Monthly Archives: January 2014

Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger

Working Class Hero: Pete Seeger

Dylan and Seeger
Bob Dylan with Pete Seeger at the Newport Folk Festival (1963) two years before going electric at the very same venue

It is often said that to understand Bob Dylan, you must first listen to Woody Guthrie. There is, however, a musician that serves as a bridge between the Dust Bowlin’ Guthrie and the iconic Dylan. That musician’s name is Pete Seeger.

Pete Seeger, who died this week at the ripe age of 94, was an early champion of Dylan. He also hopped trains and shared songs with Guthrie. In essence, Seeger helped connect Dylan to the folk past that he desperately wished to emulate. Seeger, along with Joan Baez, helped introduce the young musician to an audience that went beyond the cafes of Greenwich Village. Seeger also provided a great foil to Dylan. When the darling of the 1960’s protest movement decided to go electric at the Newport Folk Festival, Seeger was there to complain about the crushing rock noise masking Dylan’s masterful lyrics. Dylan, however, declared that he “ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more!” and the rest is history.

Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger entertaining Eleanor Roosevelt (center), honored guest at a racially integrated Valentine’s Day party in then-segregated Washington, D.C. (1944)

Needless to say, Bob Dylan served as my entry way into the music of Pete Seeger. Once there, I discovered a man who led a full musical life. He sang for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. He sang for President Barak Obama. And he sang for a bunch of ordinary folks in between. Seeger’s music touched the working class hearts of all who dared to listen. Recorded with the Weavers, his “If I Had a Hammer” is the perfect ode to the American worker and his need for a united political voice. It also inspired many other musicians to explore the needs of the working man. From John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” to Bruce Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tom Joad,” musicians have followed Seeger’s lead when it comes to identifying economic injustice.

If I had a hammer I’d hammer in the morning
I’d hammer in the evening all over this land
I’d hammer out danger, I’d hammer out warning
I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

If I had a bell I’d ring it in the morning
I’d ring it in the evening all over this land
I’d ring our danger, I’d ring out warning
I’d ring out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

If I had a song I’d sing it in the morning
I’d sing it in the evening all over this land
I’d sing out danger, I’d sing out warning
I’d sing out love between my sisters and my brothers
All over this land

When I’ve got a hammer, and I’ve got a bell
And I’ve got a song to sing all over this land
It’s a hammer of justice, it’s a bell of freedom
It’s a song about love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

-If I Had A Hammer (Pete Seeger / Lee Hays)

Seeger’s other musical themes touched on everything form civil rights to nuclear disarmament. His tough talk on tough topics was also backed by action. Blacklisted at the height of McCarthyism, Seeger refused to name names. His opposition to authority helped influence many young musicians who would take up the very same posture in the name of Rock n’ Roll.

When the Red Scare cooled, Seeger reemerged championing folk music and connecting with the emerging counterculture of the 1960s. He helped make “We Shall Overcome” the anthem of the Civil Rights movement and inspired President Lyndon Johnson to use the phrase when addressing the U.S. Congress on the need for voting rights legislation. While Johnson’s speech satisfied many that the establishment was finally on board, Seeger continued to press for change on a variety of issues. Most famously, Seeger criticized LBJ and his Vietnam war policies in songs like “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” and “Where Have all the Flowers Gone.” The war became so toxic for the once popular president that he refused to run for a second term in 1968.

“I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature . . . Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God.”

Seeger and the HudsonPete Seeger was an activist to the end. In fact, his greatest legacy may have little to do with music. His relentless environmental advocacy led to the cleaning up of the Hudson River. He united with local fisherman to reverse the damage done by countless polluters. Seeger tread new ground by refusing to rely on Washington lobbyists and Congressional glad-handing to get things done. Instead, he took to the river, sailed up and down its banks and created the blueprint for modern grassroots activism. It was a messianic effort that would have made Henry David Thoreau proud.

Pete Seeger was a folk troubadour. He was a working class hero, a contentious objector,  and a national treasure. Pete Seeger, above all else, was a great American.

Best Lines: Post Script: Pete Seeger (Alec Wilkinson)

Happy Birthday: The Mac @ 30!

It’s amazing that the Mac is now 30 years old!  I will never forget my first Mac. It was a  lime green iMac and it replaced an old Mac Performa I inherited from my Dad. It went with me everywhere.  From my Appalachian State apartment to my job at the photo lab to vacations at the beach.  It was so portable.

lime imacThat lime green iMac out hustled the PC my photo lab boss and his ditzy wife had built prior to me showing up. Some computer geek convinced them to spend untold amounts of money just so he could build a computer. Problem was the stupid thing never printed true color.  It was probably the first time I ever said those immortal words, “shoulda bought a Mac.” I’ve said it countless times ever since. From that point on, I hauled my iMac in to the photo lab everyday. Photoshop ran smoother and I never had a problem printing any of my digitally restored photos again.

