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Modern Telephones and Ancient Arts

One of the unexpected habits we’ve acquired over the last couple of years is watching Youtube’s full-length videos of the Public Broadcasting System’s nightly “Newshour.” The program still has that ostentatiously high-brow and oh-so-soft-spoken public broadcasting tone that used to annoy us, but in these assertively low-brow days of splenetic talk radio show shrieking we now find it rather soothing, and we’ve also noticed that it has a high batting average for accuracy and does a pretty good job of giving all sides of whatever top story of the day they’re covering some unedited soundbites.
PBS also finds a few precious minutes in its daily “Newshour” for interesting and important stories that aren’t the hot topic of the day, which at long last brings us around to the subject of our daily missive. On Tuesday “Newshour” had a segment about the growing number of performing artists — from stand-up comedians to classical musicians — who are trying to keep their  audiences from using their telephones during performances. Despite all that’s going on in the top stories of the day, we feel obliged to take a few minutes of our time to share their outrage.
Those newfangled telephones most people own these days have video cameras and digital audio recorders and “viral” videos and the latest baseball scores and answers to any questions that might pop into your head and pictures of some scant acquaintance’s private parts, and we’ve previously groused about how damned distracting and dumbing-down they can be. It’s a problem we’ve long noticed during dates and family gatherings and all sorts of civic events, so we can well sympathize with any old nightclub comic or concert hall virtuoso who looks out at an audience and sees people more engrossed by some glowing electronic rectangle and its “tweet” about a friend’s taco dinner than their carefully-crafted performances.
We’ve even noticed it here in Wichita, Kansas, and we’re sure the problem is worse is in America’s many bigger cities. Around here most of the performing arts we take in are either at the lowest dives in the roughest parts of the north and south ends, where the kids all seem to have those newfangled telephones but are more intent on drinking and digging the the sounds and perhaps getting lucky than whatever boring message some homebound friend had “texted” or “tweeted” them, or in the high-culture auditoria of downtown’s Century II, where the mostly genteel and graying audiences have their own old-fashioned reasons for savoring the performances they’ve paid for at a rather steep price for rather than looking at their glowing telephones.
Before every performance of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra or the Wichita Musical Theater — both of which are far better than you might expect, by the way — they always play a recording urging the audience to shut down those damnable newfangled telephone machines. The message was recorded by Samuel Ramey, an operatic bass singer from the small town of Colby, Kansas, who attended Wichita State University’s better-than-you’d-expect music and went on to a career that included bravura performances as La Scala and all the world’s great opera houses before returning to join his alma mater’s better-than-you’d-expect musical faculty, and although he’s best known for playing Lucifer in the great operas featuring that character his speaking voice sounds so much like what you’d you imagine God sounds like that you’d surely turn off your newfangled telephone.
Still, even here in our delightfully old-fashioned hometown we notice too many people more intent on documenting the moment rather than savoring it, everywhere from the lowest depths of Kirby’s Beer Store to the dizzying heights of Century II. There’s something timeless to be said for an idiosyncratic bar band in a north end dive or capable stand-up comic in a sleazy night club or a virtuoso musician in a concert hall, and there’s something to be listened to without the distractions of thpse damnable telephonic devices most people own nowadays.
While we’re at it, we’d also prefer that more people stop paying attention to the top stories of the day what’ else is on their newfangled telephones machines and start paying more attention to the wonderful and horrible things that are going on all around them.

— Bud Norman

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Technical Difficulties

We’re writing this in a booth at The Vagabond, a friendly little hipster dive in the historic Delano neighborhood just across the Arkansas River from our even friendlier home office in the picturesque Riverside neighborhood. because our got-darned internet service went down. All the hipster dives have wi-fi these days, as we’ve long noticed from all the bearded hipsters we see staring into their machines instead of talking with one another and sharing dirty jokes and hitting on the hipster women the way human beings used to do in a bar, so for tonight we’ve reluctantly taken the old laptop on a rare trip out of the house and joined those lonely hipsters in their solitary musings.
It’s an infuriating inconvenience, and although we’re doing our best to be cordial to the pretty and pleasant young barmaid who generously shared the wi-fi password we’re starting to run out of patience with our internet provider. We’ll not mention any names, but it’s a long established company that was once so beloved that Americans called it “Ma,” and until very recently they had provided us many decades of reliable landline phone service, but we’ve recently cancelled the landline and had the number transferred to one of those newfangled cellular phones that everybody uses these days, which took way too many hours of bureaucratic hassles and time on hold to accomplish, and given that the switch-over happened at approximately the same time the internet went down we suspect that has something do with the problem. Several hours on the phone with people speaking hard-to-understand accents and quite a bit of time on on hold failed to rectify the problem, and they’re promising to send someone by between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. to solve a problem that we’re sure could have addressed without that hassle, and we’re not at all confident it will be resolved even by a real live human being in the flesh, but at this point we’re drinking one of the $2 beer specials and hoping for the best.
Back in the good old days before all this technological progress we were somehow content without any internet at all, but these days we seem somehow estranged from the entire world without it. We were reading up on the latest news from a variety of old and new sources, and contemplating the witty and sophisticated response to it all that we would send out to entire world, but that got-darned red light that started flashing on the modem wound up reconfiguring the whole got-darned day. Thanks to the The Vagabond’s wi-fi and the password that pretty and pleasant barmaid shared we’ll get something out to you, and with some hope that a real live human being in the flesh will be able to set things straight we plan another post for tomorrow, hopefully having something to do with the rest of the world, and w’ll try to restrain our temper in the meantime.

