Live in a rural area? Can you find a doctor when you really, really need one?

The vascular surgeon who removed my gangrenous gall bladder last month received his early medical training in Lahore, Pakistan. He’s been a member of the medical community in my rural valley for more than three decades.

eimyxgertMy primary-care physician for the past 20 years received his medical training in Taiwan. My urologist for a decade was an Iranian-American. The surgeon who removed a subcutaneous growth from my right elbow is a Pakistani-American. So is the internist who treated a pulmonary issue. He’s been here more than two decades.

Those who live in rural areas likely know, or have, doctors with surnames they might think uncommon. Yet all my foreign-born physicians are American citizens with deep ties to the community in which I live. They’ve taken good care of me.

But why have these wonderful doctors settled here, in rural America?

Continue reading

The Mature Society, pt 1: 1984 vs Brave New World

Part 1 in a series.

by Dr. Michael Tracey

We live in a moment of hyper-consumerism, uber-war and insidious surveillance by a vast security apparatus. But what might it look like if Orwell and Huxley were both wrong.

“The age of maturity that past authors were hoping would come seems not to be the destiny of humankind… Humanity is condemned to seek truth rather than possess it… This would be the vocation of our species: to pick up the task of enlightenment with each new day, knowing that it is interminable.”- Tzvetan Todorov, “In Defence of the Enlightenment.”

In The Empire Strikes Back, young Luke Skywalker asks his Jedi master, Yoda, whether the dark side is stronger than the good? “No,” Yoda replies, “easier, quicker, more seductive.”

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh…” Philip Larkin, The Trees

This essay is, in the first instance, impelled by a deep sense of disappointment at the immense gulf between the grand promise of this country, the United States, and its objective contemporary condition, the sense one has looking out across the landscape with squinted eyes that there is, as Milton writes in Paradise Lost, “Demoniac frenzy, moping melancholy, / And moon-struck madness.” Continue reading

A few words about Pete Shotton…

It wasn’t easy being John Lennon’s friend, and Yoko didn’t make things any easier.

“If anyone was doing the hanging on, it was John. He hung on to me, always had done. He always made me feel special, made it clear he was desperate for my company, especially when he was depressed and fed up, which he was for many years. He used to say to me: ’I don’t want to be a Beatle any more, stuck in a bag marked Beatle. I want to open the bag and let the Beatles out. I want to be myself.’” – Pete Shotton (as told to Hunter Davies)

John Lennon and Pete Shotton (image courtesy Beatles-Freak’s Reviews)

As anyone who’s ever tried it will tell you, it’s hard to be a friend. However close or long term a friendship, there are always moments when a friendship is tested by actions or circumstances that make or break the friendship. In many, if not most, cases friendships fail these tests. Those few that survive (one hesitates to use the word pass, as friendships are acts of endurance rather than one-off events like tests) can reach a level of intimacy and trust that provide the persons involved with comfort on the long, hard road of life.

But how does one stay that kind of friend when that friend becomes one of the most famous people in the world? Pete Shotton knew. He was John Lennon’s closest friend (outside the other Beatles) from the time they met at age six until Lennon’s death – 34 years.

As you have likely guessed, John was not an easy friend. Continue reading

Unnamed sources? Journalists should teach readers why they were used

On Thursday, four journalists for CNN reported:

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN.

CATEGORY: JournalismInformation. Indicates. Associates. Communicated. Suspected. Operatives. Possibly. Coordinate. Information. US officials.

Huh? Could this lede be any more vague? This lede is all may have — which leaves open the possibility of may not have.

The story, reported by Pamela Brown, Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, and Shimon Prokupecz, contains unnamed sources in 10 of the story’s 18 paragraphs. The FBI director is named, but only in reference to stories reported earlier. White House spokesman Sean Spicer and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov are named, but only in chiding the findings of the story. Two paragraphs near the end of the story contain no sources and appear to be the conclusions of the reporters.

Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Jane Austen, alt-right heroine…say what…?

“I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” – Jane Austen

Various news sources, both here in America and elsewhere, are claiming that Jane Austen, doyenne of English respectability, has become a heroine to the despicable group called by the all-too-euphemistic moniker the alt-right.

