CIA in Langley, Virginia, not the CIA cooking schools in Hyde Park, New York, or St. Helena, California). If the Russians, or anyone else got hold of Hillary’s emails, it would seem like a small task to read the information traveling through me and stored on a patch.
     I’m one of those people who’s been reluctant to send my saliva (and $60-$100 or more)
to companies like 23 And Me to have my DNA analyzed. I’ve long maintained that I am DNA 01EXPpart-English and part-German, based on my mother’s description (with her emphasis on “English”). Besides, I’m just not that curious about my exact makeup, due to a couple of factors. First, I don’t care if the analysis shows me to be 30% English, 16% German, 21% French, 13% Martian, and 20% cheddar cheese (although my friends believe this last one is quite probable). The prospect of my DNA being analyzed, and subsequently used to evaluate, compare, contrast, and categorize me and other people into very specific groups is not compelling to me either. DNA 02EXPMore to the point, it’s my belief that these DNA-companies will in all likelihood sell and resell my DNA information to other companies or worse.
     Two billion (that’s ‘B’: billion) people, 27% of the planet use Facebook each month. And if we haven’t yet learned about Facebook’s business structure, it’s high time we did. Simply put, the more information we put on Facebook the more clicks are generated on Facebook as our friends, family, and our social and business connections check in with us. And every click, each and every piece of data, is stored in Facebook’s database, forever. You, too, add to the clicks as you check out the pages of friends, family, total strangers, and cats. Here’s a simple example. That cat video you just watched is another click captured by Facebook. While you enjoy the cat, Facebook is capturing your viewing as data to be sold and resold to advertisers, marketers, and “interested parties”. It is no coincidence that once Facebook knows that you like cats you suddenly begin receiving offers for cat sand, cat food, cat toys, cat brushes, cat clippers, cat clothes, cat beds, cat medicines, and so on.
     DNA contains the fundamental and distinctive characteristics of who we are. DNA testing services are, I believe, a variation of the Facebook model.  So just what do I believe the DNA companies will do with our information? Sell it. And if they don’t sell it, someone will gain access to it. Some people don’t care if their information, including DNA, is sold and resold, and I’m fine with that. For me, if DNA companies want my DNA, they can pay me for it. Privacy should be close to sacred. But private data is not always DNA Helixsecure. Ask Equifax. Between May and July, 2017, the Social Security numbers, birth dates, and home addresses for up to 143 million Americans were hacked. Oops. Yet, consider this little 40 word section from one DNA company’s Privacy Statement:
“As our business continues to grow and change, we might restructure, buy, or sell subsidiaries or business units. In these transactions, customer information is often one of the transferred assets, remaining subject to promises made in then prevailing privacy statements.”
     My interpretation of this could find the following chain of events: A corporation in the United States owns a DNA Company, collects a $99 fee, analyzes the DNA and sends you or me the results. They also retain the information. Forever. Twenty minutes or twenty years later, the corporation sells its DNA business to another corporation headquartered in, say, Tajikistan. The individual’s DNA will be, according to the above quote, one of the transferred assets. The buyer (new owner) will now have access to all of the DNA information collected to that point. The primary languages in Tajikistan are Tajik and Russian. Who might tap into that DNA database? Mmmmmmmm.

David Steffen

© 2017 David Steffen

Old Shoes: The Value of Things   Leave a comment

November 1, 2017

 

