Friday, March 24, 2017

Better Living Through Self-Censorship

I know some of you in Facebookland have gone down your friends list doing an ideological purge. You have unfriended anybody who is either too liberal or too conservative for you -- or not liberal or conservative enough. You did this to people you called your friends.

I hope you're satisfied. I hope you've sanitized your feeds to your liking, especially now that one major contentious political standoff has ended, and you won't have to move the finger a wee bit more to scroll through those friends so inconveniently incongruent to your ideology.

Facebook says it is working on a way to filter out fake news. I think it needs to work on filtering fake friendships -- no, not those scam artists who are cloning or falsifying accounts, but those people who say they are friends until the moment they decide they can't separate your humanity from your party affiliation. A lot of people have found themselves unfriended over the past year as politics turned volcanic. Some of these people deserved it for being crude, callous creatures to their so-called "friends." Some people just got caught in the crossfire.

A certain lady decided she was going to purge her facebook rolls of all Republicans, and I found myself unfriended. I don't even consider myself Republican. Officially, I'm not. I had only gotten into a brief debate with this person once over Russian hacking and the election. I had also posted -- in the spirit of sharing some eloquent words versus gunk -- part of a speech by then-candidate John F. Kennedy on the role of his Catholic faith in his leadership and how he wanted to be president for all of America, not just Catholic America.

I can't understand why those words set this lady off. Perhaps it was just bad timing, coming in January, when the debate over you-know-who's travel restrictions were reaching their emotional apex. She vented a little, but then she stepped aside. Two months later, I was off her list with no explanation, no warning, not even a good-bye note.

If it had been a lot of other people on my list, I would've shrugged it off. But I couldn't with this lady. She's one of my dancing friends from Virginia.

If you haven't heard me say this before, I give special value to my friends who share my love of history and dancing. They stand apart from the ugliness of this world. They build other people up -- including your servant. I danced with this lady in Virginia, and I had not the slightest hint anything was wrong, and this was two months after that dander-raising post, which I am choosing not to embed here because I do not want to disclose any names.

But I will disclose what I wrote to my dancing friend, feeling dumbstruck and hurt.

Dearest Lady [redacted],

Your servant was quite shocked to see you had unfriended me. I realize you are trying to rid yourself of toxicity online -- which a lot of people are doing nowadays -- but I honestly did not think your servant fit into that category. If I have insulted you, I apologize. If I have made you angry, I apologize. I want to be your friend -- because I love my dancing friends, and I value them highly.

Why? Because they hold themselves to standards of behaviour we don't see all that much anymore. I love that the people I know who do 18th Century English (and Scottish) Country dance can put all of their cares from the current life and times aside and enjoy the merriment of the ballroom. I have treasured the dances I have shared with you, and I do not want that to end.

You also have to know I feel this way because I was bullied as a child, and square dancing in school was especially tough. The young ladies did not want to be my partner. The young gents (if you could call them that) just laughed. So when I rediscovered English Country Dance a decade ago, and when ladies bowed and curtsied to your servant, it changed my life immeasurably... and put me back on the road to GOD. At last, I had discovered the closest thing -- for me -- to Heaven on Earth.

I don't expect you to understand all of this. And I'm far from perfect. But when somebody unfriends me, it hurts. I see my facebook friends as more than just a couple of clicks and a profile -- because that's the way it should be. I have to wonder, what went wrong? What did I do? What did I NOT do?

Be Blessed, My Lady -- and whether you want to friend me or not -- I will still be your friend. I Love My Dancing Friends!

Your Humble Servant And Friend,
Lord Christopher of Dunans

As of this posting, I have not heard back from her, even though I know she read the note. I tried friending her again. For all I know, she is either ignoring me or blocking me for reasons she will not disclose.

This has pained your servant deeply, and I can't understand why. Come on, I keep reasoning with myself, we are talking about one friend out of oodles on the list. Why is this such a big deal? After considerable wracking of my brain, I think I found the explanation in a Biblical parable.

JESUS talks about the lost sheep in Luke 15:4-7 (NIV): "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."

That's followed by the parable of the lost coin and the famous one about the prodigal son. The message, in part, is that GOD doesn't give up on the people HE loves. Why should we give up on the people we love, especially if we want to live up to GOD's expectations for us?

