Thursday, May 18, 2017

Protect Eddie Vedder

grunge rock legends singer Kurt Cobain Nirvana Layne Staley Alice In Chains Scott Weiland Stone Temple Pilots Chris Cornell Soundgarden Eddie Vedder Pearl Jam

Please tell me someone is keeping an eye on Eddie Vedder. I don't want the guy on a plane, in a car, or near anything sharp. 
...he's all we have left. 

There were 5 distinct voices that created grunge rock. They created a new genre. They sang about what we were going through. They were the voice of the group of kids that were half Gen-X and not quite Millennial. Their music spoke to us in raspy, guttural west-coast accents and we listened. Their sounds were distorted, but the message was clear. 

Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, STP, and Pearl Jam. These bands were the last real rock bands. They had melody, rhythm, guitar solos, and vocal harmony. They were sad but beautiful, angst-ridden but deeply moving. They were inspired by classic rock sounds and structures but full of new ideas. I told my Dad in 1992 that one day you'll hear Pearl Jam and Nirvana on classic rock radio stations.
I was right. 

The passing of Chris Cornell marks the 4th legendary grunge vocalist to leave this world #TooSoon. Perhaps we should've seen it coming with songs like "Pretty Noose," "Like Suicide," and "Blow Up the Outside World," but art can come from dark places. Cornell literally wore a noose in a music video for his last solo album. 
A clearer cry for help could not be possible. 

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana was the first in 1994 at 27 years of age. He was on top of the world and fans were devastated. The official cause of death is suicide but Unsolved Mysteries and Private Eye Tom Grant believe otherwise. 

The second was Layne Staley of Alice In Chains in 2002 at the age of 34. Band mate Sean Kinney described his death as the "longest suicide" he'd ever seen. The last 4 years of his life were spent reclusively with heavy drug use. 

Our third loss was Scott Weiland of the Stone Temple Pilots in 2015 at age 48. He had a record of drug use and arrests, but seemed to be doing better. He had just put out a new solo record called Blaster, added vocals to a new band called Art of Anarchy, and then died on tour from a combination of cocaine and prescription drugs. 

Chris Cornell was as popular as ever. His latest solo album was a reflective and grown up collection of mostly-acoustic songs about life and love. He had gotten sober in 2002, and said that during the Soundgarden reunion tours the Jack Daniels and beer bottles were "just not there." The band was headlining every major festival this summer. Then he commits suicide at the age of 52, leaving behind a wife and three children. 

There's something about creative people. Perhaps they are more sensitive than the rest of us. They have the ability to capture the raw feelings most of us feel and put them into words. They experience all of life, the highs and lows. These guys sang with power and heart and you can feel what they are feeling when you listen. 

Apparently their talent comes at a personal cost. I think Robin Williams would agree. 

Some say it's just music. They're just people.
...but there's so much more to it than that. These people created something that means the world to us. These songs were there for us during our worst day, our best day, our first kiss... and everything in between. They're an old friend. Now they're gone. 

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam is the only grunge rocker left. He seems to be in good health. Let's hope it stays that way. 

Our parents' generation still has Paul McCartney. They still have all of The Rolling Stones, somehow. They still have Frampton. The closest they could get to understanding how the grunge generation feels right now is probably John Lennon, who died in 1980 at the age of 40. You cannot help but feel like a piece of your own life has been extinguished. We will never know what the next song might have been. 

In my collection, I have all of Cornell's solo albums, Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and dozens of songs he contributed to with other artists. I'm gonna play each of these songs all the way through and enjoy the heart and soul he poured into every note... and hope not to do the same for Pearl Jam anytime soon. 

- John Powers

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


I've decided to go phoneless for the month of February. Not just "I'm not gonna check Facebook as often," but completely phoneless. It will be powerless, literally and figuratively. It will be turned off and lying in a junk drawer, because that's where it belongs. Several factors prompted this experiment. 
  1. We used to not have them. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when we did not have email or social media or attention-hogging apps and games in our pockets at all times. They beg for your attention and steal valuable time away from loved ones, friends, and other recreational activities. I'd like to go back to a simpler time, if only for a month. I'd like to look around instead of down. I'd like to see birds and dogs and trees instead of the same ol' glowing screen. 
  2. We may be addicted. Can you do it? We rely so heavily on these things that going a single day without a phone is a challenge. When anything has that type of control over your daily behaviors you may want to reconsider its place in your life. Do we own our phones, or do our phones own us?
  3. There's nothing good on. I'm getting very tired of hearing about politics and which of my friends agree with which side. It used to be fun to see whose band was playing this weekend or which of my college roommates is getting married. Social media has become a dumping-ground for all of our opinions and whatever anyone else shares that we relate to. I don't think I will miss being bombarded with advertising or articles about the latest health craze. 
More than anything, I want to remember a time when I was truly free. Free to daydream or to be fully present in a conversation. Free to listen to music while driving without being interrupted by a text message. Free to live life without distraction. 

