Curating Fun! 21st-Century Style

Posted April 5th, 2011 at 1:31 pm (UTC-4)
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At times during January’s uprising in Egypt, 1,000 people or more were tweeting on a single hash tag every 10 seconds.

Let me explain hash tags and then take you on a brief tangent before I tell you about all the fun that curators are having, as mentioned in my title.

A hash tag is a label, designated by the pound sign: #.  It’s something tweeters stick in front of some of their Twitter messages.  A hash tag such as “#tsunami,” for instance, would identify the subject and help others find the latest buzz on the Japanese tsunami.

Tahir Square in Cairo was the center of the action of both the rebellious and communication kinds.  (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Tahir Square in Cairo was the center of the action of both the rebellious and communication kinds. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Restating my opening point for emphasis:  Many times during the churning events in Egypt in January, 1,000 people every 10 seconds were sending tweets on the subject under just one of many hash tags.  That doesn’t include the thousands (millions?) of random tweets about Egypt carrying no hash tags that were coursing about the Internet at the same time.

Now the tangent, but don’t lose track of that image of a torrent of Egypt tweets flooding the ether all at once.

Let’s talk curators.

One thing's for sure.  Whoever curated this Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit is an expert in heraldry.  (Carol M. Highsmith)

One thing's for sure. Whoever curated this Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit is an expert in heraldry. (Carol M. Highsmith)

I’ve met hundreds of them over the years.  Many don’t exactly have  bubbly personalities.  They’re learned experts, passionate about Mesopotamian pottery collections, archives of letters from the Hundred-Year Wars, aboriginal nose rings and such, over which they hover with the possessiveness of a mother bear.

Curators have a pedantic image as starchy, severe women with hair pulled back into no-nonsense buns, or absent-minded older men in drab blue suits and ties that were in fashion when Roosevelt was in office.  The first Roosevelt.  There’s a specimen jar, magnifying glass, or butterfly net in the image somewhere as well.

Hmm.  Barbed wire CAN be displayed in an interesting fashion.  (Carol M. Highsmith)

One thing's for sure. Whoever curated this Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit was a heraldry expert. (Carol M. Highsmith)

“Curating” involves a lot more than arranging artifacts.  Curators locate, authenticate, acquire, catalogue, and safeguard materials, then “interpret” them for visitors and the media — not just in museums but also online.  Getting hold of a collection of, say, 500 kinds of barbed wire, is one thing.  Showing it off in a way that informs and holds visitors’ interest is quite another.

It’s a challenging, satisfying job.  Yet the authenticating and archiving parts can be dull as dirt.  Pulling off all the facets of the job takes a person who is curious, creative, and organized — a rare combination.

What does this have to do with those Egyptian tweets?

It's wild and getting wilder in the Internet information world.  (krossbow, Flickr Creative Commons)

It's wild and getting wilder in the Internet information world. (krossbow, Flickr Creative Commons)

The explosion of information on the Web, and particularly on social media such as Twitter, has led to the creation of a whole new kind of curator who has nothing to do with museums or libraries or historical societies beyond tapping into their Web sites.

As events in Egypt unfolded, random observers as well as “citizen journalists” were not only posting those 1,000 tweets in the time it takes to count to 10, they were also posting Facebook entries, text messages, and YouTube videos that provided the world with some of the fastest, most accurate, and certainly most gripping accounts of what was going on.  And many of the senders were interacting with each other. Read the rest of this entry »

Blog Reboot

Posted March 30th, 2011 at 1:12 pm (UTC-4)
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One hundred-forty-seven postings into this blogging adventure, I’m taking stock, tweaking a few things  — not tweeting; tweaking, though we’ll talk social media in a bit — and fixing to invite you to share even more than you are in my  exploration of the American landscape and experience.

Blogging had been a "nerd thing" until the world became riveted by blogs from the War in Iraq.  (Wikipedia Commons)

I remember the time, eight years ago, that my editor, Rob Sivak, asked  me to write a VOA feature story about blogging — battlefront blogs from the war in Iraq in particular.  Blogs by soldiers using pseudonyms were a hot topic at the time.