I don't give up on my Facebook friends. I count nearly 600 of them on my list right now, and I have not unfriended anybody since I joined the social network about a decade ago. I refuse to go through and purge, because as I said to my unfriended friend, you're more than just a profile. I labour to treat my Facebook friends as if they were standing in front of me. This is in line with George Washington's first Rule of Civility: "Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present." Not only is that rule easy for your servant to remember, it beats having to fuss with Facebook's privacy settings. Further, if I am going to live as a light for GOD, I can't turn it off on social media.

Last year, I began keeping a quarantine list to restrict a limited number of people from seeing certain political posts I thought might ruffle their feathers. It has worked very well, despite a few extra steps involved in the process. Lately, though, I've used it less and less. I just grew tired of posting an opinion and worrying about somebody deciding to cut me to pieces.

I lost even more of my appetite for political posts after another trip -- and another ball -- in Williamsburg.

(In case you're trying to connect dots -- no, none of the ladies you see here are the ones who unfriended me.)

After such a blessed experience expressed in these postings, I couldn't bring myself to discuss politics, at least not on one of my own posts, and rarely on anybody else's. After drawing closer to GOD and feeling closer to Heaven, why tarnish such beauty by going back to the swamp -- even if that flies in the face of the freedom of speech we are given?

This is not the way it is supposed to be. We can not be a nation of tolerance and freedom if self-censorship is the only reliable way to promote peace among us. But given the junk we see online and the off-the-chart response to it, we are running out of options. Your servant is running out of energy to deal with online drama, and I would rather just scroll on.

Be Blessed, My Friends!

This post has been updated with additional thoughts.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Word Is OVER

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
The following originally ran in a Facebook posting on April 13, 2014. I had Easter in mind at the time. But given current events and current attitudes, I feel this deserves to be the closing word.

Something to think about as we enter Holy Week -- so many people around us are trying to tell us it's over. America is over. Our freedoms are over. The economy is over. Our morals are over. Our families are over. Etc, etc, etc.

I'm over people telling me it's over. It's because they're living on a tangent of reality that's keeping them them from seeing what's NOT over. And they would notice it if they just looked up and saw it -- honestly.

GOD is a big-picture GOD. HE sees the beginning and the end, and everything between. We, however, tend to get stuck in tunnel vision, and instead of seeing everything, we will see our narrow view -- and more often, we see how rotten it is.

Is it any wonder then, when GOD sent HIS SON to us, those people who encountered HIM couldn't break out of their plane? Nahhh... can't be THE SAVIOR. THE SAVIOR wouldn't do that, wouldn't say that, wouldn't teach that. C'mon. That's not HIM. The real savior is coming to get rid of Romans, taxes, people we don't like... etc., etc., etc.

It's fascinating to me how people continue to put GOD on their side instead of getting on GOD's side, or making JESUS into their image instead of trying to be more like HIM. Or they create gods of their own: money, sex, politics -- especially politics. Liberalism and conservatism are their own religions, but that's another vent.

So what's really over? Our fear of the future, if we're right with GOD and living for HIM through accepting CHRIST. Remember, this world is not our final destination, no matter how "over" people tell you that it is. And if you look it over, honestly, you'll find where GOD is a part of it. Over here. Over there.

And in spite of us being all over ourselves and the messes we've made, GOD still gives us the chance to serve HIM over and over again and help do HIS work -- which HE didn't have to do. HE is GOD, after all. HE didn't have to send HIS SON over to us. But HE did.

So now, are things really over? Or are you just believing people who say it is rather than GOD, who tells you they aren't? (Jeremiah 29:11).

Over to you...

Sunday, January 29, 2017


This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
"Let me give you my thoughts on affectations," said a friend of mine as he taught a class on 18th Century English dance. He stated flatly and matter-of-factly that various showy displays of the hands -- such as raising a free hand high during a hands-across figure -- were not fashionable. Instead of portraying courtly demeanor, they would bring about awkward reaction from others. Ridicule was not out of the question. I got a similar message from books on 18th Century dance, which dissuaded deep bows among gentlemen and the spreading of skirts among ladies when curtsying. "Oh just take all the joy out of it," I muttered.