Jane Austen (image courtesy biography.com)

For any rational person (and my beloved Miss Austen was nothing if not rational) her embrace by such loathsome characters is both horrifying and bizarre. Conservative as she was (Austen found her contemporary Byron’s behavior wild and reprehensible, for example, violating as it did the established social mores of Regency England), Austen undoubtedly would have found the behavior of a number of the more well known figures of the alt-right movement equally reprehensible. One has a difficult time, indeed, imagining Miss Austen feeling able to tolerate being on the same planet, much less in the same room with creatures such as Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos.

The alt-right loves them some Jane, though – for reasons that mystify anyone capable of reading Austen’s work intelligently. Continue reading

Chuck Berry and the Beatles: standing on the shoulders of a giant and all that…

According to one source, the Beatles covered at least 15 Chuck Berry songs.

“If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.” – John Lennon

Chuck Berry (image courtesy Rolling Stone)

I had planned to write an essay this week about George Harrison’s brilliant synthesis of rock and Indian music, “Within You, Without You.” That plan changed suddenly with the sad news of Chuck Berry’s death.

Check that.

What made me change my mind was the Chuck Berry obituary/tribute posted at Rolling Stone. In an essay of several hundred words, the Rolling Stone writer gave a long list of bands who covered Berry songs and who were influenced by him. While the Rolling Stones and Beach Boys got plenty of mention (and rightfully so), the Beatles weren’t mentioned at all. That is an oversight, to paraphrase (possibly) Churchill, up with which I cannot put.

See the above John Lennon quote. We can go from there. Continue reading

Music and Popular Culture

Dancing about architecture: trying to read Paul Morley’s Words and Music…

I could offer several excuses for why I quit Words and Music, a book I had high hopes for (Morley is one of the great experts on contemporary pop), but the simple truth is I hated it.

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” – attributed variously, most likely by Martin Mull

Martin Mull (image courtesy Wikimedia)

As I have explained previously, my 2017 reading list is devoted to reading books about music. I have covered only three books so far, Larry Kane’s latest Beatles’ book When They Were Boys, the Billie Holiday memoir Lady Sings the Blues and Peter Guralnick’s excellent study of roots music, Lost Highway. (I’ve also written a number of essays about Beatles’ songs and a book review or two.)

I’m currently about 100 pages into a very good book on Bob Dylan, Joan and Mimi Baez, and Richard Farina, David Hajdu’s Positively 4th Street. I turned to this book after spending several days trying to read another book, a book I looked forward to reading, as I noted in this description from my reading list essay:

Paul Morley, Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City – Morley is one of rock’s most trenchant critics and in this book he speculates about whether pop is at the end of its lifespan. Any book that calls for opinions from both Madonna and Wittgenstein is must reading.

I read about 40 pages of Morley’s book before putting it aside and taking up the Dylan/Baez book. I could offer several excuses for why I quit Words and Music, a book I had high hopes for (Morley is one of the great experts on contemporary pop), but the simple truth is I hated it. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Book Review: Hank: a Storyteller’s Story by Rick Burnham

Hank: a Storyteller’s Story tells a tale of identity theft of the most literal kind and how, as victims discover their true identities how much our pasts inform our futures.

Rick Burnham’s brief novel Hank: a Storyteller’s Story is an exploration of two questions.

Hank: a Storyteller’s Story by Rick Burnham (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)

The first of these questions is one of identity: the novel’s heroine, Jennifer Johnson McCarthy is unhappily married and at loose ends. She feels as if she has lost who she is and the life she is leading as the wife of a controlling husband makes her both desperate and determined to find herself again. By chance, on their way home from a beach vacation, Jennifer and her husband Emerson, a driven corporate attorney, stop at a gas station/convenience store on the outskirts of Oak Springs, Florida. It is there where Jennifer begins a journey of self-discovery that changes not only life, but the lives of her entire family.

The impetus for Jennifer’s journey is hearing an old man named Hank Chatman tell a story. Chatman is a charming storyteller who appears once a week at the store and tells stories about local residents, stories which may or may not be true. Hank’s storytelling serves multiple purposes. The stories themselves provide a tall tale folklore of rural Florida culture – and amusement for his listeners (one about a chicken farmer and government experiments that create giant chickens is particularly good). More importantly, Hank’s storytelling allows him to connect with those who come to hear him.

Like Jennifer. Continue reading

No Reply: the Beatles write a breakup song…

The scream at the end – “no reply!” – is one of the bleakest moments in the breakup song genre.