Rob might as well have asked me to write about clogs or frogs or bogs.  I knew as much about them as I did about blogs.  Here’s some of what I ended up writing back in 1993:
Because of the work of Edward R. Murrow and other correspondents, World War Two was a radio war. And Vietnam was legendary as a television war, in which battle scenes were beamed into peoples homes. Now, some say the War in Iraq has become the first Internet War because of a phenomenon called blogging.

The first American blogger?  Had she had the technology, I have no doubt that she would have been.  (Roddy17, Wikipedia Commons)

The first American blogger? Had she had the technology, I have no doubt that she would have been. (Roddy17, Wikipedia Commons)

Blog is shorthand for web log. Its a snappy, high-tech variation of the old written diary, like those made famous by seventeenth-century English bureaucrat Samuel Pepys and U.S. Civil War diarist Mary Chestnut.


Blogging began in the 1980s in Californias Silicon Valley, as computer wizards shared technical treatises over the early Internet. Today thousands, possibly millions, of people are revealing their thoughts on a host of subjects on the Web.  Blogs by famous reporters, humorists and average citizens alike are posted online, often updated several times a day, and read enthusiastically by a worldwide community of other bloggers and Web surfers.

These days, blogs are more than Internet diaries.  Some are platforms for quick, controversial, thoughtful — or ludicrously uninformed — spewings about world events, politics, and celebrities.  Others have become go-to reads on niche subjects, from sailboats to sports trivia to science-fiction TV.

Three years ago, the Voice of America suggested that I, too, join the blogosphere, not to babble but to share experiences and personal observations from 40 years of travel to every U.S. state, every big city, most middle-sized ones, and small towns and crossroads from coast to coast. Read the rest of this entry »

Clowning Around

Posted March 28th, 2011 at 8:34 am (UTC-4)
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In the unlikely event that you heard, five years ago, that there was a fascinating clown museum — that’s right, a museum and hall of fame about clowns — in the Midwest city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I certainly hope you didn’t rush there to see it.

The only thing missing from its logo is the museum dimension.  (International Clown Hall of Fame, hereafter referred to in caption credits by its acronym: ICHOF)

The only thing missing from its logo is the museum dimension. (International Clown Hall of Fame, hereafter referred to in caption credits by its acronym: ICHOF)

That’s because it existed only in packing boxes in a public storage facility.

The International Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center, a shrine to the oldest known performing art form, had been booted from its home in the basement of a building at the Wisconsin State Fair Park.  Not because the rent was in arrears, but because Wisconsin was one of several states that agreed to house refugees from devastating Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, far below Wisconsin at the southern end of the Mississippi River.

 

In came the refugees, and into boxes went the museum’s clown paintings and photographs, clown costumes, books on clowning, and videos of famous clowns.  And there they stayed until last year.

 

Then the board of directors prevailed upon one of its members — Greg DeSanto, a 25-year veteran professional circus clown who lived with his wife, Karen, also a circus clown — in Baraboo, a little Wisconsin town 188 kilometers (117 miles) to the northwest.

 

When the circus comes to town, you may have seen clowns riding on circus wagons like this one at Circus World.  (Carol M. Highsmith)

When the circus comes to town, you may have seen clowns riding on circus wagons like this one at Circus World. (Carol M. Highsmith)

But not any little town.  Baraboo is the place where five Ringling Brothers founded their world-famous circus, where one of them built a movie palace downtown, and where the circus’s former attorney founded a spectacular circus museum called Circus World, notable for its brighty-painted rolling tableaus known as circus wagons.  The DeSantos had worked there as clowns as well as traveling with the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus.

 

DeSanto found a sweet deal on a storefront site for the International Clown Hall of Fame and Research Center, and over two long trips in the dead of Wisconsin’s brutal winter, volunteers trucked its treasures from Milwaukee to Baraboo in time to open for this new year.