I am one of those people who likes deep bows and encourages courtly curtseys. I love holding a free hand high every so often or shouting "Huzzah!" during a circle-round. I likely break the rules the English dancing masters taught, and then I break them again when I teach Colonial dancing to young people and subtly encourage them to embrace their inner regality. They're not wearing powdered wigs, knee breeches, tricorns or polonaise gowns, but I can at least help put their minds in the right frame with mannered and yet festive gestures.

Still, I look at how I danced during my first Williamsburg ball, and I have to note my gestures are exaggerated.

I'm all in the dance and then some. I need to refine my manners. Still, I was able to get some ladies to follow my lead with free hands high during at least a couple of dances. I have to be thankful for small victories.

One friend has also told me not to bow my head as well as my body when giving honours. I end up doing it anyway half the time because.... well, it's reverent. I always thought it unfair the ladies were taught to bow their heads or cast their eyes down when curtsying while the gentlemen were not expected to do the same. I also see myself as giving dual reverence, not only to my partner but to THE LORD OF THE DANCE. The other ladies don't mind.

"I did not know I was a queen!" one of them said to me at a dance. "Thank you, my subject!"

I say if you can be regal, be regal. It's the closest thing you'll ever get to living in a fairy tale or royal court. Or Pride & Prejudice.

Saturday, January 28, 2017


This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
Webster's Dictionary does not list "disperfect" as a word, but my Royal Father does. I heard him use it in the early 1980's, and my family was in the car on the way to a hotel in St. Louis for a weekend stay. Dad was having trouble finding the right turn-off to get to the place. "The directions they have given me have been, so far, disperfect."

It's not technically a word, but it should be. "Disperfect" represents those times when everything is working except for that one small thing that doesn't. Disperfect disses on perfect. Often, it represents a situation more than just flawed or fateful; it describes an abnormality we did not think we would have to account for or one small oversight on somebody else's part that throws everything out of whack.

Some examples of disperfect situations:

  • A cupboard full of delicious soup and no can opener.
  • Parking the car under the awning to avoid rain, birds, and high heat only to have to put up with the gnats that swarm in front of the sodium-vapor light that's above it at night.
  • Having the toll for a highway out of Dulles International Airport in Washington, but not having exact change at a time when the toll booths are unstaffed. (Been there, done that.)
  • Cooking up a candy-store full of treats for a kid's birthday party and then finding out the best friend of the guest of honor has a long list of food allergies.
  • Trying to pay the rent when you realize you've run out of personal checks.
  • Writing a killer book report on the wrong book.

The common thread through all of these is that we are prepared or we put forth effort, but some glitch complicates or ruins what should be a routine and practically flawless exercise. It reminds us life isn't fair or even completely rational.

Friday, January 27, 2017


This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
"Conquer" is one of those words that has deep dark connotations and yet it can appear so antiseptically. I have seen it used...

In textbooks: "Cortez conquered the Aztecs."

On Superfriends: "I will conquer them!"

In the Peanuts comic strip where Sally exclaims: "I've conquered new math!"

It's peculiar how the same word that can describe the joys of mastering fractional division can also describe the decimation and subjugation of peoples. Perhaps that's why I'm reluctant to use it even the creatively hyperbolic sense.

But don't let your servant hold you back from conquering your fears, your prejudices, your bad habits, your weight gain, your bad memories, and your sloth. If you are going to conquer the Annoying Guy in the Cubicle Next To You, this is where I turn and walk away, taking the sharp objects with me.

Thursday, January 26, 2017


This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
My pastor recently pointed out that so many people have anxiety or frustration in this world -- and with GOD -- because of the wrong set of expectations. I have to agree. I've seen a lot of people think, erroneously, that GOD is out to punish them without cause -- HE isn't. Or, they think GOD doesn't love them because they are suffering in spite of their prayers and faithfulness -- that's the work of the devil, not GOD (Jeremiah 29:11-13). Sometimes people pray for one thing and get something totally unexpected that answers that prayer. GOD has been known to do that a lot.

One of the things I learned after I got right with GOD is to widen your expectations. If you are intent on seeing them met in only one way, you're going to be disappointed a lot. Of course, this doesn't always apply to the expectations you set for other people. If they're not meeting your expectations, then that's a problem. But if people are meeting what you expect of them, you can't expect they will do it in exactly the way you imagine. Creative solutions come from many a problem.

