Feliciano, Ives, and Williams can all go to hell

By the time many of you get around to reading this column, the 2013 holiday season will have officially begun.
But my thoughts aren’t quite on the holidays yet. Last week, news outlets everywhere reported on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Amid all the talk of Dallas, book depository windows, and Oswald, I heard Kennedy’s famous exhortation.
“Ask not what this country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” It really struck a nerve with me.
After covering two community forums on drug abuse and suicide, not to mention reading over the case reports from the Sheriff’s office, I know there are many of us who could use a generous dose of holiday spirit — the real kind.
Just a small bit of advice to you readers.
If your last fortnight has been similar to mine, you might want to wait a few days before buying tickets to “Catching Fire,” the second part of The Hunger Games trilogy.
Let me tell you, nothing says “Happy Holidays” quite like watching a movie about the oppression of a tyrannical government on the middle classes and working poor.
Fortunately, it also happens to be a very good movie and, unlike a lot of movies released around this time, it does inspire quite a bit of thought.
Which, to be candid, is exactly the kind of holiday spirit I prefer.
One of the minor tugs-of-war my wife and I engage in throughout the holidays is just how much is “too much” Christmas music.
For her, there is no such thing as “too much.” When she is driving to work alone, the radio is tuned to every Christmas mix station on the band and, for variety, the XM Christmas music channel.
Me? I can’t handle that much holly and jolly.
I have already developed an irrational hostility toward Burl Ives and Jose Feliciano for ever recording “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Feliz Navidad,” respectively.
The only reason Gene Autry is okay is because I reserve all my remaining ill-will toward Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
It’s a perfectly wonderful song, but it doesn’t quite match the way I like to approach the holidays.
I always thought the song made too many demands on my mood.
The course of these last two weeks has asked us all to digest a lot of information about issues affecting this community. It has posed many questions and laid down some challenges for us all to consider.
But we all know that the answers are elusive. At the Champions forum in the Christian Church, I thought Doug Miller spelled out well his personal sense of frustration that there is no magic answer to the drug abuse problem affecting this region. But he also defined for the community the challenges and long term goals we need to achieve.
He laid it down for us. It starts with the community, not the legal system. By the time he gets involved, its too late most of the time.
But after the challenge has been posed, what perfect timing to take a brief hiatus this holiday season to mull over the ways that we can contribute to the answer.
I think the end of the year should invite that kind of reflection, even if it doesn’t lend itself to making this time the most wonderful of the year.
It is important to celebrate the ways that we are already moving forward and the plateaus we have reached. And personally, I think those quiet moments of celebration are as important as our thoughts for others at this time.
But its also a time to take a breath, enjoy the celebrations, and think upon a new start, not just for ourselves, but in service to our community.
Kennedy had it right. Its not about ourselves and its not about what we can get. It always is about how we can serve.

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Was there ever a time when the world wasn’t coming to an end?

Was there ever a time when the world wasn’t coming to an end?

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When I was an undergraduate at Denison University, one of my senior study classes focused on the year 1939. Why we were studying that specific year is not pertinent other than to point out that, in pop culture, the year began with the release of the movie “The Wizard of Oz” and ended with “Gone With the Wind,” which my professor considered an apt metaphor for our country’s history as we emerged from The Great Depression and entered World War II.
As part of my research, I was rummaging through the periodicals reading articles from a popular music magazine of the late 1930s. In the letters section of one issue, a reader asked if it would harm a serious musician’s development if they dabbled in the playing of swing music or jazz. You know, just for kicks.
The editor’s response was stern.
Not only would playing jazz erode the student’s natural musical ability, it would lead the student along a steady downward path to moral degradation and sin. Jazz, the editor wrote, was the gateway to alcoholism, drug abuse, teen pregnancy and every other societal ill that beset the age.
You may think that the editor was making a joke, but the letter’s tone was dead serious. The world was going to hell led by a morally debased youth culture that embraced the evils of swing and dance music. The youth had turned their backs on the purity of classical music and, by extension, on the traditional values upon which our country was based.
Fifty years later, we would find a new label for the youth of this time period. We would call them The Greatest Generation.
When I was a young boy growing up in Carrollton, Kentucky in the late 1970s and early 80s, the technology was different, pop culture was different, but the young people were still in trouble and heading down a path of moral and personal self-destruction because of drugs – marijuana, cocaine, heroin – and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy and suicide.
And for me and my classmates, I guess one could argue that it was true to an extent. Carrollton was a great town to grow up in and there were far more good people in it than bad.
But it was also a place to do some fast living if you sought it out. Being the only wet county west of Cincinnati and east of Louisville, there was a point when our community failed to respond to some warning signs.
Dive bars proliferated in our town square and Saturday night was a busy night for the police dealing with the kind of people that that kind of environment attracts.
I suppose things came to a head when three well publicized incidents occurred. Some middle and high school students were arrested for selling tranquilizers they had stolen from their parents’ medicine cabinet.
The school administration called a public forum. Unfortunately, I recall vividly how that forum wound up a disaster.
Two mistakes were made. The first was that the school administration was more concerned with trying to absolve itself of blame and never thought about what this community forum could accomplish. The second was that the public was given no clear direction in which to channel their concerns and questions. Lacking that guidance, the discussion dissolved into a “blame game” where the more incendiary the comment from whomever held the microphone, the louder the applause.
It wasn’t quite The Jerry Springer Show, but honestly, it wasn’t that far off.

The sad result was that nothing positive came out of the forum. At least nothing that I can recall.

Twice recently I have composed articles for the Cynthiana Democrat in which I have used the word “epidemic” to describe a rise in suicide, especially among teens, and drug abuse. After having written those articles, one might be tempted to believe that, once again, the youth of our community are being led down an ever spiraling path, the sky is falling and oh, how awful the future looks.
But read further and you will also see other articles about teenagers and adults in the Harrison County community that are accomplishing some pretty amazing things.
In the next two weeks, two forums have been scheduled to address situations that have occurred in Harrison County.

The Harrison County School forum on “Understanding Teenagers” happens on Monday, Nov. 18, at 6 p.m. at the high school that specifically addresses teen suicide. Champions for a Drug-Free Harrison County will host a meeting on drugs the following Monday, Nov. 25, at 5:30 p.m. in the Cynthiana Christian Church.
Honestly, I think that Harrison County Schools and the Champions for a Drug-Free Harrison County are approaching these issues in the right way.
 They are looking to an outside source to inspire people to devise ideas that will move us forward. But the responsibility for moving this community forward falls upon our shoulders – parents, educators, spiritual leaders, business owners, medical providers, elected officials, police officers and deputies, senior citizens and neighbors.  
It takes groups large and small committed to following through on these ideas that will turn the tide on those forces that have always striven to drag a community down.
But I think its also important to know that our kids are all right. Their situation is no more precarious than it was for us at that age.
For five straight years, I have welcomed into my home teenagers from different corners of the globe – enough so that I can state this as confidently as Dr. Hatim Omar did at our meeting concerning the upcoming forum at the high school.
Teenagers are the same the world over.  
Though they may never admit it outwardly, they want direction from adults that they trust and we have an obligation make time for them. Furthermore, we should maintain high expectations about their behavior, especially in the way they treat other people.
The most important lesson we as a community can teach our kids is that the sky is not falling.
In fact, the world is a wonderful place best experienced with senses sharp and alive rather than dulled. And one of the reasons the world is wonderful is because of the teenagers that are in it, with all their weird music and questionable tastes.