Beatles ’65 (image courtesy Wikimedia)

“It was my version of “Silhouettes”: I had that image of walking down the street and seeing her silhouetted in the window and not answering the phone, although I never called a girl on the phone in my life. Because phones weren’t part of the English child’s life.” – John Lennon on “No Reply”

This was going to be another essay.

I had planned to write about what I am convinced is the greatest single ever released – “Strawberry Fields Forever” b/w “Penny Lane.”  But that was going nowhere (though I can see what I want to say, I can’t quite seem to say it yet, which betrays a lot about my love of the Fabs) so I turn to another favorite, the opening song on both the British release Beatles for Sale or, if you were an 8th grade nerd like me, Beatles ’65.

“No Reply” opens both albums. This is one of those rare times that the British album and its American counterpart agree. That makes me very happy. Let’s leave it at that. Continue reading

David Bowie and Paul McCartney: boats against the current…

Successful artists feel constant commercial pressure to repeat their sales success – a pressure that can make any artist choose a safe route.

…so we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

David Bowie and Paul McCartney (image courtesy Pinterest)

I watched a couple of documentaries (thank you Open Culture) this week featuring rock stars from the classic era, one about a living musician, the other about one who has, alas, shuffled off this mortal coil. What I found most interesting about each of these films is the reminder that it is very difficult for any successful artist, especially for a David Bowie or Paul McCartney, who have enjoyed success at the highest level of their art, to move forward. In a popular art form such as rock music has been, part of the problem is commerce; one who is successful and whose art is embraced by a wide public sells much “plastic ware,” as Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman wrote. They feel constant commercial pressure to repeat their sales success – a pressure that can make any artist choose a safe route.

Another, perhaps even greater part of the problem, especially for an artist like Bowie or McCartney, comes from those whose admiration (and money) made them acclaimed, and wealthy: fans. Any artist like Bowie or McCartney with a long career arc (given that the average length of a popular musical star’s career is 18 months, the nearly 50 year career of Bowie and the 50+ year career of McCartney are by any measure remarkable) is bound to have to deal with one of the strongest desires of fans as they, like their heroes, age – nostalgia for past works which form, after all, the soundtracks of their lives. Continue reading

Lost Highway: Peter Guralnick’s search for the roots of roots music – part 3, there are no losers in music…

Authenticity. Music. Freedom. Whether you’re Elvis Presley or Sleepy LaBeef, if you can have the courage to follow Sam Phillip’s advice, you can’t be a loser.

“You can be a nonconformist and not be a rebel. And you can be a rebel and not be an outcast. Believe in what you believe in, and don’t let anybody, I don’t care who it is, get you off that path.” – Sam Phillips

(Read Part 1, Part 2)

Howlin' Wolf (inage courtesy bobcorritore.com)

Howlin’ Wolf (inage courtesy bobcorritore.com)

Initially I had planned for this last essay on Peter Guralnick’s excellent book on roots musicians, Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians, to focus on those musicians that he profiles who seem to have been their own worst enemies due to their dogged refusal to give up their dream of success. I mentioned Charlie Feathers, who, at the time of Guralnick’s profile of him, was in his 40’s and still playing small clubs and (to use a favorite term of Guralnick’s which has faded sooner that he expected) juke joints. Feathers’ insistence that he was still on (or at least near) the cusp of stardom if dark forces weren’t preventing his ascendance struck me as so sad, so indefensible, so lacking in self-awareness that I found him not simply sad and pathetic but off-putting. And I found Guralnick’s celebration of Sleepy LaBeef so over the top for a guy who had simply kept playing when those of his generation who didn’t make it had the good sense to quit was – well, see above description of my feelings for Charlie Feathers.

Then I got to the last section of Guralnick’s book, “The Blues Roll On.” And read Guralnick’s piece on Howlin’ Wolf. Continue reading

Peter Guralnick’s search for the roots of roots music: the curse of being a critics’ darling

Guralnick’s Lost Highway runs smack through the heart of Nashville’s Music Row – as with corporate Pop, Country & Western has always been about sales and little else…

Lost Highway by Peter Guralnick (image courtesy Goodreads)

Lost Highway by Peter Guralnick (image courtesy Goodreads)

“‘Outlaw’ is the word that has been used, and abused, to describe…music that deviates from the Nashville norm. The principal way in which this music deviates, ironically enough, is that it is traditional music, which honors roots, black and white, which recognizes Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, and Lefty Frizzell – the pure lineage that runs in an unbroken line through country music.” – Peter Guralnick

(Read part 1 here)

This second essay about Peter Guralnick’s masterful collection of essays on roots music, Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians will focus on a second group of musicians: those who enjoyed little (or modest) popular success despite receiving highly positive reviews from music critics and the cognoscenti. These are the artists, and their stories pepper the histories of all art forms, known as critics’ darlings, a moniker that is more often more curse than compliment.