 

Here are the DeSantos -- Karen and Greg -- in costume in front of the hall of fame.  (ICHOF)

Here are the DeSantos -- Karen and Greg -- in costume in front of the hall of fame. (ICHOF)

Even though it now resides in an obscure town of just 11-thousand people, the clown hall of fame is a museum of international scope.  Its exhibits make it clear that in most of the world, clowning involves much more than a silly, greasepainted face, manic gestures, magic tricks, and balloons twisted to look like wiener dogs.

 

One learns there, for instance, that Chinese clowns spend years training as acrobats, learning graceful moves, and perfecting the subtle delights of clowns’ makeup.  And that clowns are so revered in parts of Europe that they receive top billing in the circus and enjoy the same prestige as a concert pianist or a ballerina.

 

In America, they’re part of the backdrop in spectacles in which wild animals and visual illusions are the main attractions.  We mention clowning when drunks act up at parties or politicians do something untoward.  They are called “clowns.” Read the rest of this entry »

Our Everlasting Civil War

Posted March 24th, 2011 at 8:49 am (UTC-4)
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The other night I watched actor-director Maximillian Schell’s fascinating 1984 docudrama about Marlene Dietrich, the glamorous (on-screen), reclusive (off it), German-born femme fatale who mesmerized cinema and cabaret audiences but lived her final years cloistered in a Paris apartment.

Known for her “bedroom eyes,” Marlene Dietrich was sometimes mysterious on screen and almost always off it.  Although she served in World War II against her native Germany, she had no interest in war or much else that was in the past.  (Library of Congress)

Known for her “bedroom eyes,” Marlene Dietrich was sometimes mysterious on screen and almost always off it. Although she served in World War II against her native Germany, she had no interest in war or much else that was in the past. (Library of Congress)

A pragmatic woman utterly devoid of romantic reverie despite her public persona, Dietrich told Schell, over and over again, that she was and had always been interested only in the moment.  History — including her own tempestuous life to that point — was of little concern to her.  Never once, she told Schell, had she pulled out one of her silent or talking pictures and watched it again.  So little did she know or care where in Berlin she had spent her early years that she never even inquired when she returned to the ravaged German capital after World War II.

And though she had left Germany, decried Nazism, and even enlisted in the U.S. Army during that war, it held no fascination for her, she said.

As I listened to her — listened because she would let Schell do the interview portion as audio only and would not go on camera — I was struck by the stark contrast between her “fie on the past” outlook and Americans’ quite opposite near-obsession with each and every available detail of another war, its antecedents, and its aftermath.

Dietrich would have scoffed — “rubbish” was her favorite word in the Schell interview — at the rush of new books, trenchant op-ed columns, television documentaries, and blog reflections about the U.S. Civil War.

Fort Sumter was quickly surrendered after Confederate guns pounded the Federal garrison in the opening engagement of the Civil War.  (Carol M. Highsmith)

Fort Sumter was quickly surrendered after Confederate guns pounded the Federal garrison in the opening engagement of the Civil War. (Carol M. Highsmith)

It was triggered, 150 years ago this coming April 12, by the bombardment of a federal fort in Charleston harbor by South Carolina militiamen.  But what lit the fuse?  What caused six states to declare that they were leaving the Union even before the shelling of Fort Sumter?  What force could be so powerful as to lead brothers into war with brothers, with the ultimate loss of 620,000 soldiers in bloody combat?

“Who cares?” I can hear Dietrich’s ghost exclaiming, huskily.  But Americans care deeply to this day in this Civil War sesquicentennial year.  And many chalk it up to a single, overriding propellant: human slavery, the cruel institution that fueled the southern economy and, for the gentry, its way of life.

Whenever Federal troops prevailed in battle on southern soil, slaves freed from nearby plantations during the Confederate retreat streamed into Union camps.  (Library of Congress)

Whenever Federal troops prevailed in battle on southern soil, slaves freed from nearby plantations during the Confederate retreat streamed into Union camps. (Library of Congress)

Not northern tariffs.  Not states’-rights fervor.  Not northern meddling in southerners’ affairs so pervasive that one ordinary Confederate soldier, quoted by Richard T. Hines, a Sons of Confederate Veterans camp commander, remarked to a Yankee as the Reb was being led off to prison: “Why am I fighting? Because youre here” (emphasis mine).