This is a very obtuse explanation, I know, but I'm sure you know of times in your life when your needs were met in a way you didn't expect because you were looking at the problem from another direction. Expect the unexpected!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Word Is PUSH

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
Earlier in this series, I talked about falling in with an international folk dance group here in Tucson. It has definitely broadened your servant's horizons and helped me stay fit. It has also been a exercise in humility: the more I learn, the more I see how much I have to learn. The feet don't want to follow the body, and the body sometimes doesn't want to move period after a long day in the newsroom. Still, I push myself to go. Why? Because I feel like I'm cross-training, just as I attend Scottish dancing to help with my English dancing, which in turn helps for my annual pilgrimage to Williamsburg and the George Washington Ball.

Pushing myself has paid off. It's easier for your servant to get through the two-hour "boot camp" ball rehearsal that precedes each Williamsburg Ball. Difficult figures don't throw me like they used to, and your servant has even had a chance to school some newcomers -- fulfilling that Colonial fantasy of being a dancing master.

It's not much different at work -- having to push myself to make deadlines, rewrite, do a lot of things in a little time to get a newscast on the air. But different from my dancing life, I have found myself guilty of trying to do too much at certain times, and I had to step back and realize I need to ask for help every now and then.

I bet a lot of you don't feel like you're doing your job unless you're taking it to the max. While that's fine, ask yourself if you really should be doing all you're doing. You may find -- as a former boss once told me -- that you have the world on your shoulders when you don't need to be holding it up!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
You can approach this word one of two ways. My earliest memory of the word "tender" being used was on the radio. I heard Helen Reddy singing it -- or was it Maureen McGovern? In any event, my Aunt Susan was behind the wheel, taking me to Grandma and Grandpa Francis one day while the Queen Mother was getting ready to have Brother Michael in 1975. Among other things, we washed that car together in the shade of one of the trees. I have always loved that about my Auntie -- she could be as much of a kid as we were.

Maybe you prefer how Ernest Borgnine put it.

Your servant is partial to Dr. Teeth's version.

Monday, January 23, 2017


This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
Volcanic events are not limited to our Earth. Our relationships and our plans blow up. Our tempers explode, and you don't want to get caught in the lava flow. Watching Gordon Ramsay's eruptions on Hell's Kitchen is a constant reminder of who I do not want to become.

I have stood knee deep in ash and magma in a previous job, when a boss decided excoriating everybody was effective leadership. I soon left, as did many others. This boss was not boss for much longer, although he later admitted to a mutual friend that his blow-ups drove people away. And still, this mutual friend told me although she didn't like this guy's bullying, he was whipping people into shape in a competitive workplace. It was the grudging bargain of living with one thing to have the other.

I know I've wanted to blow up numerous times, and I have had to sit on my temper (James 1:19) because among other things, I know the short-term satisfaction will not equal the long-term guilt, or who knows what other consequences. I have seen people get fired for just one eruption, maybe not loud and boisterous but underhanded and passive-aggressive. This isn't even counting the number of times I've had to hold back from shredding somebody on Facebook.

With all the lava I've had to store up inside, it's a blessing I'm not dead from being burned from the inside.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Word Is BREEZY

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
Strunk and White's The Elements Of Style contains a caution for serious writers: "Do not affect a breezy manner." They urge you not to "confuse spontaneity with genius" by putting down whatever happens to come from your head. "The volume of writing is enormous, these days," they said, back in the days before Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.

Even if you leave out the written word, we know breezy people who simply talk too much about too many things and say too little -- but we enjoy it. As long as we don't have to pay by the word, who cares? Depending on the person, breezy can either make you the guy who keeps everybody's spirits up or "annoying cubicle guy," that office drone who drones on about every... single... thing. That's not breezy; that's a foghorn.

For those of us too polite to tell said creatures to put a sock in it, there's always earbuds connected to a smartphone.

Saturday, January 21, 2017


This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
"Multitude" is one of those cool Biblical words you rarely see outside the Bible, perhaps because it automatically draws out visions of an angelic host. To use it in any non-Biblical sentence seems sinful, at least to a friend of mine who thinks the term "awesome" should be reserved for GOD and nobody else, including valley girls and surfers.

"Multitude" conjures visions of a warm mob riffing off that great "cloud of witnesses" referenced in Hebrews 12:1. Multitudes don't riot in the streets, but they will sweep the sidewalks and plant trees in the easements. Maybe what we need is more multitude mentality and less mob mentality.