Clinton Library MacsThe practicing of taking my Macs with me on the go continued with what I considered to be the best iMac ever made. I received a beautiful white flat panel iMac as a college graduation gift from my Dad. Not wanting to leave it behind on my study abroad trip, I actually had it shipped to Keele University in England. While it may have not been the most economical decision, it did help me make friends fairly quickly. Everyone was impressed with its design and the ground breaking OS X software that made Windows look like stale bread. From my 3 A.M. listening of the infamous Duke-Carolina game where Coach Doughtery threatened fisticuffs to my endless ripping of CDs for all my dorm-mates, that iMac helped me settle in quite nicely. I’ll also never forget explaining to one of the network engineers at the Keele library how I got my Mac to work with their backwards Internet protocol. He responded in a toasty English accent, “I’ve never seen a Mac before!” Makes me laugh to this day. That and the fact that I saw that very same iMac model enshrined at the Clinton Library in Little Rock.

These days, I carry a Macbook Pro everywhere I go. While it’s not the same as strapping in an iMac with a seatbelt, my new Retina model packs way more punch than those old CPUs. While I hope to write a full review someday of my new machine, for now I’ll just say it represents the most seamless computing experience I’ve ever had.

Funny thing is, all my family’s old Macs still work. My Granddad inherited my lime green iMac but he now prefers to work off an old MacBook Pro my Dad gave him. I’ll never forget him showing me the Baltimore Orioles homepage and asking me if I had ever seen it before. The man loves baseball and that computer brought it right into his living room. My brother still has an old bondi blue iMac and G4 tower that have yet to breathe their last breaths.  The white flat panel iMac I mentioned is operating in my office and it can still kick out a jam or two.  Best of all, my Dad’s old MacPlus still works to this day. You can even insert his MacPaint floppy disk and make cool retro art!


What a great 30 years of computing. And according to MacWorld and the Apple Executive team, the Mac is here to stay.  Check out their article, Apple executives on the Mac at 30: ‘The Mac keeps going forever.’  What else is there to do but say, “Thank you Steve Jobs! Thank you Apple.”



1968: The Year the Country Broke

D-Day InvasionMy appreciate for all things history comes naturally. I’ve always been drawn to stories from the past. Perhaps it stems from the tales my Granddad often shares from his World War II days. The fact that I can draw a straight line from his surviving the Battle of the Bulge to my own upbringing mystifies me to this day.  Looking back at history also requires one to have an opinion. My Granddad is never shy to give his viewpoint about what was right and wrong about that war.  From his admiration of Eisenhower to his disdain for Patton, he emphasized the need to go beyond simple glorification for those that called the shots and sent young men to die. For instance, he is often critical of the senseless brutality of the D-Day invasion. Too many historians take for granted the lives that were permanently disrupted in that first wave of Nazi gunfire. In doing so, my Granddad argues, they offer very little counterpoint to the operation’s necessity.

Williams classroomOn this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I am again thinking about history and that line I can trace backwards. As a teacher I enjoyed helping students discover the historical line that connects them to the nation’s past.  Unlike my Granddad, I kept my opinions out of the classroom conversation in favor of giving the students the forum to say what needed to be said. I never put bumper stickers on my car or let them know my political leanings. As a teacher, I felt it was necessary to allow students to test the waters of critical thinking without my interference.  Besides I always found that, with a little prodding and devil’s advocacy, students would cover all the angles when debating historical issues and events.  From the timing of the Emancipation Proclamation to the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, my students always gave their all to prove a point.

Only once did I break my class rule about the brokering of opinions. It came in an ad-libbed discussion of 1968.  A year that opened with the Tet Offensive and the mounting failure of Vietnam. It was a year when political protests turned violent and Chicago’s Democratic National Convention was cracked open with police bully clubs. The year Richard Nixon was elected by one of the thinnest margins in American history. And most importantly, 1968 was the year that brought an end to the much-needed leadership of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy.

Put simply, I told my students that 1968 was the most pivotal year in United States political history. It represented a fork in the line. The country could have gone in one direction but instead events on the ground forced it to choose another. I talked about what both men stood for. I talked about King’s Poor People’s Campaign and his discussion of issues, like Vietnam, that went beyond his advocacy for racial justice.  I talked about Kennedy’s platform for President.  How it sought, in its own way, to mediate the impending crises that were about to rock the nation.