Slavery is so often cited as the direct and overriding raison d’etre of the Civil War — or at a minimum the common denominator when multiple antecedents are mentioned — that its sores keep flaring.

So raw are sensitivities that the display of the Confederacy’s stars-and-bars battle flag gets some people’s blood boiling. The rebellious nation fought to the death to keep their human chattel, they say.  Ergo, its symbols represent evil.

Civil War re-enactments like this one in North Carolina certainly honor the courage of the soldiers on both sides.  These “Confederates” gather beside a campfire.  (Carol M. Highsmith)

Civil War re-enactments like this one in North Carolina certainly honor the courage of the soldiers on both sides. These “Confederates” gather beside a campfire. (Carol M. Highsmith)

But there is other blood boiling as well.  It belongs to those who are just as outraged at efforts to suppress what they firmly believe are reminders of the honorable service of their 260,000 ancestors — many of them poor and barefoot and about as close to being slaveholders as a pig is to a princess — who fought and died on the Confederate side.

The “southern cross” still appears on Mississippi’s state flag and is suggested on Florida’s and Alabama’s.  It was not until 2000 that the Confederate flag came down from its perch atop South Carolina’s capitol building in Columbia.  Civil-rights groups’ calls for boycotts of South Carolina events and attractions were only slightly muted when state officials lowered the rebel flag but then planted it on the capitol lawn. Read the rest of this entry »

Discouraged Workers

Posted March 18th, 2011 at 1:14 pm (UTC-4)
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Provocative words: discouraged workers.

They could be those whose good work isn’t rewarded with raises and promotions, or isn’t even much noticed.

And they’re the lucky ones.  They have jobs.

Those whom the government categorizes as “discouraged workers” do not.

They’re “marginally attached to the labor force” in official parlance — not employed, not even unemployed in the sense of the unemployment percentage that gets reported every month.

These “marginal” people include those who have fallen seriously ill, gone back to school, perhaps been forced to take care of old or sick relatives.

Do you see the irony here?  It's the worker who needs help.

Do you see the irony here? It's the worker who needs help.

Or they are officially marked down as “discouraged” from looking for work, to put it mildly, to the point that they haven’t even tried in the past four weeks.

Yes, they tell the people at the unemployment office.  Of course they want to work and would accept a reasonable job if one were offered.  Fat chance of that.

We’re not talking about an unfortunate soul here and there.  At last count, there were 1.1 million certifiably discouraged workers in the nation’s labor force.

But there are millions and millions more who ceased job-hunting long before a month ago.  They don’t appear anywhere in government head counts, and they would laugh bitterly if you suggested that someone might come knocking with a job offer.  For them, “discouraged” ceased to describe their state of mind long ago.  You’d need darker “D words”: disgruntled, depressed, despairing, distraught, disconsolate, desperate.

Just the title of a Pew Research Center study, released last year when the Great Recession was still boiling, summed up the long-term unemployment morass — which Pew defines as out-of-work status for six months or more:

Lots of people do everything in their power to end the hard times.  But the way out is often not in their control.

Lots of people do everything in their power to end the hard times. But the way out is often not in their control.

“Lost Income, Lost Friends — and Loss of Self-respect.”

At the time, unemployment stood at TWICE the figure just three years earlier.  The Pew researchers called long-term unemployment “nearly the norm for the Great Recession.”  The emphasis is mine, but those who’ve banged their heads against hiring managers’ doors don’t need to be reminded about the futility of it all.

Long-term joblessness wrecks not only a person’s career prospects and family finances, write Pew’s Rich Morin and Rakesh Kochhar.  It “takes a much deeper toll on a person’s emotional well-being.”