But we're not angels, and we never will be. And "multitude" doesn't carry all the cooler, hipper connotations of "crew," "bros," "homies," "sisters," or "girlfriends."

Friday, January 20, 2017


This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
We could argue back and forth whether homogenization makes your milk better or worse. I haven't consumed the unhomogenized kind. If you want something more natural, you know where you're going to land on this.

Leave the milk on the table for this one, though. Some things should not be combined into a "uniform mixture," as Webster's puts it. We tire of blandness. We bristle at uniqueness blended out of us like a Bass-o-matic.

But just like that machine which liquefies fish, homogenization makes tough things easier to swallow. We allow our schools to practically teach standardized tests because doing it the other ways take too long and demand too much time for classes that are too big with teachers paid too little. We allow watered-down regulations and distilled directives when doing the right thing becomes too hard.

Or maybe it's or too offensive. When's the last time you heard somebody in the U.S. talk about the "melting pot?" I haven't heard that term widely used since "Schoolhouse Rock."

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Word Is CHANGE

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
Politicians promise it. Spouses demand it. And we get upset when we don't get it. Change is something we demand a lot from other people but don't get enough to satisfy us.

Robert Wagner saw it from a more fateful angle, as something that happens to people rather than something people do:

He's looking at this as a noun, not a verb. When you deal with change, are you simply accepting it or actively inspecting it? Is it necessary? Is it right? Should you be changing the change? Are you going to be better off with the change than when you started? Is the change bettering just one person or many?

Situations change. People change. But when we change, we need to change for the right reasons, not simply because we have accepted change as life's sole constant.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
Back in the 1980's, long before Facebook, computer bulletin board systems were the way to friend and like and message through a monochrome system of postings and replies. In one particular thread, one young lady took time out to consider what she deemed the raunchier things in life. Others, your servant included, added to that list in successive postings. Here are some of my contributions. Remember, I was barely a teenager, and I was waxing mischievous, so please don't reply to me saying, "Some of these things don't fit the definition of 'raunchy.'" I know they don't.

  • Gum stuck on the ceiling (or anywhere else)
  • Intestinal gas
  • Parking the car up the street, walking down the street and seeing it roll past you
  • Slugs
  • Sticky Christmas tree resin
  • Various brands of canned pet food, especially upon opening the can
  • Some stinking cow
  • Old Milk Duds
  • Grapefruit juice

Obviously, your list will vary -- greatly.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
Good gentlemen, what are you doing to yourselves? We hear this word a lot in the context of how ladies dress, but your servant wants to focus on the men -- because not a lot of people do. And frankly, I feel like men get a pass on this value when they should not.

When I worked at Six Flags Over Mid-America back in the 1990's, we had a rule for our male guests: no going topless. It didn't matter if you had the best beefcake and six-pack in the known world, you were not going to parade it around like you're on the beach. Put on a shirt. Still, guys would strut the hunk.

A skating rink in my hometown of Raytown had a similar rule: no tank tops. I gather this applied to Larry, a classmate who wore them year-round, even in the freezing Missouri winters. My working theory is he wanted the girls to see all his chest hair. He also had some beefcake. However, he never got into trouble at school for his fashion statement.

While Googling around on this topic, I was relieved to see I'm not the only person who's bothered by a double standard. Katelyn Beaty wrote in a Christianity Today article back in 2010:
While parents, youth pastors, and college staff spend much energy monitoring young women's clothing choices, young men are given few resources to think about how they present themselves, and how they might let a sister stumble. And I have yet to hear any Christian teaching on modesty as more than "covered up in all the right places." Before young women face undue pressure to monitor their male peers' sexual purity, Christian communities ought to provide a biblical context for why we pursue modesty in the first place—and make sure both men and women get the message.
Amy Buckley wrote in Relevant:
Some years later, while navigating occasional attractions as a married woman (wedding rings don’t end that), I began wondering if modesty applies to men: Does a man’s shirt, or lack of, ever send wrong impressions? Does the fit of his jeans ever invite women to linger and (gasp) lust? Does immodest behavior, like flirting, ever harm his relationships? What does modesty require of a God-honoring man?
I think a lot of us don't teach young men about modesty because we think we don't have to. The Bible says a lot about how women dress, but little about the men. And we don't think a naked guy's chest is arousing -- especially if we're guys in the first place. Both authors point out the Bible's stand on this, but the short version is this: modesty shows respect to GOD.

