Musings: Comedy as a Teachable Tool

Musings: Comedy as a Teachable Tool

 

Maher.jpg
Is there a line that is crossed when comedians act as “news sources”?  (Washington Post)

Comedy can be a teachable tool.

Bad and vile comedy can cross a line. Good comedy can teach us about something we haven’t thought of.

There are two news pieces that are good cases about how comedy can teach us in different ways.

The brilliant Daniel P. Finney of the Des Moines Register writes a thought-provoking piece about comedians dipping their feet into politics. You can offer a political opinion, but there are consequences when it crosses the line.

It is a stark reminder to me about the role of journalists. Unfortunately, there are a cadre of journalists who continue to blur the lines between “reporting” and “commentary”.

The takeaway quotes are below from Finney’s column:

“When you stake out the moral high ground and say you are the party of inclusion and diversity and the other party is not, you’d better make damn sure the people who are carrying your message are morally sound,” said Rachel Caufield, an associate professor of political science at Drake University who has taught a course on political satire. “Racial slurs and faked decapitated heads are not the way the left are going to reach the center.”

Whether we like it or not — and for the record, I don’t — comedians are now treated as thought leaders and news sources in this country.

And the fake decapitated heads and racial slurs do more than just besmirch the images of a couple of rogue comedians. They undermine the message of liberals and Democrats. 

Daniel P. Finney, “Comedy is killing the political left”, Des Moines Register, June 7, 2017 

The statement underlined is the various reasons I am a small minority of viewers who chose not to watch individuals like Jon Stewart, Colbert, Trevor Noah and others. They are comedians who are treated as “news sources” because viewers do not trust the mainstream media.

Is it wrong to assume that these are the same viewers who feel obligated to “support” the mainstream media that is being “attacked” by the current presidential administration?

Do these viewers support the media and at the same time loathe them enough to get their “news” from Samantha Bee and have her affirm their beliefs?

It is clear that viewers want “affirmation” for their beliefs, not information that they need. That comment comes from (surprise!) noted hot sports take aficionado Colin Cowherd., who has been saying this for a decade.

I need information to learn what is going on. I can form my own opinions privately, without the help of a comedian. Especially unfunny comedians like Maher who has become increasingly bitter and acrimonious because he isn’t the “go-to” guy that Colbert, and Stewart before him, was.


The recent arrest of Reality Winner, or whoever her real name is, for allegedly removing classified information from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet, is  starting to pick up some traction. Attorney Mark Zaid, who represents whistleblowers, said that Winner isn’t a whistleblower. She had grudge against the President and decided to use her grudge as retaliation.

I don’t know much about this story, so I’ll refrain from forming an opinion until I understand more about what took place.

Which leads to this question….

“Do government workers believe in the policies that their elected leaders come up with?”

Government employees are hired to carry out government policies. That should be a simple task, but it’s not. With any change in leadership, policies can fluctuate and change quickly. That puts government employees, regardless of  in a conundrum.

Yes Minister
“Yes Minister” is a great lesson in how government operates, for good and evil. I highly recommend this series. I prefer it over “House of Cards”. Don’t @ me. (Den of Geeks)

This question popped into my head while watching one of my favorite television shows, “Yes Minister”. “Yes Minister” (and its successor “Yes Prime Minister”) details the inner workings of the British government and the comedic attempts by Sir Humphrey Appleby and the Civil Service to thwart (Government) Minister Jim Hacker’s pursuit to enact policies for the public good.

In the episode, “The Whisky Priest”, Hacker is alerted about an illegal sale of arms to an Italian terrorist group. He plans to tell the Prime Minister, but Sir Humphrey attempts to discourage and obstruct Hacker from telling the Prime Minister.

In the pivotal scene in between Humphrey, Hacker, and Bernard Woolley, Humphrey’s dialogue about what his job is and what the role of government paints a picture of what government workers go through on a daily basis when elected officials try to create policies that goes one way or another and then expect government employees to believe in it and enforce those policies.

Sir Humphrey: My job is to carry out government policy.

Hacker: Even if you think it’s wrong?

Sir Humphrey: Well, almost all government policy is wrong, but… frightfully well carried out.