As of their report last year, one-half of the nation’s unemployed — the largest percentage since World War II, had been looking for work for six months or more.  That doesn’t even count the “discouraged” who have stopped trying.  Nearly half of the long-term unemployed reported strained family relations, and 4 in 10 said they had lost contact with close friends.

Or the friends had lost contact with them.  In the words of the old Bessie Smith song, “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out.”

Four in 10 also told the Pew researchers that they had lost at least some self-respect, had sought professional help for emotional issues, and felt a “big impact” — doubtless a negative one — on their long-term career goals.

When life is grim month after month, it's hard to be "up" and optimistic.

These are summary conclusions.  You can imagine the anguish that went into individual responses.

When things turned dire for my own family in my youth, my mother would say, stoically.  “I’ll manage somehow.”  So do most of the long-term unemployed — at first.  They increase credit-card debt, pull money out of savings and retirement accounts, borrow from relatives, forgo vacations and postpone medical care, take low-paying part-time jobs, sell property or even their homes if they can find buyers, or move in “temporarily” with parents, siblings, or friends. Read the rest of this entry »

Shifting Middle America

Posted March 16th, 2011 at 2:14 pm (UTC-4)
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Imagine that every one of the 310,989,947 Americans — even babies, fat people, and the frail elderly — weighed exactly the same for statistical purposes.

Make that every one of the 310,989,955 Americans.  The number ticks inexorably upward and will probably reach 310,990,000 before I’m through writing this, and, who knows, maybe 311,000,000 by the time you read it.

Again, imagine that each one of those 311 million people weighed the same and that you could place a little weight representing each one of them on a map in the exact spot where he or she lives.  A very few of these weights, relatively speaking, will show up in remote Alaska and Hawaii, but 99.4 percent of the population — and of the little weights — would spread across the “Lower 48” states on the mainland.

Your job's not this hard.  All you need to hold aloft is the Lower 48 U.S. states.  (Wikipedia Commons)

Your job's not this hard. All you need to hold aloft is the Lower 48 U.S. states. (Wikipedia Commons)

Now things get trickier.  You are suddenly a modern-day, and aptly named, mythical Atlas.  Only you’re not holding the entire globe in your palm.  You’re lifting a United States map with all of those equal weights in place, and balancing delicately on a pointed fulcrum.

Geographers describe the precise point, where the weight of the U.S. population (save for Alaska and Hawaii’s) is equally distributed in every direction, as the “mean center of population.”  No matter which direction you’d go from that point, you’d bump into an identical number of people.

And in a week or so, the U.S. Census Bureau will announce a fascinating turn of events regarding this “mean center.”  It’s strictly a statistical term.  The people at this population center point are no meaner, or friendlier, than other Americans.  At least I wouldn’t think so.

When the first U.S. Census was conducted in 1790, the nation's mean population center was very near the Chesapeake Bay, minus this modern bridge, of course.  (Carol M. Highsmith)

When the first U.S. Census was conducted in 1790, the nation's mean population center was very near the Chesapeake Bay, minus this modern bridge, of course. (Carol M. Highsmith)

When the population point was calculated following the first decennial census in 1790, it lay just outside Baltimore, Maryland.  Those were the days, three years after the nation had been officially founded with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, when most Americans lived along the Eastern Seaboard, and all 13 states were located there.

That year President George Washington — a farmer and former soldier who presumably was in pretty good shape — could have hiked the 54 kilometers (34 miles) or so from the White House up to the geographical center of the United States in one long, strenuous day, or two for sure.

By 1910, the nation's population center had moved all the way west to the environs of Bloomington, Indiana.  (Library of Congress)

By 1910, the nation's population center had moved all the way west to the environs of Bloomington, Indiana. (Library of Congress)

Today our physically fit president, Barack Obama — and an immense security detail, would have quite a hike ahead of them to the mean center of the nation.  It is expected to have moved 1,300 kilometers (about 800 miles) away, to Texas County, Missouri, since Washington’s time.

But it’s not just the distance from the East Coast that our population center has been moving that’s of note.  It’s the direction.