The received wisdom is that every artist is (or should be) pursuing his/her singular vision. In that way each artist’s unique vision can contribute to the growth of the particular art form and enrich the culture at large. Which artists become successful (critically and financially) is dependent on how their talents are accepted by both critics and the marketplace. The latter group, people who buy an artist’s work and support an artist’s career, is especially important in an art form such as popular music where commerce plays a bigger a role than critical appreciation. Continue reading

The ‘enemy of the American People’ doesn’t work at your local newspaper

It engenders anger to know the president of the United States says that what I did for a living for 20 years — and what I’ve spent 25 years teaching — represents the acts of “an enemy of the American People.”

CATEGORY: JournalismPresident Donald, titularly “the most powerful man in the world,” will eventually learn not to pick fights with people who buy ink in 55-gallon drums — and have plenty of digital and video ink to spare.

He’s awakened a slumbering watchdog. Recall journalism’s reactions to President Nixon’s overt and covert deceits. The nation’s best newspapers rose to challenge the president — and Nixon lost. Trust in the executive branch withered. Remember, too, the swell of entrants to the nation’s journalism programs (well, after “All the President’s Men” hit the big screen). Will that happen again in President Donald’s first term?

President Donald’s fortunate in the timing of his presidency. The last 20 years have left journalism in a weakened, altered state. Reasons are many — management reacting too late to the challenge of the internet, a decline in interest in the field among the young, and massive losses of revenue prompting executives to pare the workforce of daily print journalists by 20,000 positions, about 39 percent.

Continue reading

Lost Highway: Peter Guralnick’s search for the roots of roots music – part 1, fame and its discontents

Being an artist is hard; being a successful artist is even harder.

Lost Highways by Peter Guralnick (image courtesy Goodreads)

Lost Highways by Peter Guralnick (image courtesy Goodreads)

“You see, from the honky tonks you got such a mixture of all different types of music, and I think what happened is that when Elvis busted through, it enabled all these other groups that had been going along more or less the same avenue—I’m sure there were hundreds of them—to tighten up and focus on what was going to be popular.” – Peter Guralnick

Peter Guralnick’s Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians is one of those books that can be both maddening and rewarding. His work consists of explorations of roots musicians famous, known mainly to cognoscenti, and obscure. At times one wonders why Guralnick took the time to pursue, interview and write about characters like Charlie Feathers or Sleepy LaBeef; at other times one appreciates his brilliant, incisive treatments of Charlie Rich, Hank Williams, Jr., and Elvis Presley.

It’s a great book, in other words.

Guralnick’s skill, if this book is any indication, is to strip away the possible and leave the probable. That may sound like double talk, but understanding artists is part inference, part voodoo.

He’s really good at it, by the way. Continue reading

Betsy DeVos’ confirmation was a defeat, but the greater battle for America’s future continues

Fighting Donald Trump’s agenda is a war, and there will be both victories and defeats

Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos (image credit: Slate)

Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos (image credit: Slate)

Today the Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. She’s one of the least qualified people who has ever been nominated to the position, and she demonstrated such during her confirmation hearing. And for those of us who reject vouchers for private religious schools, who support children with special needs, who want to keep guns out of schools, and who support teaching our children critical thinking skills, this was undoubtedly a loss. And a painful loss at that.

But as with any conflict, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

As painful as the DeVos confirmation is, it’s only a skirmish in the greater war. The greater battle is stopping DeVos from implementing Donald’s education agenda. Continue reading

Introducing the American Civic Debate Union: first event addresses the Electoral College

American Civic Debate Union logoWe need a new American consensus driven by a commitment to knowledge, reason and good faith engagement with those whose views differ from our own.

