Highlights from Chanticleer Calls

chanticleerCHANTICLEER CALLS – What it’s about (4/21/00)

In case you’ve never read the quote under the crowing rooster, let me call your attention to it anew:

I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.

Henry David Thoreau wrote these words in his back-to-nature exposition, Walden.

“Chanticleer” refers to the French word derived from the Latin root for “rooster”. For you city folk, legend has it that roosters wake people up in the country.

I like to think I’m making a feeble metaphorical effort to … Wake .. [clap].. YOU up!

How? By pounding home the point that “This Is Not That” … differences matter! What makes an expert an expert? The ability to make fine distinctions that the rest of us can’t make. That’s what this newsletter and this site are about – making finer differentiations. It’s about developing your ‘taste’ (again, think metaphorically) beyond recognizing a white from a red wine – it’s about learning to tell a Cabernet from a Chablis from a Merlot. And sometimes, it’s about recognizing that what you think/believe to be a ‘red’, might not be.

What you experience is different from what happens; what you hear is different from what is said; what you infer is different from what is implied; what you believe is different from what you call a ‘fact’; what you assume is different from what you ‘know’. The word is different from the thing. The map is different from the territory.

So is any of this important?

Well, it only affects how you experience and respond to what goes on around you …

You make the call.

Making better discriminations (1/1/00)

In light of all the resolutions for the new year being published, I would like to offer an additional activity which could result in some positive changes as you go about your daily living. By which I mean, sharpening your skills at recognizing, acknowledging, appreciating, and ultimately behaving in accordance with the differences between …

acts, and the consequences of those acts facts and inferences, assumptions, beliefs, etc. motivations and means what is implied and what is inferred symbols and the ‘things’ the symbols stand for maps of a territory, and the territory itself what is ‘learned’ and what is ‘taught’ the assumption or premise, and the resulting position, attitude or behavior the label you give a group, and the attributes or behaviors of individuals within the group, e.g. Baptist1 is not Baptist2; engineer1 is not engineer2; teenager1 is not teenager2; etc. your expectations and your evaluations the current attitudes and behaviors of someone, and that person’s past attitudes and behaviors, e.g. Steve1990 is not Steve2000 traditions and purposes what something or someone does, versus what we say something or someone is words and the things to which the words refer what you ‘know’ and what you do what you experience versus what you say about your experience, versus what you make those experiences mean what is printed in a book, paper or article versus your interpretation of what is printed this and that etc.

Beauty and the Beholders (1/1/00)

Does anyone disagree with the wisdom inherent in the old adage that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”?

Similarly, but perhaps not so obviously, I would ask you to consider that plenty of other ‘things’ (or as De Niro would say, “dtings”) are determined by the “eye of the beholder”.

Do you agree or disagree with this partial list?

… duty, success, esteem, prosperity, privacy, security, happiness, peace, anxiety, tolerance, loyalty, kindness, meanness, anger, casual, professional, trust, respect, disrespect, progressive, sensitivity, courtesy, righteousness, truth, blasphemy, joy, jubilant, uplifting, sickening, cynical, ridicule, appropriateness, humor, goodness, jealously, envy, stress, evil, patriotism, grace, wisdom, taste, obscenity, sin, hate …

Here’s to all your beholdings in 2000. May they be sane, appropriate and — most importantly — yours.

Is “Attitude” Really “Everything”? (3/6/00)

The Texas Rangers baseball club just initiated its new marketing campaign to sell tickets. This year’s slogan: “Attitude Is Everything”.

Personally, I’d react more jazzed if they had selected: “Pitching Is Everything”. The old baseball adage still seems true – that “good pitching beats good hitting”. The new baseball adage, at least in the American League, might go: “Yankees Beat Any Attitude”.

This recalls other former advertising themes … “Image Is Everything”; “Taste Is Everything”; “Winning Is Everything”.

Am I out of touch, or does it seem exceedingly silly to proclaim that anything “… Is Everything”?