As you see on the Census Bureau map below (be sure to click on it and blow it up), the population core moved almost straight west for 160 years from 1790 to 1950, reflecting the westward tug of the nation’s migration.

The center of the nation's population had reached central Missouri by 2000.  It will soon be announced as having moved even farther to the south and west.  (U.S. Census Bureau)

The center of the nation's population had reached central Missouri by 2000. It will soon be announced as having moved even farther to the south and west. (U.S. Census Bureau)

The mean center crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri in the 1970s, and began turning south and westward for the first time as well.  This occurred as the southwestern “Sun Belt” was stepping up its efforts to lure hundreds of thousands of Americans away from decaying North and Northeast “Rust Belt” towns. Read the rest of this entry »

Everyone’s a V.I.P. at Work!

Posted March 11th, 2011 at 3:22 pm (UTC-4)
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Next month, bosses across America will observe “Administrative Professionals Day” by taking their administrative professionals out to lunch.  Some will buy their “administrative assistants” flower arrangements for the occasion.

The day’s official theme (I kid you not): “This year, celebrate all office professionals.”

Talk about catchy!

"I crown thee Exalted Administrative Professional!"

Everyone’s an office professional.  “I’m not a secretary,” one woman here at VOA huffed at me one day.  Her proper title, she’d have me know, is “admin officer.”  The word “secretary” is just too servile for fluffed-up people and sensitive times.

I believe you could get arrested for calling someone a “maid.”  Don’t you know that these people are “domestic assistants”?  Or that the last airplane passenger who asked for more peanuts from a “stewardess” ended up in attitude-adjustment therapy and on the Transportation Security Administration’s no-fly list.

God help the hospital patient — sorry, I mean community wellness facility short-term resident — who cries out in the night, “Nurse! Nurse!”

"What did you call me, bud?"

If you want that painkiller, the proper call is “Health Care Professional!  Health Care Professional!”

And watch yourself the next time you’re in the market for a car.  Dealerships don’t have “salesmen” any more.  To spare them from low self-esteem, they’re “sales associates,” “account executives,” or “retail representatives,” and you’d best address them as such.

Even traveling salesmen, already the brunt of barnyard humor for their supposedly amorous romps with milkmaids, have earned society’s admiration.  They are now “territory managers.”

Perhaps you’ve heard of Arthur Miller’s classic Broadway play “Death of a Salesman.”  In it, washed-up salesman Willy Loman’s wife lashes out at the unfair treatment of her husband.  “Attention must be paid,” to him, she railed. “He’s not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog.”

Salesman.  Friend.  Transaction professional!

Salesman. Friend. Transaction professional!

Attention is being paid to these folks.  We’re giving them more estimable titles.  These days, Miller would be shamed into calling his play, “Death of a Corporate Sales Representative.”

These gussied-up titles are “euphemisms.”  They’re agreeable-sounding terms replacing what are deemed to be offensive or disparaging ones.  They soften the stigma of certain jobs, or puff up workers’ status and self-worth.  Just as companies no longer fire people — they “downsize” or make “personnel adjustments” — we have invented all sorts of new and soothing job titles for just about everybody.

The standard example — though I think this is invoked mostly for fun to emphasize the absurdity of euphemisms — is calling a garbage man a “sanitary engineer.”  I was a garbage man when I went home to Ohio from college each summer.

Even worse, actually.  I was a sewer cleaner.

Garbage man as superhero!

Garbage man as superhero!

Nobody called me a “waste removal officer.”  The men who worked the trucks year-round — grizzled and grumbly guys who downed lunchtime shots and beers with their kielbasa sandwiches at corner bars — didn’t know the meaning of “politically correct.”

They called me “no-good dumb stupid college kid.”

And they didn’t say “kid,” either. Read the rest of this entry »

Potting It Down

Posted March 10th, 2011 at 2:44 pm (UTC-4)
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At the risk of agitating reader Brad, who already calls me “old and cranky,” let me tell you about a nostalgic email that I got from Dean Everette, a friend and old radio hand who laughs that he, like many in that transient profession, “was fired every couple of years or so.”  (I was fired twice.)