I am today announcing my candidacy for the presidency of the United States. I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies. I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and because I have such strong feelings about what must be done, and I feel that I’m obliged to do all I can.” -Robert F. Kennedy

AR 7993-B (crop)I told my students that their deaths ensured that the nation would stay on the more perilous course.  A course we can all trace our current national upbringing back to. And while their martyrdom has inspired many to look beyond themselves and ask how they might be of service to the nation’s greater good, their deaths represent the fact that we have lost a portion of our moral center.

That moral center was firmly established in our addressing the nation’s ills head on. We combatted the Great Depression by striking at the heart economic injustice. We helped preserve democracy during World War II by leading the world against tyranny. This made our nation a beacon of light for the world to see and, in turn, emulate. We then expanded on that light when our nation took up the struggle against segregation and enshrined an individual’s civil and political rights into law. That light, however, became more fleeting with the deaths of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy. I told my students our country has searched for its moral center ever since. On occasion, we find it. We do the right thing. It seems, however, that center doesn’t quite hold any more.

Booby and Ethel Kennedy. MLK Funeral.At the tail-end of my diatribe, I caught myself. I paused. I had let myself do too much of the talking. I had let my opinions flow as freely as my Granddad does during our Sunday get-togethers. I must admit it felt good.

It was then that I decided to return the stage back to the history makers themselves. I asked my students, “Did you know Robert Kennedy delivered the eulogy at Martin Luther King’s funeral?” They responded that they had not.  I told them I was an admirer of the speech but that I preferred the unscripted words Kennedy spoke the night he found out about the assassination. It reveals him to be a remarkable and poetic man. I played them the YouTube clip (an amazing teacher tool) of that lonely night’s remarks. My students were captivated. They saw the fleeting light I spoke of Kennedy’s fatigued face, a man truly devastated by the news. They then heard the echoes of that light in his conciliatory and heart-felt words.

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black” – Robert F. Kennedy

MLK monumentOn this day of  Martin Luther King remembrance I choose to trace myself back to that moment in 1968. The moment encapsulated by those words. They serve as a challenge to us all to remember that we need not be divided. A reminder that we can rediscover our moral center by working together. By loving one another. It may seem fleeting at times, but we can still connect with others despite our perceived differences. It is the hallmark of union. Jefferson, Lincoln, King, Kennedy (and many others) improved this country by focusing on the promise of togetherness and equality. We can, too. All one has to do is trace the historical line backwards that connects them to the men and women that populate the past. We should all be inspired by the progress that they have made on our behalf. With inspiration as our guide, we should in turn add our own contribution to the national timeline, helping it move forward as we on occasion look back.


The Final Four: NFL Edition

If the NFL Post-season was Las Vegas and I was your bookie, you would already be shopping for another odds-maker to place your bets. I did improve upon my horrendous 1-3 start last weekend by getting 2 out of 4 games correct. As a former history teacher, I know that’s still a failing grade. My one regret was picking the Carolina Panthers. The bandwagon got to me! Like everyone else in Charlotte, however, I was thrown firmly off the bandwagon cart by last weekend’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Alas, if I go two for two this weekend my NFL guesstimation record will be back to an impressive .500.  A correct Super Bowl pick would put me over the top and allow me to quietly claim this whole exercise wasn’t a total wash. Unfortunately for me, there are actually games to play and determining who will emerge victorious is no easy task. With that said, let’s get to the picks! This weekend NFL Conference Championship’s final four teams have some perennial stalwarts vying for a chance at Super Bowl glory. The San Francisco 49ers, the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos all have trophy cases full of championship hardware. The dark horse upstart of the group, the Seattle Seahawks, is the only team that seems out-of-place. Last week, I stated the Seahawks had never been to a Super Bowl. I forgot the boring crush of their 2005 Super Bowl appearance against the Pittsburg Steelers that ended in a 21-10 beating.

New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos (Sunday 3:00PM)

Conference Championship weekend starts with a heavyweight matchup between QB Tom Brady’s Patriots versus QB Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos. It is impossible to talk about this matchup without considering the rivalry between the two star quarterbacks. It has largely been one-sided with Brady taking 10 of 14 games to the house.  Brady has made it to five Super Bowls (winning three). Manning, however, has only made two Super Bowl appearances (winning one). Most sportswriters use these stats to argue for a New England victory. There is one stat that should worry the Patriots.  Brady is only 5-6 in his career against the Broncos.  One of those meetings was a 45-10 beat down in the 2011 playoffs. Needless to say there’s hope Denver fans!