For decades I have toyed with the idea that we could use a civic forum for popular debate, an organization that would make it possible for communities to discuss the issues of the day in ways that would spark thought and reflection, perhaps enabling better decision-making come Election Day. This idea has grown stronger over the past 20 years, as the combined corrosive mechanisms of partisan tribalism, cable media and, worst of all, the Internet and social media seemed to find new and better ways of tearing society apart, making us dumber and more hateful in the process.

I broached the idea recently with friends and colleagues and their response convinced me that now was the time to give it a try. So I have founded what I’m ambitiously calling the American Civic Debate Union. Our first event will be held next Sunday here in Denver, and it will feature me squaring off with my good friend Dr. Frank Venturo over the question of whether the US ought to do something, once and for all, about the Electoral College. If so, what? Continue reading

John Lennon reaches Across the Universe…

Lennon once said that he likes the lyrics of “Across the Universe” perhaps the best of all the songs he wrote with The Beatles.

“When you’ve seen beyond yourself, then you may find, peace of mind is waiting there.” – George Harrison

John and Yoko (image courtesy Vanity Fair)

John and Yoko (image courtesy Vanity Fair)

Recent news reports have noted that the best selling book at Amazon is currently George Orwell’s classic novel of dystopian horror, 1984. Given our national circumstances, I suppose this could be seen as a positive, an effort on the part of at least some of the populace to educate themselves, even if a significant number of others in the populace (including me) wish that this sudden urge toward historical and cultural literacy had occurred before a certain November event.

Such, such is life, as the poet says. We seem only to want to listen to our poets and sages in times of distress.

There are some who, in the face of what certainly feels like imminent disaster, keep telling us that, to quote the mystic, “All shall be well.” It is difficult to the level of impossibility, however, to emulate the purity and power of a Julian of Norwich’s faith which is roughly the level of faith needed these days.  What are we of little faith to do?

Well, we can listen to “Across the Universe.”
Continue reading

Book Review: The Tell-Tale Treasure by Diane Sawyer

The Tell-Tale Treasure is a thriller for which one cannot use the standard descriptions such as fast-paced, edge of your seat, or thrill a minute. That is its most interesting appeal.

The Tell-Tale Treasure by Diane Sawyer (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)

The Tell-Tale Treasure by Diane Sawyer (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)

Diane Sawyer’s The Tell-Tale Treasure is a bit of an anomaly for a work of its genre.

This is a good thing.

The novel, written in 3rd person limited narration, shifts between characters throughout the work. Most readers will find the two most affecting of these narrations those that shift between Rosie Renard, an antiques dealer whose discoveries reopen a cold case concerning a talented classical musician who plays the erhu, a Chinese instrument similar to the violin, and Ivy Chen, a kidnapping victim who is a classical musician who plays that fascinating instrument…

What Rosie finds, and where that leads her and  the police and how all this works out to a successful (for the reader) conclusion is part of the charm of this novel. The pleasure for the reader in The Tell-Tale Treasure is not in its main plot. The pleasure for any astute reader of Sawyer’s novel is in the parts of the novel that offer readers the opportunity to know, really know, her characters, particularly Rosie and the musician mentioned above, the classical musician Ivy Chen. Continue reading

Through a glass darkly

I’m sharing this article from Independent Journal Review just to make a point.

hypocritesIndependent Journal Review: Those Outraged At Trump Blocking Refugees Didn’t Seem To Care About What Obama Did To Cubans

I learned of it from the Facebook page Conservative Daily. To hell with that page, no link. Thanks to my embrace of people at least as good-hearted as me however differently, people of widely differing viewpoints, I have the good fortune of seeing this kind of crap splatter across my screen on a regular basis, like I’ve just flown under a magpie’s flight path at exactly the wrong time.

For the moment, for the point I’m coming to, I actually don’t care if the claims in this particular case are true or not. The truth of the claims is beside the point. Continue reading

The overlooked battlefield in the war against the press

democracy-in-americaThe war against the press will be fought at the local and state level, but the war at the federal level will get the most airtime.

CNN reporter Jeremy Desmond asked Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, under fire because of four deaths at his jail, for an interview. On Friday, Clarke replied on Twitter:

Donald Trump has labeled CNN as fake news. When Pres. Trump says CNN is ok again, then I might.

The sheriff — an elected public official — has refused to respond to a press request for an interview. This particular sheriff has a nationwide reputation as a supporter of President Donald and has been considered for a position in the Donald administration. Continue reading