Radio is suffering because of competition from new media and satellite services.  But things are not THIS bad.  (Carol M. Highsmith)

Radio is suffering because of competition from new media and satellite services. But things are not THIS bad. (Carol M. Highsmith)

His note was about some nearly forgotten jargon from American radio’s heyday in the 1950s or ’60s. They tickle fond — or in other cases nightmarish — memories for anyone who got a start as a “one-man band” — there were no one-woman bands in those days — at a tiny, 1,000-watt stations in places such as Upper Armpit, Alabama.

These folks worked from 2 p.m. to midnight, ripped-‘n’-read the news off the AP wire, spun some platters, dazzled their few hundred listeners with hip deejay lingo, cued the national anthem sign-off music, made a cursory check of the radio tower out back, then swept up the place before locking the door and going home.

While such recollections are radio-specific, anyone who’s had a sales job or worked in a specialized field that had its own buzzwords and its own long career ladder will recognize many of the memories that Dean sends along.

Radio was once so flush with cash that many big-city stations had their own halls to which the public was invited for public concerts.  (Library of Congress)

Radio was once so dominant that big-city stations had huge set-ups for large, recorded concerts, to which the public was invited. (Library of Congress)

I’ve mixed in a few musty-dusty nuggets of my own as well from my time in commercial radio.  Don’t worry.  I’ll define the really obscure terms in my “Wild Words” at the end.

Here goes:

You were playing Elvis’s No. 1 hits when he was still alive.

You always told your listeners “I’ll get that song on for you right away” and then didn’t.

Sixty percent or more of your wardrobe had a station logo on it.

Without thinking, you answered your home phone with the station’s call letters. Read the rest of this entry »

Landphair for President

Posted March 8th, 2011 at 1:52 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

I like the sound of that.  “Landphair for President”!

Presidential material, don't you think?  Please ignore the double chin. (Carol M. Highsmith)

Presidential material, don't you think? Please ignore the double chin. (Carol M. Highsmith)

I can visualize the campaign buttons and slogans:

Ted in 12

Lets Be Led by Ted

Theos for Meo

For our Land, a Phair Deal

Steady Teddy

I Adore Theodore

Speak Loudly for Teddy (a work-in-progress reference to the first Teddy president: man’s man Theodore Roosevelt, who famously said about diplomacy, “Speak softly, but carry a big stick”).

Once he's in office, his many strengths will be revealed. (Carol M. Highsmith)

Once he's in office, his many strengths will be revealed. (Carol M. Highsmith)

Or Put a Rough Writer in the White House might work.  Roosevelt was a “rough rider” in the Spanish-American War.

I’m sure you think me nuts.  After all, there’ll be stiff competition for the most powerful position in the world from people with a bit more experience, perhaps including the guy who holds the job right now.

Nuts, perhaps.  But running for president is not all that difficult.  According to the USA Today national newspaper, 366 Americans were certified as official candidates for America’s highest office in 2008 by the Federal Election Commission.

One was a guy named Randy Crow, a North Carolina Republican, who had run two previous times and — let me double-check here — yes, lost.  Badly, I would wager, though his mother, a few friends, and some haters of the establishment might have voted for him.

He'll sign up for the long term.  Or at least a four-year one.  (Carol M. Highsmith)

He'll sign up for the long term. Or at least a four-year one. (Carol M. Highsmith)

And Crow is running again in ’12.  Hey, this ain’t Russell Crowe.  I can beat the guy.

And I’d trounce Rutherford B. Hayes, too, even though the paper says he is already “readying his presidential campaign.”

Rutherford B. Hayes?  Wasn’t he already president a million years ago?