“Yes Minister” unveils several questions about how, and who, actually runs the government.

Do the elected officials run the country or is it the bureaucrats who dictate the daily operations on Capitol Hill, state capitals, and in City Hall?  If citizens do not trust politicians, should we trust bureaucrats and government workers, who clearly has more knowledge about what goes on?

When you finish “The Whisky Priest”, I encourage you to watch several more episodes and ask yourself “Do we really know what is going on in our governments, and do we care to know?”

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A Name Change (I’m finally figuring out how not to confuse people with different titles and webpages)

A Name Change (I’m finally figuring out how not to confuse people with different titles and webpages)
IMG_1960
“A pleasant good day to you where ever you may be. We have an announcement to make. Please look to the left of my picture to read it.”

I created this blog in the summer of 2009. I sat on it for a few months before I muster enough nerves to write. I didn’t realize that I had a talent for writing until later in life (late 20’s). Honestly, I wished I knew that when I was younger. It would have helped me communicate better since I am a stutterer. If I couldn’t get the words to come out of my  mouth smoothly, I would struggle and get frustrated.

I took a chance and signed up for a blog contest through Juice during its early stages, and ended up being a community blogger. I learned pretty fast that content and the ability to write was paramount to be relevant.

My goals were not lofty. If one person read anything I wrote, it was a small victory. I didn’t need anyone to agree with what I wrote. I wanted people to read what is being written, think about it, and then ask themselves “how do this apply to me and my surroundings?”

The one problem about starting a stand alone blog, for me, wasn’t the content or what I was going to write.

The problem was coming up with a title.

My original title was going to be “Civility Is Not Dead”. I strongly felt at that time, and to this very day, that civility has been dumped for irrational juvenile behavior when it comes to talking about topics, serious or insignificant.

However, as I was building this blog site, I had a change of heart. My blog was not going to be about civility all of the time. I had other ideas and observations that I needed to flesh out. Hence, “The Convoluted Mind of a Single Man” was a better title as I was taking all information that I have read, listened, and stored in my complex mind. At first, it was a bit odd for someone to find this website due to a title which was different than a website address.

Since September 21, 2009, I’ve written over 400 posts. There were more misses than successes, but many folks would say otherwise. I’m very hard on myself because I take writing a blog seriously. I am offering information and offering observations through the prism of my eyes. Tossing “hot takes” and writing things to get attention bothers me. So is lazy writing.

It is with that that I’m going to do something that I struggled with for eight years…

…retiring the title of “The Convoluted Mind of a Single Man”. I’m very sure that anyone who interacts with me knows that I am a complex single man living in the Midwest.

It’s time to use the title that I wanted to use in 2009, but was afraid of the pushback and the misinterpretation of what this blog would entail. When I view civility, I don’t view it as a sanctimonious high horse to admonish bad behavior. Hell, I’ve had my share of behaving badly. I wanted to point out the absurdity and foibles of how we view things on this planet. Most of it is in sarcastic and witty tone.

I felt it was a catchy enough title to get readers to stop and read what a schmuck like me is typing about.

“Civility Is Not Dead….Yet” will continue to be a cornucopia of observations of topics that I find to be interesting and worth exploring.

No, this is not a “come to Jesus” moment with respects to the current state of affairs. The current state of affairs have been a constant mess since the beginning of time.  Secondly, I have no interest in espousing our crazy unsynced social political economic infrastructure. I’ve written about that in the past. It’s just adding to the “noise” cycle.

I have other things to think and ponder, like what is it like to live with a stutter and two chronic illnesses. Unpopular opinions, pointing out absurdities in daily life, and highlighting the contradictions that makes us act and do weird things will always get my attention.

Going forward, “Civility Is Not Dead…Yet” is what we will go by. I will intermittently post, as I am battling my chronic illness.

As I said in my first blog, “I’m a wordy guy.  I promise not to bore you.”

Back to the Beginning: The Juice Days

Back to the Beginning: The Juice Days
“Listen here, Pilgrim, it’s to start writing again.” (Jimbo Berkey)

Having writer’s block is one of the worst experiences that a writer or someone whose career involves writing have to battle.