Comments on American Beauty (3/6/00)

I almost responded to a letter to the Dallas Morning News last week in which the citizen writer criticized the movie American Beauty as a movie “only a critic could love”. Well, call me “Chanticleer the Critic” because I could say that I ‘loved’ it, as much as I can ‘love’ any artistic expression. It’s easy to not like this movie if you, like the citizen writer, focus on the superficial “what-you-see-is-what-it’s-about” story line … it’s “about” a father’s infatuation with his teenaged daughter’s friend … it’s “about” a homophobic military father … it’s “about” a mother who worries more about selling someone else’s house than what’s going on inside her own … it’s “about” a rebellious teenage girl who wants a boob job … it’s “about” a teenage drug dealer … it’s “about” a murder … it’s “about” ….

The citizen writer failed to mention, perhaps because he failed to see, one of the themes of the Academy Award-nominated film – the American obsession with appearances; appearance of ‘success’, appearance of ‘happiness’, appearance of ‘normalcy’, the appearance of ‘beauty’. I sat uncomfortably through parts of it due to the relentless honesty portrayed, and I laughed out loud and cheered in parts. I walked out of the theater looking at my world a little bit differently, and a little more hopefully.

While they’re both still in theaters prior to the Academy Awards, I highly recommend you see both American Beauty and contemplate appearances, and The Cider House Rules and contemplate moral ambiguity.

“KNOCK ON WOULD”, and other Silli-stitions (2/2/00)

While we’re on the subject of senseless silliness like ‘Ground Hog Day’, (at least while I’m on it, I have no idea where, or what, you are or might be on), let’s talk about superstitions, those spiritual siblings of misleading indicators.

Whereas the misleading indicator is supposed to merely predict or foreshadow the outcome, the superstitious action actually causes the outcome.

That, in my estimation, amounts to a significant difference.

Think about it …

the calendar turning to a “13” on a Friday causes bad luck the black cat causes bad luck walking under a ladder causes bad luck handling a frog causes your warts to go away the ladybug lighting on you causes good luck the horseshoe causes good luck the four-leaf clover causes good luck opening an umbrella indoors causes bad luck having a rabbit’s foot causes good luck spilling salt causes bad luck, unless you pitch a pinch over your left (not your right!) shoulder the unwashed t-shirt causes the pitcher to win the game knocking on wood doesn’t cause good luck, but it prevents bad luck

I expect that most (but probably fewer) of us recognize these as simple, harmless, fun little ‘traditions’ n
o more consequential than Groundhog Day. But again, over time, these ‘harmless’ little drip, drip, drippings begin to sink in, and take root in our nervous systems such that we actually begin to react to them. I’ve seen some people attempt various positions of contortion in order to find ‘wood’ with a free hand to ward off ‘jinxing’ themselves for something they, or someone else, said.

Here in 2000, isn’t it time to stop the dripping?

Mood Music – Change Yours (2/25/01)

Saturday morning I was washing dishes and listening to the ’70s music channel on my DirecTV, and the Fifth Dimension’s “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All” came on. I had to stop what I was doing and listen to it. Because as soon as I heard the opening piano clinks, I was a heart-broken teenager listening to the ‘same’ song on a school bus coming home after a high school basketball game in 1972.

I’ve grown up surrounded by music. I take it for granted. But every now and then, I have a moment when I appreciate the tremendous power it can have to influence my attitude and mood. (Atti-mood? Mood-itude?)

There’s a great Hewlett-Packard TV commercial now that talks about the “soundtrack of your life”. I think it’s interesting to note what music we choose to listen to when we want to evoke certain feelings, or change certain moods.

Sometimes we’re down and want to get downer, so we listen to blues like Keb Mo – “What goes around, comes around … and it’s all coming back to me now”, or Buddy Guy’s “You Damn Right I Got the Blues”.

Sometimes we’re down and want a pick-me-up, and something like Phil Collins’ “Easy Lover” or Frank’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” or Stevie Wonder’s “Do I Do” or Santana and Rob Thomas’ “Smooth” can instantly make our fingers snap, our toes tap, and lift us out of our temporary doldrums.

Sometimes we just want to wallow in whatever mood we find ourselves … “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” …. “Walking My Baby Back Home” … “Losing My Religion” … “Let It Be” … “Popsicle Toes”… “Walk Like An Eqyptian”. (Hey, don’t you sometimes get in one of those Sphinx-like moods?)