Despite all the historical stats working against Manning, I think he prove all the haters wrong. His team has been my Super Bowl favorite from the beginning for several reasons.  First, Manning has players in both the passing and running game he can count on.  Knowshon Moreno has rushed for over a 1,000 yards this year and has provided balance to an offense that can flat-out throw the ball. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker have joined for 3,496 receiving yard and 35 touchdowns.  The Broncos will light up New England’s low-rated defense. I’m picking the Broncos because they have exhibited the ability to score at will.

The one thing that should give Denver fans pause, is their defense.  The Broncos rank 27th in the NFL against the pass and Tom Brady exploited this weakness earlier this season to engineer a surprising 34-31 comeback victory.  Brady has led his team to a 12-4 record despite having only one 1,000 yard receiver (Julian Edelman) on the roster.  Brady has proven he can win no matter who lines up next to him.  This prospect should scare the Broncos fans everywhere because no lead is safe against the experienced half-time game planning of Brady and his coach, Bill Belichick  Here’s hoping Denver can score enough points to hold off the Patriots and secure Peyton Manning a third shot at Super Bowl glory.

Final Score:  Broncos 34-Patriots 27

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks (Sunday 6:30PM)

The Sunday night game, while not as glamorous as the Manning-Brady Bowl, offers another compelling match up.  The 49ers are pushing for a second straight Super Bowl appearance, while the Seahawks have worked hard to legitimize their status as one the NFL’s best.  Both teams split their regular season match-ups and I expect the game’s outcome to go down to the wire.

As I stated last week, the 49ers and QB Colin Kaepernick’s  playoff experience should give them an edge. The 49ers, however, will be facing a team that ranks 1st against the pass and that has the 7th best defense in the NFL.  This means Kaepernick and his sidekick running back Frank Gore have their work cut out for them.  The QB threw 5 picks this season against Seattle.  He has, however, had more success with his legs and  I expect him to run when under pressure.  It’s this running ability (7.5 yard average in the post-season), along with Frank Gore’s knack for popping off big runs like the 51 yard winner in his last match-up against Seattle, that gives the 49ers a slight edge. I also think having Tight End Vernon Davis back in the fold gives Kaepernick a much needed mid-range passing target to compliment the the deep threat ability of Wide Reciever Michael Crabtree. It is no coincidence the team has not lost since Crabtree rejoined its roster.

The Seahawks are in trouble if Russell Wilson continues his lackluster post-season performance.  He only passed for a 108 yards in his last game. Fortunately for him, his poor play was bailed out by Marshawn Lynch’s 140 yard two touchdown performance. Wilson is the X-factor in this game.  If he can overcome the loss of Percy Harvin and make some meaningful passing plays down the field, the Seahawks may have a shot at the Super Bowl. Their defense will keep the game close. Home field advantage will also be huge here because Seattle has one of the loudest stadiums in the league. Even so, I expect the 49ers to make the most noise and will themselves into their second straight Super Bowl.

 Final Score: 49ers 24-Seahawks 21

Cutting the Wire: Best of CES

CESIt’s always fun to read about the latest gadgetry introduced at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Compiling a list on the most intriguing tech is difficult.  The show offers everything from the coolest tech infused cars to the latest smartphone accessories. I’ve read a lot of cool stuff about the show but the best list I’ve come across was compiled by the  It is one of my favorite websites and I tripped across this particular link when reading John Gruber’s blog, Daring Fireball. The Wirecutter choose to focus on realistic tech offerings instead of conceptual tech that may never make it to your living room. As one site commenter note, “the lack of hype” is refreshing.

A Realist Guide to CES Tech

After plenty of research, input from experts and old-fashioned shoe leather reporting, our team identified about a dozen items that they think could be reflective of tech in 2014. This isn’t a list of the flashiest or most obscure products of 2014, but rather things that could actually hold up to critical scrutiny, and possibly even challenge the leaders in their respective categories. Things that actually make sense in our daily lives that we’re excited to see pan out over the next 12 months.

Gruber and I both like the Occulus Rift and Engadget awarded the virtual reality headset Best of CES.   Gruber has some smart analysis about the show, too.  The most interesting commentary centers around how Apple and Google are catered to by a lot of companies at CES, but Microsoft and it’s hardware offerings are virtually ignored by the conference.  This is a huge reversal of fortune for a company that once dominated the entire computing world. It is my opinion that the game has changed completely and Microsoft is being relegated back to just being a software company.