Being unable to put together thoughts and ideas that you can create into a story, article, or a column, is equally worse.  I haven’t had the (physical) energy and (mental) motivation to sit down hammer out blog entries over the last several months.  I’ve been reading articles over the last few days on how to create content and writing for an audience, as a refresher course to sharpen up my writing skills (and restart my creative thinking, for what it’s worth)..

The reason for the stagnation is my growing unwillingness to add to the “noise” of the “topic-de-jour” of the day. After all, how many “reactions” to a story do you, or I, want to read/hear/watch ad nauseam? No matter how much I, or anyone else, cut through the noise and provide good, smart, and civil content that explains a topic, trolls and ignorant people will go to obscene lengths to sully the conversation with boorishness and juvenile attitudes.

I’ve been writing for a better part of eight years. I started in March 2006, as a community (non-staff) blogger for a weekly publication called Juice. After three years of writing for them, I made the leap into starting my blog. I’m confident that I’ve had more “misses” than “hits” on the litany of topics and thoughts I’ve written about. There have been posts that resonated to many, and some that I thought would resonate, but didn’t.

That’s normal for writers: experiencing highs when you’re producing kick-ass material, and bad periods where nothing seems to come out right.

Today, I was updating my resume and preparing to submit for an open position. I plugged in a USB drive that I hardly used. I remembered that I downloaded all of my old Juice blogs into the drive. When Juice changed platforms around 2008 or 2009,  I didn’t want the content to be lost and disappear forever, so I saved as many blog post my drive allowed me to.

Eight years of writing would equal at least one 500 page ream of paper. Thank goodness for laptops and USB drives.

That’s 357 pages and over 161,300 words, over a two-year period. That doesn’t include the 430+ entries I have done here on this blog site.

I started to re-read several old posts I’ve done. I have no idea how I lasted this long, or have written so much. Writing was something I seriously did not have talent for. It was trial and error, finding what works, and having an opinion that isn’t always pro and con, black or white, yes or no. 

I discovered several things while skimming through these posts:

  • I didn’t grasp the importance of brevity (I still don’t to this day).
  • Many of the topics I wrote about are relevant today as it was over 5 years ago (young professionals, civility, progress of Des Moines, etc.)
  • I had a disdain for frivolous and overblown topics (reality shows, celebrities, general stupidity)
  • We all have a “dark” side of our lives (opening up personally about depression, divorce, life’s issues).
  • There is more than two sides to a topic (different perspectives that doesn’t fit into the pro/con, Democrat/Republican frame of arguments).

There are a few more, but brevity is of the utmost importance here.

Therefore, I have decided that while I work on refining my writing and creative skills, I’m going to reintroduce my old Juice blogs on this site. There will be readers and followers who may not have read some of my earlier stuff. The purpose of doing this, albeit self-serving, is to display how I have evolved as a person, in terms of observations and writing.

There are some topics I wrote about that could regenerate an idea or story that I wanted to espouse on, but never acted on it. 

What I have learned while typing this is that maybe I do have a knack for writing.

After all, I prefer to listen than talk and to write it down, so it would make sense.

There is always a story to be told.  

News Under the Radar – January 28, 2014

Willamette College athletic logo. The home of the Bearcats in NCAA Division III and member of the Northwest Conference.

There are a few nuggets to dispense today. You know, a few things you haven’t heard about, and a few things you have heard about, but probably can’t get enough of (or are sick and tired of it).

  • Connor Mertens asked his coach, Glen Fowles, of Willamette College (Division III) for a meeting. Fowles, was under the assumption that Mertens, a placekicker, was going to ask for a transfer.

Mertens didn’t ask for a transfer.

Mertens told him that he was going to reveal that he was bisexual.

The team and his coaches has his back.

You won’t see the mainstream media cover this, unless if it’s Division I or professional sports. This is why I’m a shill for Division II, III, and NAIA athletics.

  • Shonda Rhimes, superstar creator of ABC hit shows “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal”, received an award last weekend. Rhimes and “Scandal” executive producer Betsy Beers were given the Diversity Award, presented by the Directors Guild of America. Rhimes, in her acceptance speech, thanked the DGA for the award and went a step further, saying that she’s ready to get past the idea of handing out diversity awards.