Let the record show I am a daily Facebook voyeur and Twitterer with a large following on both due to my former life as a Standup Comedian. I've got 18,000+ Twitter followers, some of whom expressed that they would miss me. 

I'm excited about this experiment and hopeful that it will become a yearly event where for 28 days I remind myself that there's more to life than getting a new high score on Angry Birds. 


So... after 28 days without Facebook or Twitter (my wife convinced me that phone calls and texts were a necessity, but I deleted all social media apps), there are several things worth mentioning. 
  1. I don't miss Facebook at all. It's amazing to me how suddenly and all-encompassingly this social media network snuck into the daily habits of 79% of Americans. I don't miss the political posts (the ones I agree with or not), and I don't miss the daily musings of people I am not close to. I'm trying to think about what I miss about Facebook. I guess seeing pictures of family and friends in other states is a big one, but people who knew I was doing this made it a point to text me pictures and keep in touch without Facebook. I returned to over 60 notifications and 7 messages. Also, on a daily basis after 2 weeks or so, Facebook sent me daily reminders to log in and see what I was missing. It felt good disobeying them. 
  2. Twitter was harder for me to step away from than Facebook. I really enjoy sharing witty jokes in 140 characters, and I actually wrote a few down to share sometime in march ("Can whomever is writing the replacement to #Obamacare please include “$10 co-pay for PCP, $20 co-pay for specialist” #MakeCopaysGreatAgain"). Twitter is also my go-to for news and it took some getting used to not having that app to scroll through. I returned to 114 notifications. 
  3. I don't feel like I actually missed anything. This past month I've felt very calm and even though I was not socially connected I felt more connected to the universe. This past weekend we took canoes down the St. Johns River and marveled in the beauty of nature. We saw turtles and birds and ducks. I've actually been less inclined to watch the news on TV this month at all. I have no idea where the latest shooting happened. I have no idea what the latest political protest is about... and frankly I don't care. 
They say it takes 21 days to form or to overcome an addiction. It seems I was not addicted to Facebook or Twitter because it's day 28 and I feel fine. I went from being a 10+ times per day user on each to 0, and it didn't hurt. There were several times that I wished I had the option, but those moments passed with little to no impact. 

#FonelessFebruary felt good. I plan to do it again next year and I'd encourage you to do the same regardless of how often you use social media. 

Obviously I realize I'm posting this on social media. I'm not blind to the benefits of the interweb. It can be a great way to market yourself and reach a huge audience. It can also be a time suck. Like anything else, moderation is key. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Not Every Life Matters

The Black Lives Matter movement evokes the question, "Do black lives matter?" The group, in its name, is saying yes, but that is their response to the question. Asking that question may be helpful in understanding the present conflict. It also leads to other questions. Does every individual life matter? Are each of us special and interesting? Do we all have a place and purpose? 

The answer is... no. 

Let's take the race thing away for a moment. I am not writing this to prove that black lives do not matter. The racial tension in America is palpable, but black people are not uniquely unimportant. People of every skin tone are susceptible to meaninglessness. 

There are huge numbers of people out there whose lives do not matter. Take a look at any random street in any large city and you will see people whose lives do not matter.

You don't have to look far to see drug dealers, drug users, pimps, prostitutes, and other examples of humans who are not making a positive impact on the community. The good of the society as a whole does not rely on these people being alive. 

I know what you're thinking, 'those are degenerates, they don't count.' That's not true. If every life matters than everyone counts. These people are lives that do not matter. There may come a time when they clean up, get born again, and turn it all around... at that point they might matter more, but in their current state they matter not. 

For the sake of your counterpoint, I will also bring into the argument the likes of loners and cat-ladies. The guy who watches the same horror movies over and over every night and who has nothing in his life besides a few hours spent selling cigarettes at a gas station. Perhaps he makes a few customers smile when they come in. The woman who has more cats than friends; living in a litter-covered house and completely giving up on lint brushes. She matters to her cats. Well, maybe not. Cats don't really care. Either way, neither of these people matter much to society as a whole. 