But if we’re aware of how we respond to music … and how we’re affected by it … maybe we can use that to our advantage, to help us “get by with a little help from our (musical) friends”.

EMINEM and ELTON (2/25/01)

As I mentioned before, the buzz throughout the Grammy Awards was the featured performance pairing Eminem with Elton John.

To explain for you non-MTV-generation readers … Eminem (pronounced “M & M”, but not the candy), the rapper (but not the candy wrapper), is about the most controversial figure in the pop music world today. He’s a white rapper who has offended and angered just about every identifiable group – principally gays and women – with his defiantly and unapologetically profane lyrics. His “The Marshall Mathers LP” (get the Eminem now?) was nominated for album of the year, and his single, “The Real Slim Shady”, was nominated for (and won) the Grammy for Best Solo Rap Performance.

Enter Elton John, the formerly flamboyant, flaming and flaunting Captain Fantastic, whose once-questionable bi-sexuality has since been settled and accepted. With his “Aida” now a Broadway smash, he’s about as “establishment” as any ultra-mega-superstar can be.

Not to mention, of course, that he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997 and is now Sir Elton John.

Sir Elton agreed to perform with surly Eminem on the rapper’s current hit about an obsessive, suicidal fan, “Stan”.

Of course, the knighted, noble gay activist performing with the nihilistic, ignoble gay basher produced all sorts of legitimate, and self-serving, controversies among all sorts of advocacy groups. It seemed the entire awards show was merely the pre-game warmup to the real show — Eminem and Elton.

“Stan” is not for the faint of heart, nor the weak of willpower. If you’re quick to scream “Obscene!” and “Profane!”, you’ll lose your voice listening to this one.

So why would Sir Elton John agree to not only perform this song, but perform with this artist?

I don’t know, but I suspect two possible reasons.

First, given his own controversial career, I suspect Elton John can relate to Eminem as a pop culture figure (icon?) to a degree that few others can. He might be able to relate to him on an artist-to-artist level that supercedes the message-of-the-artist level.

Secondly, and I’m only surmising here, but Elton John might be a sharp behaviorist. Many gay rights activists were infuriated that he was so obviously and transparently trying to “build a bridge” with someone who seemed so offensive and vile to their purposes.

But think about how this gesture, culminating with their post-performance embrace, might – might – affect Eminem’s future behavior, and lyrics, and attitudes. Perhaps Sir Elton John is smart enough – wise enough – to realize the insignificance of condemning Eminem’s past words and behavior, and instead act in an attempt to change his future words and behavior.

Can anyone expect that performing on the world stage with Sir Elton John will not affect Eminem in some positive way?

Perhaps music has the power not only to change the moods of listeners like me, but perhaps it can also change the attitudes of the music makers themselves. Let’s watch, and listen.

Comments on Dogma ((12/1/99)

In this Tuesday’s Dallas Morning News, a letter regarding the new Ben Affleck/Matt Damon movie “Dogma” caught my eye. Co-signed by the President and Secretary of the Dallas Chapter of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the letter labeled the movie “obscene” and “blasphemous”. Other descriptive phrases included: “ridicules Christianity in general and depicts Catholicism .. as cynical and hypocritical; uses expletives in nearly every sentence; is the evil antithesis of Pope John Paul II’s message of peace and charity;” and finally, “This sickening attack on Christianity, especially Catholicism, is the cinematic equivalent of painting a swastika on a synagogue.”

[ASIDE: Is it a sign that co-signed letters usually go off on tangents?]

Wow! That sounds pretty bad …. “the cinematic equivalent of painting a swastika on a synagogue”!

So after reading this, I had no choice. I put the paper down, finished lunch, and headed off to the theater to see it for myself.

My impressions of the movie will eventually follow. Note that all of my comments can be prefaced, or appended, with “to me”, or “in my opinion”, or “I believe”. In other words, whatever adjectives or descriptive phrases I use in reference to how I evaluated the movie are words and phrases that I choose to describe what I experienced, or how I found the movie … I do not ascribe or project or attribute these words and phrases as qualities inherent in the movie.