This may sound silly to you, but I'll let it fly: I figure my love of historic clothing is partly rooted in my love of THE LORD. Revolutionary War uniforms are my favourite, because one can look like both soldier and gentleman, all the way down to the knee breeches. Truth be told, a gentleman's calves were quite attractive to 18th Century ladies. No wonder they wore stockings over their lower legs -- or even spatterdashes over the stockings.

For my Scottish attire, I have always insisted my kilts fall below the knee. I hike up my stockings as far as I can get them so I will not reveal much skin, if any. Of course, that's impossible when I'm doing a festive twirl during a dance and the kilt lifts up. Before you ask the famous question, let me tell you I take proper defensive measures. When I told a fellow kilt-wearer that, he replied with this: "You know what that's called? Wearing a dress!"

In the 18th Century, people considered a gentleman half-naked if he wore anything less than less than three layers of clothing in public: shirt, weskit (vest), and coat -- in addition to the knee breeches, stockings, powdered wig and tricorn. This likely compelled a lot of sweat during those miserably hot colonial summers, but modesty was the rule, built upon the fashion sense of the time.

"I still wish men dressed like that," a lady friend once told me. The gentlemen would likely think otherwise.

Even when I'm not dressing in period clothing, that fashion sense still worms its way into my thinking. I bought a pair of long shorts because they reminded me of 18th Century sailor slops. I paired them with matching black over-the-knee socks, and a retro-Colonial look was born. The Queen Mother still thinks they're hip-hop shorts, though.

Whatever you may call them, I can't see myself ever wearing ultra-short boxers, much less a thong bathing suit or tank tops. It's not me. It's not who I am, and I definitely wouldn't feel right. Other guys' attitudes will vary, so I can only speak for myself. And this tricorn-and-breeches wearing guy would rather be fully dressed in the presence of GOD and others.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Word Is CIRCUS

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
We interrupt our regularly scheduled series of word-based philosophical essays and memoirs to focus on another word which won't quite have the same meaning again. As this post goes up, Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus has announced their tents are coming down for good in May. Changing times, changing attitudes toward animal acts, and changing entertainment options all led up to this day. I also think the rise of Cirque du Soleil was the beginning of the end. However, the biggest factor in RBBBC's demise is this: the act had grown routine, perhaps stale.

As the AP's Tamara Lush points out, "When the circus came to town, kids dreamed of running away to join it and its ever-changing roster of stars: the sad-faced clown, Emmitt Kelly; the daredevil trapeze act, the Flying Wallendas; Gunther Gabel-Williams, blond-maned and fearless in the ring with the big cats." But other diversions caught up with the wonderment of the big top. Joining the circus didn't seem like such an escape anymore, especially after the Internet got into the house.

Many people are going to blame RBBBC's death on their decision to eliminate the elephant acts, after which ticket sales tanked. But its parent company, Feld Entertainment, did the math: it could not continue to pay lawyers to fight animal-rights activists, and it couldn't make money if cities were going to limit their options by taking a hard line on treatment of the wild kingdom.

Giovanni Zoppe, owner of the small Zoppe Family Circus, put it bluntly to KOLD News 13's Maria Hechanova:
"I think these animal rights groups are awful. I’m sorry if I offended anyone, I’m sorry. They’re a big percentage of why circus is dead. We can’t fight them ... It makes me very angry. Who are they to say what’s right or wrong. We’re around these animals 24 hours a day."
I say the elephant in the room wasn't elephants. Ringling Bros. would still be around if it had made the bold step of pulling in the feel of of some of its competitors: it should've de-emphasized animal acts years ago while increasing theatrics similar to Cirque du Soleil. Perhaps RBBBC could've pilfered a few Cirque producers to help reimagine the Greatest Show on Earth for new audiences. Instead, it just tweaked the basic show, thinking that its status as an American and cultural institution was strong enough.