Hayes won by a . . . whisker!  (Library of Congress)

Hayes won by a . . . whisker! (Library of Congress)

Well, Rutherford B. Hayes, Republican of Ohio, was elected president in 1876 and served just one four-year term.  And no wonder.  His Democratic opponent, Samuel Tilden, got more votes.  A lot more — 280,000.  But Hayes was elected because it’s not the popular vote but the preference of an “electoral college,” a small group of partisans chosen in proportion to the population of each state, plus the District of Columbia.  If the Democratic candidate wins the popular vote in Arkansas, for example, the Democratic party’s choices would get all six of Arkansas’ electoral college seats and almost certainly cast their vote for the Democrat for president. Read the rest of this entry »

Monument to Tashunka Witko

Posted March 3rd, 2011 at 1:50 pm (UTC-4)
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You might be interested in a progress report on what many believe is the largest and grandest stone carving ever attempted — if you can call blasting out of solid rock a mountain-sized figure of a man on horseback a “carving.”

Mount Rushmore is a "must see" for travelers across America. (dean.franklin, Flickr Creative Commons)

It’s appearing, slowly, methodically, but unmistakably, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, just 13 kilometers (8 miles) from the park where the famous stone busts of presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt loom atop Mount Rushmore.

In the 1940s, when sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s work was finished on Rushmore’s granite façade, a Lakota Sioux chief, Henry Standing Bear, wrote Borglum’s assistant, Korczak Ziółkowski, a Polish immigrant from Boston whose marble bust of Polish pianist and statesman Ignacy Paderewski had won first prize by popular vote at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

You have come to our sacred mountains with dynamite and picks and gas-powered jackhammers to build a monument to great white men, Standing Bear told Korczak (his family and everyone else I’ve met in South Dakota calls him by his first name, so I will as well). Why not create a monument to honor the greatest of red men as well?

Korczak agreed, and in 1948 on Thunderhead Mountain, he began work on a pink-granite monument to Chief Crazy Horse astride a charging horse. “Every man has his mountain,” Korczak said. “I’m carving mine.”  He had $174 to his name when he began.

Ironically, perhaps eerily, Korczak was born on September 6, 1908, 31 years to the day after Crazy Horse was slain. Many Indians consider that an omen.

These Indians were photographed at the Pine Ridge Agency, or reservation, in South Dakota.  (Library of Congress)

These Indians were photographed at the Pine Ridge Agency, or reservation, in South Dakota. (Library of Congress)

Korczak called the treatment of American Indians in the years after they were driven off their lands “the blackest mark on the escutcheon of our nation’s history. By carving Crazy Horse, if I can give back to the Indian some of his pride and create the means to keep alive his culture and heritage, my life will have been worthwhile.”

Korczak’s mountain rose in a scraggly patch of pine forest reached by no highway, no electricity, and no running water. So the project on which he spent the last 30 years of his life is a tribute to amazing logistics as well as astounding art. Korczak worked alone until his children were old enough to pitch in. For years he climbed 741 wooden steps that he had built up to the ridge atop which Crazy Horse’s face would emerge. One day, he made that up-and-down trek nine times when his balky old compressor below kept sputtering to a stop.

His subject, Crazy Horse — Sioux name Tashunka Witko — was a fascinating and controversial choice.

He was the fiercest of Sioux warriors in the years when these nomadic people fought desperately to retain their way of life against whites who broke treaty after treaty and pushed steadily into their sacred lands and hunting grounds.

Carol's distant photo of the sculpture and mountain gives you an idea of its grand scale.  (Carol M. Highsmith)

Carol's distant photo of the sculpture and mountain gives you an idea of its grand scale. (Carol M. Highsmith)

An old chief and spiritual leader named Sitting Bull brought the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes together for a showdown with white soldiers on the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory in 1876. Read the rest of this entry »

Ted Landphair

About

This is a far-ranging exploration of American life by a veteran Voice of America “Americana” reporter and essayist.

Ted writes about the thousands of places he has visited and written about as a broadcaster and book author. Ted Landphair’s America often showcases the work of his wife and traveling companion, renowned American photographer Carol M. Highsmith.

Ted welcomes feedback, questions, and ideas. View Ted’s profile. Watch a video about Ted and Carol by VOA’s Nico Colombant.

Photos by Carol M. Highsmith

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