“When I heard I was getting a Diversity Award, I was really, truly, profoundly honored. I began to get calls from Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, etc., and I was asked to comment on the award. Asked how good I felt about the award. Asked if it made me feel like I was doing the right thing. Asked if it had been a struggle making diversity happen on my casts and crews.

“While I’m still really and truly profoundly honored to receive this award, but I was also a little p***ed off,” Rhimes says, as reported by Entertainment Weekly. “So was Betsy. So over many, many, many bottles of wine we discussed this.

“We’re a little p***ed off because there still needs to be an award,” she continues. “Like, there’s such a lack of people hiring women and minorities that when someone does it on a regular basis, they are given an award.”

-Shonda Rhimes, excerpt from her acceptance speech to the Directors Guild of America, January 25, 2014

Riddle me this…who else in Hollywood would assemble the most diverse and talented cast on television? Shonda Rimes, that’s who! (TV Guide)

I wholeheartedly agree with her and her explanation nails it. Similar to what Travis Rodgers said about Jason Collins, there is going to be a time where no one is going to care if you’re gay, lesbian, Asian-American, or African-American. People are going to care if you: can do the best job possible, be productive in society, and do great things, regardless of sex, race, and orientation.

Personally, it’s nice that companies like Principal, Bankers Trust, and Wells Fargo, to name a few, have received the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Diversity Award, but it feels that they are always the ones who get the award every year for something they already do every day: open access and opportunities to people of different backgrounds and walk of life. If a company is promoting and encouraging diversity by hiring and giving their employees opportunities to advance their skills and succeed, then an award isn’t necessary.

They’re setting the standard for other companies to follow. And they are doing it consistently every day. The biggest award is that they are giving talented people from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to work at a great place, and in turn, those employees are encouraging others to work there as well.

  • Last week, Des Moines was named America’s “wealthiest” city. There was a lot of hoopla over that by the locals. But some were not entirely giddy about it (me, I was reserved about the recognition. It’s nice, but there’s still work to do to make it better). After offering a take on it with Juice, I stumbled across this story, which reaffirms that we’re not out of the woods yet when it comes to unemployment…
  • …in which led to Mike Konczal‘s piece for the New Republic. He writes that the two most important words the President should say in his State of the Union address and why those two words are crucial to the economy. It’s an interesting read.  
What Winnipeg and Bell Media is doing tonight is something Don Cherry would definitely be on board for. (http://doncherryjacketwatch.wordpress.com)
  • When bad things happen, we spend time ruminating over what could have been done, whose fault is it, and why it happened. The Winnipeg Jets of the NHL and Bell Media have no time to think and talk about “what could have been done.” They’re approach is “let’s do something to help those in need now.” Tonight, the Jets will be wearing warm up jerseys to honor Rick Rypien, who would have played for the Jets after signing as a free agent in 2011. Rypien committed suicide after signing, after years of battling depression and mental illness.

Bell Media is donating 5 cents for every text message, mobile and long-distance call, Facebook share and tweet. At the time that CBS Sports hockey writer Brian Stubits filed his story online, 35 million messages were sent. That comes up to $1.75 million to be donated to mental health initiatives in Canada.

  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…the State of the Union is too long. Per ABC News on Twitter:

That’s ridiculous and stupid. Stop interrupting the speech, hold your applause until the end and, cut all of the long-winded human-interest stories and talking tough. What did our country do right, what did we do wrong, and what do we need to do for the upcoming year. 

That’s simple, isn’t?

  • Finally, Jim Cantore…badass [h/t Deadspin].

The Paradox of “The Adversity Paradox”

In their book “The Adversity Paradox” Barry Griswell and Rob Jennings talked about Millennials and the lack of adversity in their short young lives.  One sentence caught my attention. 

“Job hopping has replaced putting in time with a new employer to work out any frustrations.”

–page 80, “The Adversity Paradox”

To me, the authors were implying that Millennials would rather jump to a new job than to deal with a difficult boss at a current job. 

There is partial fallacy with that statement.

I have worked for employers in the past where despite working with difficult managers to address any problems, personality conflicts, or philosophical differences, it was never good enough, and I was the one who had to leave, not by my own choice. 