How do we decide whether or not something matters? Well, that is largely subjective. I am not a fan of basketball, so it does not matter to me who the Knicks are playing, or if they win or lose. 

When people hold up sign that say "Black Lives Matter" or "All Lives Matter," I would urge you to disagree. It's about numbers. The more our population grows the less significant each human life becomes. There was a time in human history that every member of a village made a contribution and had value. They all mattered. 

Let's say there are 4 people living in a village. Each of their lives count for 25% of the whole. If one of those people dies, leaving the village at 75% output, the other 3 would each need to contribute 8.33% more to compensate. They would pick up an extra task to compensate for the loss of the fourth person. That person's life mattered to the other three people, because that person's efforts were necessary to the daily survival of that community. 

Not All Lives Matter Black White Cops Shooting Shoot Kill Harmony Live Life Love TogetherAs of March, 2016, there are 7,400,000,000 people in the world. That means each life counts for 0.000000001% of the whole. That's a very low individual contribution. It would take 1,850,000,000 of us to amount to 25%. That's 500 million more people than are currently living in China. If the entire population of China died tomorrow the entire world would certainly feel the effects. If one person died tomorrow, the only people impacted would be those who cared about that one person. 

There are certainly spectrums of importance. I think we can agree that the life of a doctor who specializes in heart disease or a scientist working on a cure for cancer are undoubtedly more substantial than a loner or a cat lady. You simply cannot argue that the lives of some people matter more than the lives of others. 

As George Orwell put it in Animal Farm, "All pigs are equal... but some pigs are more equal than others." Some of us matter very much. Some of us do not matter at all. Corporate downsizing has proven that it does not matter if a company has 500 employees or 200 employees. The same work will get done. Even the loss of someone as profound as Robin Williams only impacts us for a week or two. There will never be a sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire. What does it matter?

It is up to each one of us to make our lives matter. They do not matter on their own. It is not the body but the soul that gives us value and determines who we are. It is not the color of our skin but the content of our character. We each need to define what is important to us. We need to do good things and choose the right paths. If you want your life to matter, pick a cause to champion, build a great career, or cultivate a healthy family life. If your life matters to the people you spend your time with then you have succeeded in adding value to society. 

...only then will your life matter. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Facebook is Listening

 Background App Refresh Facebook Mobile Runs Listens Mic Microphone Terms of Service Use Update Agreement Hears Conversation You Talking Private Privacy Spy Creepy Confirms Stores Data

So... Facebook is listening to your conversations. There's no fancy or poetic way of saying it. Those 'terms of service' agreements you acknowledged when you downloaded the app updates gave Facebook access to your phone's camera and microphone (as well as pictures, video, call log, and contacts). There is literal proof that this is happening. I'll tell you my firsthand experience, but try it for yourself and be prepared to be scared. 

Background App Refresh Facebook Mobile Runs Listens Mic Microphone Terms of Service Use Update Agreement Hears Conversation You Talking Private Privacy Spy Creepy Confirms Stores Record Data
My wife and I were having a conversation with my brother and his wife about ADD. One of us suggested that perhaps it is a condition caused by lazy parenting, and that some attention and restrictions could make a child more patient and well-behaved... another idea was that perhaps all children struggle with a short attention span. Either way, someone noted, there are better solutions than medication.

Minutes later my wife opened the Facebook app on her phone and saw an article on ADD and the over-medication of children. 

Coincidence? Maybe. 

Later that night we get on the subject of dentistry. I explained my "dentists are quacks" theory and we slowly moved to discussions about fluoride and Tom's organic toothpaste. Finally, my brother made the point that Neanderthals did just fine without ever seeing a dentist. That's a very far-out topic and the last thing we would expect... happened. 

My wife opened her Facebook app to find an article suggestion about prehistoric dentistry. 

Still not convinced? Ok. 

We explained this phenomenon to my parents and my Dad couldn't resist testing our hypothesis. After we told him Facebook is listing for keywords in conversations he leaned close to my Mom's phone and started describing how much he wanted a new Jaguar. "You know, I am really in the market for a new Jaguar, I just don't know where to get one." 

Seconds later my Mom looked at her phone and sure enough the very first "article" Facebook suggested was an ad for a Jaguar dealership. 

...we all know that terms you search in Google are tracked and categorized (in case you murder someone and recently did a search for axes and the best place to hide a body). We have come to accept that the things we type into a computer are no longer private.