This disclaimer — this distinction — is not inconsequential, to me. I believe it makes a huge difference for the President of the Dallas Chapter of the CLFRCR to say, for example:

this movie is blasphemous
this movie is obscene
this movie is the evil antithesis of the Pope’s message
this movie is the cinematic equivalent of painting a swastika on a synagogue

… instead of saying, for example:

I found this movie to be blasphemous
this movie is obscene, according to my threshold of obscenity
this movie, to me, is the evil antithesis of the Pope’s message
In my estimation, this movie can be likened to painting a swastika on a synagogue

Do you see a difference in tone between the two sets of comments, which probably represent two different mindsets?

The first mindset states firmly that the movie IS “blasphemous, evil …”. There is no room for discussion, no place for disagreeing, no acknowledging any possibility for any other judgment. This mindset suggests the
attitude, “It IS! You know it, I know it, everybody should know it, everyone should agree on it. It’s the TRUTH! It’s the absolute TRUTH!”

The second mindset still expresses a severely critical judgment, but it at least acknowledges that the evaluation (or judgment) is the result of an individual evaluator (or judger). This more appropriate (in my opinion) mindset allows, if not begs, another individual to reply with, “Well to me, it was extremely hard-biting, dead on satire. What did you find ‘obscene’?”

dog·ma n., pl. -mas or -ma·ta … 2. A principle, belief, idea, or opinion, esp. one authoritatively considered to be absolute truth.

Perhaps – just perhaps, “Dogma”, the movie, attempts to say something about this type of mindset exhibited by the letter co-signers. The irony, of course, is that the mindset precludes getting the message about the mindset. IMO.

Alfred Korzybski, author of Science and Sanity, observed that when we act as “dogmatists” or when we put too much emphasis on rigid, static categories (“categorists”) we copy the behavior of animals, at the expense of our more human capabilities. Clever pun. Accurate diagnosis. IMO.

So back to the movie and my impressions:

The movie begins with a disclaimer I found humorously and irreverently sincere, which attempts to pre-empt the type of, uh, dogmatic reaction exhibited by the co-signers. (Maybe they came in late from the concession stand. Too bad they weren’t Baptists, and I could use the old “immersion vs. sprinkling” schtick regarding the popcorn and butter.) Any movie with the (what’s the ecumenical version of “chutzpah”?) to cast George Carlin as a Cardinal gets off on the right foot with me. To me, the movie reflected wit, imagination, intelligence, creativity, research, insight, humor, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness. It also contained depictions of graphic violence which I could’ve done without, and lots and lots of what some might consider as gratuitous profanity. I found it more than a little ironic that people such as the co-signers would label a film as “blasphemous” whose premise accepts the basic Christian/Catholic beliefs regarding God, Jesus Christ and salvation, angels, demons, etc. I can understand some people might not like the human representation of God depicted by a woman … but I find it extremely, and dangerously, arrogant for anyone to hold such a dogmatic belief regarding something which, in my estimation, is unknowable. Come on, people — “You Oughta Know”! (Inside joke to anyone who’s seen the movie.) Generally, I found that “Dogma” (the movie) succeeded as a very intelligent, thought-provoking, educational, and entertaining comedic and religious tour de force. To the degree that it prompts viewers to question and examine their own (dogmatic) beliefs — oh, but there’s that idealistic dreamer cropping up again.

What Does a Hug Mean? (10/8/00)

Same word, same meaning? A few weeks ago at the Cedar Rapids (IA) airport I observed two ‘hugs’. The first occurred to my left in the concourse area near the departure/arrival gate. A young woman I assumed of college age embraced a man in his fifties in a prolonged hug, with the man repeatedly patting the young woman on the back in a reassuring way. As they broke for just a few seconds, I could see that she was crying. Then they embraced again, with her head turned against his chest, her arms clutched around his shoulders tightly. I wondered about the story behind this hug.