It should've seen what was happening in the rinks. Ice Capades, Ice Follies, and Holiday on Ice all went dark when they couldn't evolve. Disney on Ice is surviving because it re-invents itself with new characters and new elements every year. Having a multi-billion dollar company and iconic characters doesn't hurt either. Sesame Street Live continues to play because it performs a different-themed show with new material every time it comes to town.

Now the Greatest Show on Earth will fade into history after May. Family-run circuses like the Zoppe's will live on with smaller, more intimate shows and few if any animals. It won't be the same. That's exactly why they will continue to play and Ringling Bros. will not.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Word Is RUT

This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
Long ago, in a newsroom far, far away, I had a supervising producer who was deathly afraid of being boring. That's not a bad fear to have as a television producer. In fact, it's almost compulsory. But that fear becomes irrational when you constantly work to keep the production value high and still feel the ratings boogeyman is out to get you.

"I just feel we're falling into a rut," this supervisor commented one time.

This was a station that had a monstrous lead over its weak one-station competition and continued to consistently kick tail. Rut, my butt.

True ruts in business are brainless complacency nurtured by laissez-faire leadership. People show up and collect a check but do little except occupy mass. I've never worked in a business that tolerated that, either inside of television or out.

"Well, yeah," one might scoff. "You've never worked for the government!"

Saturday, January 14, 2017


This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
If you're following my Facebook page, you know one my frustrations is people who are one person in public and another person online. Social media stokes and nourishes people's inner troll, and yet they are able to put that troll back under the bridge when they have to live in the real world and meet people face to face.

"Fronting" is a more polite version of trolling. It's putting on an artificial persona better than the person who created it, whether it's online or in real life. Before you ask, I gather you could accuse your servant of this, for all those times I have worn tricorns and knee breeches and kilts and spoke the Queen's English. But that's what historical re-enactors love to do. And we love it so much, it's impossible for us to keep it from spilling into our present lives and times. I have said that if you put on a tricorn hat in the 21st Century, you better be a better person for it. If living the best and most honourable parts of your history doesn't inspire you, what's wrong with your heart?

"You're so real," a girlfriend once told me, and I found that puzzling since I seemed to be living more like an 18th-century colonial gentleman than a 21st-century TV news producer. I gather some people don't mind this kind of fronting. Not if it uplifts them.

Friday, January 13, 2017


This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
"Failure is not an option!"

"Epic Fail!"


A word that once drew shame is now thrown around like a dart at people and situations we consider substandard and inferior to our sensibilities. I see this word used way too often in too much hyperbole. But since it's fun to toss about, I don't expect that to change.

I don't expect people to understand the nuances, either. A distinct difference exists between a failure and something that just didn't work. Failure, as hyperbolism now defines it, implies spectacular loss or defeat -- epic failure! Many times failure isn't epic; it's the inability to achieve something at a particular moment, despite having the necessary preparation, smarts or equipment.

Look it at this way: The University of Arizona Wildcat basketball team has gotten into the NCAA playoffs nearly every year in the 17 years I have been in Tucson, yet they have only made it to Final Four once in those 17 years. I don't consider that a failure. They have played their tails off and taken some grueling losses. Some teams were sub-par in some years, but you don't get deep into the tournament if you don't have the skill set.

So failure is a matter of perspective. In absolute disasters, the word fits unequivocally. Other times, it's just one of those trendy buzzwords.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


This series is inspired by the "Words From
Unity" public service announcements
that ran on television (particularly in
Kansas City) in the 1970's and 80's.
In ancient Greece, those from Laconia said little, creating a word that long outlived them. It comes with a negative, sometimes dour connotation. Many of these people have tremendous impact on the people around them, often for good.

But once, I had to work with somebody who said little while handling a sizable load of responsibility. Ms. Laconic edited tape at a previous station I worked at. She had a habit of not saying anything was wrong until she would utter a brief phrase over the headset. By then, it was too late to deal with it, prompting some awkward moments during a newscast. She had a habit of saying little, period.

And there were rumors. "She'll turn you into a frog," one director told me, thinking her broom was parked right outside. I never saw anything like that, fortunately.

Then there are the people who say little but just radiate warmth. A regular member of one of the dance groups I'm is quietly joyous and spirited, letting her movement do the talking. I prefer to call it focused; I'm that way myself when I'm trying to work through the patterns and gotchas of a strathspey.

As we know -- or should remind ourselves -- people talk in different ways. Some just enjoy the silence.