About Keeping Time

I once had a column called  “Keeping Time,” back in the pre-Internet days – back before personal computers, in fact.  It appeared weekly in the Entertainment section of the Henderson (Ky.) Gleaner and featured reviews of movies and music, with a dollop of commentary on popular culture. I was an expert on these matters by virtue of my passion and the ability to write about them with authority.

That would define much of the writing in the blogosphere, I’d say.  Most bloggers today have mounted their platforms to get things off their chest, or to get thoughts off their mind, or in some cases just simple mindless and heartless unloading. Some make a mark. Most don’t.

In that stream I cast this new blog, 40 years after initiating Keeping Time, an expanded mission. A wiser, more experienced perspective and voice, which has largely been exercised over those years in the service of others. I’m speaking up here, informed by all those college degrees and real-life pedigrees, working in the news business and as a message maven for unions and progressive organizations. I’ve helped raise five kids, evolved from Roman Catholicism to Taoism, and studied the drumbeat of history, of culture, and imagined the next generations. Why not Keeping Time?

Keeping Time is a title born out of my Glee Club years (yes, kids, I was “Glee” way before it was cool), and the idea of keeping time in music without the benefit of percussion – except for the piano or organ that we might have to drag along. Hence, keeping time. I was keeping time at the time, in my way, chasing Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, an Electric Kool Aid Acid Test adventure. I was particularly keen on popular culture, and I retain that interest, although my threshold for bullshit is substantially higher.

That’s the value of experience. I was transformed by the Vietnam War, as were many young men my age. In my case, a tip from the news editor of my hometown newspaper led to opportunities as a linguist and survivor, with transferable credits in a foreign language and the G.I. Bill waiting for me after the four most excruciating and humiliating years of my life.

Well, those were my initial impressions about military life. My view was seasoned after many years of reflecting on learning Chinese and Vietnamese, and spending quality time in both of those countries (the Taiwan side of China), plus Thailand, the Philippines and Okinawa. I learned a valuable lesson about the wages of war, and why they should or shouldn’t be fought.

And I was driven to understand what had happened, and what will happen. What is the arc of history, as it tends toward justice? Or does it? What can we do to prevent the military adventurism that was at the root of Vietnam and so many wars before and since? My mission to understand these challenges led me to Indiana University and its Independent Learning Program (ILP). It was a program so diverse that no one in the program knew anyone else in the program.

For example, while I was designing a course called “The Analysis of Contemporary Events,” my fellow ILP student, Will Shortz, was designing a course in “enigmatology,” the study of puzzles.  The jury is still out on my course of study, but Shortz, now the crossword puzzle editor of The New York Times, was celebrated in the great documentary, “Wordplay”:

Shortz is the only person known to have graduated with a degree in Enigmatology, thanks to the ILP. And I am the only person I know to have graduated with an undergraduate degree in “The Analysis of Contemporary Events,” combining history and literature with all the behavioral sciences – sociology, psychology, anthropology, political science and economics.

Working through the IU School of Journalism, I was also preparing myself for a master’s degree in Journalism, in which I used the analytical tools I developed as an undergraduate to develop my thesis, a critique of media coverage of the terrorist attack on the 1972 Munich Olympics, 30 years before 9/11 redefined international terrorism. I use the same systematic approach today to analyze events and ideas, to help develop strategic plans and carry out tactical communications.

Using a systems approach, I tend to see life, the universe and everything through the prism of scientific realism, as imagined in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. We are on a trajectory that favors logic and organization, toward mutual harmony and cooperation. But we must beware The Mutant, the irrational actor whose goal is to interrupt the rhythm and the harmony of natural order, who would impose his will to change the world to suit his ends, and no other.

I see this monster, in another literary form, as John Galt, the hero of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s paean to the grandeur of greed. Or Gordon Gecko, who epitomizes the modern Wall Street speculator, in it only for himself, to hell with everyone else. And, in political terms, that would be Donald J. Trump, who parlayed an inherited fortune with a reality TV hustle to become president of the United States, stoking hate and possibly upsetting the natural drift toward a rational dialectic of change.

You may disagree, or have a distinctly different viewpoint. I don’t mind. I hope to stimulate conversation about current events, culture and ideas. I think I offer a unique voice and critique of our life and times. But without your feedback, dear reader, Keeping Time means nothing.