I have a pair of Cole-Haan loafers that I swear are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. Dennis, our local shoe-repair expert appreciates the shoes far more than anyone in my family. He once asked how long I’ve had them. I quietly whispered “well I bought them in 1988.” I think he liked the idea that I was still wearing them, and I’m grateful he continues to bring them back from the dead every few years. What about you? How Shoes IMG_0341about that pair of comfortable (and tattered) slippers you continue to wear? Or that ratty shirt? Things that bring us some measure of personal comfort are not to be lightly dismissed. Which brings me to public radio. Sometimes it feels as if public radio is like those old shoes of mine. Eminently comfortable.
I met then KZYX GM Belinda Rawlins in 2007 and was surprised to find myself working for her a year later. Me, in public radio. But it was stimulating, since KZYX was not a mega station (like KQED in San Francisco) but a truly local idea. Some national content, yet the majority of the programs then and now created by people right here in Mendocino County. And like the county itself, the local programs seem born of the towns, roads, hills, valleys, and rivers; reflecting the wide breadth of taste, interests, and topicality.
As a listener, we’re comfortable that Morning Edition turns up every morning, or that Terry Gross brings us a bit of Fresh Air every day. And we take for granted a group of almost 100 dedicated (and unpaid) volunteers who create local programs of local interest; friends and neighbors talking about their vegetable gardens, or bringing us a local view on politics, or food, or the environment. There’s music for every taste, from almost every genre (well no barbershop quartets. . . .) They do this for the pride and love of what they’re doing, and for the audience.
It may be difficult to acknowledge but far too many of us take public radio for granted. After all, ‘it gets tons of money from the federal government’ (untrue), ‘it costs nothing to operate’ (also untrue), or ‘everyone else pays for it so I don’t need to.’ This last idea is interesting because in reality, only one-in-ten listeners contributes to public radio. Line up ten random public radio listeners from the Mendonoma coast and the odds are you’ll find that only one of them supports a public station with a financial contribution. There are some essential qualities required to work in public radio. For example, you must be self-motivated, willing to work long and weird hours (often at the same time), and believe in what your doing. You might accept that those traits apply to every job, and perhaps they do. But one of the realities of public radio is the fact that the wolf is regularly at the door. Not always, but he makes an appearance once or twice every year, so everyone understands that public radio is fragile, always a little on the edge.  But we love it and believe it’s worth the long hours, the modest pay, and the angst. We all learn to perform a myriad of jobs at a station like KZYX. I’m ostensibly working on the business side, but on any given day at any time I often find myself in the studio helping out on the air. Or answering the phones. Or cleaning the station’s bathroom; or picking up a volunteer who’s stranded on highway 253 halfway to Ukiah. You name the job, and every staffer has done it at one time or another, and continues to do so. And so it was on the evening of Sunday, October 8.
Our Sunday night volunteer programmer began receiving calls from listeners about a fire in or near Redwood Valley. Anyone and everyone who called in to the studio late that night spoke with Bob, who then passed along the anecdotal information to the rest of the listeners. I emphasize ‘anecdotal’ because there were few official reports available. By Fire XMTR 2 22310605_10154962401007967_7592346504480456810_nMonday morning many of us were at the Philo studios providing non-stop information to our listeners. Some time that morning Jeffrey Parker, the station’s General Manager, created a shared online document enabling all of us to add information as we received updates by email, internet, text, and calls from the sheriff, police, highway patrol, volunteer fire departments, Cal-Fire, officials throughout Mendocino, Lake, or Sonoma County, and our listeners. Our news people were shuttling between locations on either side of Highway 101, gathering information from Laytonville to Hopland. And we heard from local residents who wanted to share details gleaned from conversations with local authorities. At one point that shared document of information ran more than twenty pages, totaled almost 3000 words, and enabled us to get fresh information to our listeners quickly.
As the days passed we knew that, absent an unexpected rain shower, this fire was going to be with us for another week or more. Every volunteer programmer (and the paid staff) took time every hour (and sometimes more often) to get the information out. Fire XMTR 3 22366841_10154962401507967_8710817202782215739_nNumerous people contacted us on a borrowed phone or by email to tell us their stories. Some cell networks weren’t working, yet some landlines remained active. Internet access was beginning to disappear in many areas, whether it was via satellite dish or cable. Then it got real scary. We were receiving multiple reports of (and from) people who were in the midst of preparing to leave their homes for safer areas, who turned toward the edge of their property and realized they were now out of time. They jumped into their car or truck or bus and hightailed it toward what they hoped would be safer ground. This fire was devouring grasslands, woodlands, sheds, storage facilities, homes, farms, and commercial businesses. Everything and anything in the way was likely to be damaged or destroyed. Over almost two weeks, our staff and volunteers stayed at it. At this writing, the fires are now contained or completely extinguished, but the devastation and rebuilding of lives and property begins.

That two weeks of manic efforts on everyone’s part is exactly what public radio is about. Serving everyone in our listening area, not just our members. It’s worth keeping that in mind as we consider just how public radio can be supported. We were fortunate that there was no major damage to the station; the fire came oh so very close to one of the KZYX transmitters but fortunately there was very little apparent damage to the station’s equipment. That’s in stark contrast to the obvious devastation throughout northern California. Everyone affected will need help. And along the way, if you can consider throwing some money toward your local public radio station, that might be a good idea as well.

David Steffen

© 2017 David Steffen
top: those shoes…..
middle: fires across Redwood Valley
bottom: transmitter site.

 

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