At least I reached out and made an effort to make it work.  They chose not to.  Which leads me to this…

It’s not always the employee (Millenials in Griswell and Jennings’ opinion) who does not want to deal with adversity.  It was the employer who were unwilling to deal with adversity themselves.  Some will go to great lengths to ignore, run away and hide from dealing with an employee that they feel, in their own prejudiced mind or not, is not worth the time to work with to resolve issues. 

Barry Griswell

 

To them, it’s better to cut their losses and find someone that they can shape and mold not to challenge ideas and culture (to be robots), rather than hire someone who can see things differently, and be different (be creative and make a contribution). 

Does the first two episodes of Mad Men this season ring a bell?  Things are a changin’ for Don, Peggy, Roger, and the clan. 

A homogenized culture is not always a creative or successful culture in the workplace.

As Jennings and Griswell stated several pages later, there is no “one size fit all” when it comes to assessing employees.  Employees are different.  Extroverted, introverted, some can work under pressure, and others can work with a set of guidelines.  With that said, there are bosses or managers who hire and expect employees to think, behave, and do their work like they (managers) do. 

For managers, it’s easier not to adapt or alter their gameplan for someone who is a little slower, or prefer to know about how their job is connected to everyone else in the office, or can see new ideas that could increase the efficiency and success of said company. 

That’s too much work for some. 

There are Millennials who have faced personal or career adversity so far in their young lives. If not, then give them a few more years.  Down the road, they will run into it.  Many Gen Xers like me have been through it or are currently facing it.  With as many challenges I have faced as someone in a “job transition”, I no longer see “job-hopping” as a “get out of jail card” when things get rough. 

Why? 

Because it is still an employer’s market.  If an employer feel that they no longer need you, whether in a full-time capacity, or if a part-time contract work has been completed, you have to start looking for a new place where your someone will have a need for you and your skills. 

"Yeaaaaaah, you Millennials don't like to deal with adversity, I take it. I have some GPS reports that needs to be worked on tonight. You better DVR that Kentucky/Kansas title game."

I see “job-hopping” as an opportunity to try out something that I could end up enjoying doing.  If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean I failed.  It wasn’t a good fit (notice I didn’t say the “perfect” or “right” fit).  All I’m looking for is a good fit where I can offer value and my skills to a place of employment, who in return, can show appreciation, offer feedback, and work toward a goal of being better. 

For the most part, everything Griswell and Jennings have espoused about adversity in their book I agree with, simply because I’m going through it. 

But, the idea that all Millennials do not know about adversity, is simply a silly notion.

It’s Just A Neon Sign, Right?

Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Subs and aesthetics don't mix, or do they?

Progress. 

That word is generally defined as changing with time, attitude, and ideas.  Despite the differences, we continually move forward by finding common ground and adapting to the changes the best way we know how. 

Some stories have put those who support progress at odds with what they actually believe in…progress.  It’s not a nice way of saying it, but I’m calling it as I see it as an observer. 

I have no dog in these fights, but they do interest me. 

The Pappajohn Sculpture Park/Subway flap from several months ago is a good example. 

Andy Fales and Chris Hassel even weighed on the fiasco on their radio show.  Fast forward to the 6:56 mark.  Die hard art fans, you’re not going to like hearing their opinion. 

A while back, Subway opened up a new chain across the street from the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park here in Des Moines.  To some, what Subway has done, is akin to committing adultery (sorry Gary Hart and Herman Cain).  Critics say that Subway has “ruined” the aesthetics of the Sculpture Park by setting up shop. 

Funny thing is that hardly no one bitched about Jimmy John’s or Wellmark moving in and ruining the scene at the park, which makes this “controversy” interesting as hell to read.  I have no issue with the anti-Subway crowd.  They have a right to protest and I understand their arguments, which some of it is valid, but their scorn should be directed at the very thing that opened the door for Subway to move in:   

The Sculpture Park itself. 

Since the opening of the Sculpture Park, the property value of the Western Gateway area in Des Moines has increased dramatically.  That’s a fact that I think is being ignored, whether by purpose or not.  Properties and run-down buildings that were difficult to sell or fill in with tenants before 2008, are now clamoring to be a part of the neighborhood.  When you have a cool new place, people want to be in the thick of the action. 