— Bud Norman

Cell Phone Libertarianism

Our faith in the American public has been slightly bolstered by the eight-point drop President Barack Obama has suffered in the latest monthly Gallup poll, although his approval rating remains an unaccountably high 45 percent, and we are particularly heartened to note that the decline is driven largely by a precipitous 17-point drop in the approval of the young folks.
The under-30 cohort’s enthusiasm for Obama has been remarkably stubborn, especially by the dizzying standards of contemporary pop culture crazes, but it is not hard to see why the young generation’s forbearance has at last waned in the past month. All of the most damning facts about the deadly Benghazi fiasco were well known by the time of the election, and the incompetence and dishonesty and disdain for free speech rights apparently made no impression. The revelation of the Internal Revenue Services’ campaign of harassment to stomp out the Tea Party’s dissent was similarly unmoving, as the Tea Party was just a bunch of middle class white people who didn’t want to pay for the young generation’s health care and Obamaphones. News that the Justice Department had treated a Fox News investigation as a criminal conspiracy also failed to trouble the young generation’s conscience, and for some it was a welcome development to have those buzz-kills get pushed around, and the fact that it was also happening to the Associated Press made little impression on people who get their news through Facebook and rarely read newspapers. Even the persistently high youth unemployment rate didn’t seem to faze the young. When word got out that the National Security Agency was snooping through Facebook and cell phone records, though, that was crossing a generational Rubicon.
If you are ever so unfortunate as to find yourself in one of the nightspots favored by the young folks, you’ll immediately note the strange regard they have for their cell phones and tablets and other electronic gizmos. They’ll contantly caress these damnable devices in the palms of their hands, enrapt by the faint light of the high-resolution screens, texting shorthand witticisms to their most beloved hundred or so friends, “googling” the answer to some trivia question about a Saturday morning cartoon from their childhoods, buying over-priced tickets to some second-rate rock ‘n’ roll band’s concert, or God and the National Security Agency only knows what else. Whatever it is that they’re doing on those things seems to be more important than flirting with the nubile and needy-looking young hipster chicks sitting across the booth, and the latest Gallup poll suggests that young folks don’t seem to believe it’s any of the government’s business.
Some conservatives are hoping that this understandable outrage suggests a libertarian streak that the Republican party might appeal to in future elections, but our experience of young people suggests this is wishful thinking. The young people of our acquaintance are mostly inclined to hold very permissive social views on issues ranging from abortion to same-sex marriage to the right to post photos of their cats on Facebook or “tweet” a misspelling of an obscenity, but they do not embrace the red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism and rugged individualism that define libertarianism. They certainly don’t subscribe to the notions of individual responsibility that are just as essential to the libertarian ethic, and they’ve never stopped to consider how economic freedom is essential to social freedom, so they much prefer the goodies provided by an ever-bigger government.
So long as the government can keep the goodies coming, especially during a period of persistently high youth unemployment, the young folks will likely be satisfied with some assurance that the government isn’t keeping a record of their most embarrassing internet searches or awkward post-hook up phone chats. Obama has taken to the airwaves to offer his word that he isn’t Dick Cheney, even as Dick Cheney is taking to the airwaves to defend Obama’s policies, and that might placate the youngsters for a while. Using Dick Cheney as a slur is so five years ago, though, and perhaps the young have grown tired of it. Many of them, we suspect, won’t recognize the reference at all. If the sweet talk to the youngsters doesn’t work, they might even start to notice the persistently high unemployment rates for the young, but unless the Republicans are offering more generous unemployment benefits it probably won’t make difference.

— Bud Norman