However, we have not intentionally signed up for this flagrant invasion of our privacy through our phones' microphones and cameras. Conversations that we have with other humans should be private unless we are aware that they are being recorded. Most of us have no idea that our phones are listening in on our private exchanges with loved ones and trusted companions. We have a right to know that social media companies are tracking our interests and opinions based on the things we say... while the app is not even running.

Turning off the "Background App Refresh" button is no longer an option. I have not updated my Facebook app since version 29, but my wife has version 46.

Background App Refresh Facebook Mobile Runs Listens Mic Microphone Terms of Service Use Update Agreement Hears Conversation You Talking Private Privacy Spy Creepy
As you can see, she does not have the option to shut off Background App Refresh on her phone. It is "greyed out." That leads me to believe that Facebook is running anytime it wants, and can access the microphone, camera, or any other feature... anytime at all.

... but what are we going to do about it? Log off? Use Safari instead of the app? We are so addicted to social media that we have little recourse. We want to see our friends without calling them. We want to see our families without getting on a plane. The price of this convenience is our privacy, and we are paying dearly.

The only thing that can stop an irresponsible company from taking advantage of people is a massive shift in perspective. The people need to choose not to allow this to happen by deleting the app or turning off their phones.

... hey, it worked with MySpace!

Watch 'Facebook': A parody by John Powers

* it should be noted, this is not the first article to address the breach of privacy in the Facebook terms of service. Various news media have tried and failed to save us from ourselves. Here are several other sources that address this topic...

This article is on Facebook Messenger permissions:

This article poses the question, then quotes Facebook saying it's a myth:

This article covers Facebook identifying songs:

International Business thinks we will get used to the privacy invasion:

Facebook got this article to correct itself and remove the word "eavesdropping":

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Fourth of July Playlist

My wife and I are having family over to celebrate the 4th of July. I decided to put together a playlist for our iPod Nano, which will be docked outside for our listening pleasure. Before looking at the list below, you should know that I am a patriotic person... to a degree. I'm a believer in the ideals established by the founders of this country. This list was my attempt to have a larger and more comprehensive list than any of those I found online.

Any song in my collection that had the words "July 4th, Freedom, Star, United, America, Country..." all made it on to the list. Some are more patriotic than others, but they all have implications that relate to our country and various opinions of it... Here goes:

American Flag Old Glory July 4th of Freedom United Songs Playlist Music 

All Star -  Smash Mouth
America - Neil Diamond
America - Paul Simon
American Baby - Dave Matthews
American Cliche - Filter
American Eulogy - Green Day
American Gigolo - Weezer
American Girl - Tom Petty
American Girls - Counting Crows
American Girls - Weezer
American Idiot - Green Day
American Idiot - Richard Cheese
American Life - Primus
American Man - Velvet Revolver
American Music - The Hold Steady
American Pie - Don McLean
American Psycho - Eminem & Cypress Hill
American Witch - Rob Zombie
American Woman - The Guess Who
American Woman - Lenny Kravitz
Americana - Offspring
Awakening Americans - Alanis Morissette
Cry Freedom - Dave Matthews
Cumbersome - Seven Mary Three
(off their American Standard album!)
Falling Stars - Serj Tankian
February Stars - Foo Fighters
First Night - The Hold Steady
Flagpole Sitter - Harvey Danger
For God and Country - Smashing Pumpkins
Freedom - Jimi Hendrix
Freedom - Paul McCartney
Freedom - Rage Against the Machine
Geek U.S.A. - Smashing Pumpkins
Hurt - Johnny Cash 
(off his American IV album!)
I'm Afraid of Americans - David Bowie
Last of the American Girls - Green Day
Let Freedom Ring - The Nightwatchman
Living in America - James Brown
Lump - The Presidents of the United States
Omaha - Counting Crows
Peaches - The Presidents of the United States
Road Trippin' - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Rockin' in the Free World - Neil Young
Saturday in the Park - Chicago
Seven Nation Army - The White Stripes
Shooting Star - Puddle of Mudd
Solidarity Forever - The Nightwatchman
Song from an American Movie - Everclear
Star Spangled Banner - Jimi Hendrix
Starz - Smashing Pumpkins
Surf Wax America - Weezer
Swing, Swing - The All-American Rejects
This is Not America - David Bowie
This Land is Your Land -  Counting Crows
This Land is Your Land - The Nightwatchman
United States - Smashing Pumpkins
We're an American Band - Rob Zombie
White America - Eminem
Young American - David Bowie
40oz to Freedom - Sublime
4th of July - Soundgarden

... you're welcome.