A few minutes later, the flight from Dallas arrived. A mother with two young boys emerged from the airplane into the waiting arms of her mother and sister. As they turned to walk toward the baggage claim area, the aunt reached down to give the older boy – about ten or eleven – another big hug. The boy allowed her the embrace, loosely placing his arms around her waist and turning his head toward me with a look that all but said, “Auntie, PLEASE! Not here!”

This hug clearly did not ‘mean’ what that hug ‘meant’.

Classifying – CDs and Other Things (10/15/99)

I received an interesting email this week:

Dear Sirs,
I am a french student in Management and I just visited your site. I think that you can really help me. I’ve got to talk about Teams for my management class, for Friday 15th October. But there is one problem…a difference that makes a difference!! I cannot seem to find what is the difference between a team and a group. Can you please help me? Thank you for replying as soon as possible, I’d appreciate your help.
Yours Sincerely,
Roger

How would you have responded to this? What are your thoughts?

I take this opportunity to point out two important but overlooked aspects of language:

1) the arbitrariness of verbal classifications; and
2) our willingness to get wrapped up in these arbitrary, verbal classifications

I like music, and own quite a few CDs. I keep most of them in a 200-CD changer. As you can imagine, this presents an organizational challenge. Every few months, as I buy new CDs, I have to rearrange the changer.

What is THE best organizing scheme for this?

Well, probably the first approach is alphabetical order by artist. At my house, if the TV’s not on, the stereo is – continually. So I’ll turn the CD on and it will play from one CD to the next. If I organized by alphabetical order, in some cases this would result in some reasonable transitions, such as:

Blues Brothers –> Blues Fest –> Blues Traveler
and
Nat King Cole –> Natalie Cole

But, a strictly alphabetical listing would also result in some pretty ‘jarring’ changes, genre-wise, like:

Gee, Kenny –> Genesis (okay, just forget I even own a Kenny Gee CeeDee)
Lennon, John –> The Lettermen
Sinatra, Frank –> Squirrel Nut Zippers

See what I mean?

Think about the different ways I could arrange my CDs:

by alphabetical order by Category (Jazz, Blues, Swing, Rock and Roll, Top 40, Easy Listening, Soundtracks, Comedy, Classics) by Time Period, Chronological Order (pre-1900,1900-1950, the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s, the 80’s, the ’90s) by order I purchased by a ranking of how well I liked them etc.

You can, perhaps, imagine the difficulties awaiting … what do I do with groups that cross classifications? What about somebody like Billy Joel who spans three decades? How do I deal with all the compilation CDs – “Best of the Disco Years”, etc.? (Yeah, yeah, I know you shouting, “OXYMORON! OXYMORON!”)

Of course, I could just randomly put them in the changer.

Which is the point …. It’s arbitrary. I can make the rules, and I can classify them as I wish. If I want to put Madonna in the “Top 40” instead of “Rock and Roll”, I can do that. If I want to put Tony Bennett in “Easy Listening”, Mel Torme in “Swing”, and Frank Sinatra in a class by himself, I can do that.

The classification doesn’t change the music. The classification is NOT the music.

We face similar arbitrary ‘problems’ in everyday language. But a lot of people don’t recognize the arbitrary nature of how we ‘classify’ things with names, labels, descriptions, etc. (Think about this – how much of what you ‘know’ is what to call things, and how to classify things?) To a lot of people, these names, these labels, these titles, these categories, really do mean what they say.

What do I mean?

Take politics (please!): “conservative”; “liberal”.

Need I say more?

For the next 13 months, we will be collectively bombarded with these labels, and classifications, and names, and a lot of people will think they are communicating something when they say:

“He’s a liberal!”
“She’s talks like a conservative, but she’s not!”
“He’s not liberal enough.”
“Vote conservative!”

And a lot of people will respond to th
ese labels and vote for candidates solely because of whatever category, classification, name, label, moniker, title, etc., is used most often and most effectively. Lost in the verbal confusion will be the actual actions, behaviors, platforms, positions, opinions, judgments, etc., of the candidates.

Ooh, suddenly-seen irony – the word “candid” is in “candidate”.

I think not! (Patting myself on the back for that one.)

The classification doesn’t change the music. The classification is NOT the music.

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