Americana has made it the "in" thing for businesses to move near the Sculpture Park.

There’s over $40 million dollars worth of art sitting on a parcel of land that stretches nearly two blocks.  If you don’t think the value of the neighborhood is going to skyrocket, then I’m the next incarnation of Jesse Jackson. 

I love and support art, but I’m no hypocrite to the fact that the Sculpture Park would have never happened if venture capitalist John Pappajohn didn’t make the Des Moines Art Center, the city of Des Moines, and businesses collaborate to make the park a reality to move his amazing art collection to. 

In other words, “corporate” money had a big part in it.  All that Pappajohn did was donate the art.  He needed space to share his “toys” with the people.  He is a businessman. 

Next time you head to the Sculpture Park, stop by the donation signs on the Grand Avenue side.  Read off the list of corporations, local or national, has donated money to build the park.  Just because the park is for the people, it’s the “corporate” that kicked in most of the funding for the park to be created and to be sustained.

Even Meredith Publishing’s Art Slusark and Art Center director Jeff Fleming, a guy I really like, should know that.  In fact, they do and their comments were, according to the Des Moines Register’s editorial, was elitist and contradictory.  Slusark’s a businessman.  His job is to sell magazines.  I pay membership dues every year so that the Art Center and the Sculpture Park is accessible and free to the citizens of Des Moines.  In essence, Fleming runs a business. 

Meredith, before all of these changes, was the only fancy building on the west side of downtown.  Every other building around them was a dump.  Has Meredith ever encouraged progress in the area in the years before the Sculpture Park? 

From my vantage point, the answer to that question is no.  And no, their garden doesn’t count. 

Another fact that is undeniable is that real estate developers such as Jack Hatch and Rich Eychaner own these properties and have every right to do what they see fit.  I may not agree with some of their decisions, but I’m not in the real estate business.  Plus, it doesn’t hurt that both guys have very considerable business (and in Hatch’s case) political pull in Des Moines. 

They love art just like the anti-Subway crowd.  The difference is that they have to turn a profit.  That’s a cruel way of saying it, but that’s real talk.  I can’t ignore that.  Money talks, kids, and in business, if you don’t make money, you’re in the wrong place.

Hatch isn’t going to turn down a chance for a prospective tenant to pay him money to relocate their company on one of his properties. How many folks are going to bitch when Flynn Wright and Microsoft moves in? 

If they haven’t done it yet, then the uproar towards Subway could be seen as nothing more than selective choosing to pick on someone.

If Subway shouldn’t be there, then Americana, Meredith, Gaslamp, and all of the businesses, regardless if it’s “local” or a national chain, shouldn’t be there.  It’s that simple.  

On the flip side, employees at Wellmark, Meredith, ING, Principal, Nationwide, and Wells Fargo don’t give a damn about the how Subway is ruining the Sculpture Park.  They want options to eat around downtown.  Nor do the majority of citizens in Des Moines, .  It’s just another business in the Western Gateway like Meredith:  making a profit. 

There is nothing in the city’s rulebook that they have to conform or be banned from setting up on a property, unless you’re the feds trying to stick an I.C.E. facility in town. 

I walked through the park several nights ago to take in the skyline and the nice weather.  I was too busy admiring the art to notice that a Subway was across the street.  After a while, who is going to notice it, except for those who are going to keep talking about it.

That would be a damn shame if you asked me.

Businesses will come and go, as they normally do.  The Sculpture Park isn’t going anywhere for a long time.  John Pappajohn would prefer the citizens to look at the art, not worry about a damn neon sign. 

Friday Fun

I did not plan on writing anything today, but I couldn’t help but to put this together. 

Pierre Trudeau

Rapper Ice Cube once said, “you got to have a ‘little pimp’ in your game.”  Sounds like a good idea for a Friday afternoon as the work ends.  

I think I found the appropriate music for it, if you click on the picture of Pierre Trudeau, the late former Canadian Prime Minister.  He wore this outfit in the 1970 CFL Grey Cup championship game.