Author - Paul Schatzkin

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week

The Beatles at Shea Stadium - August 15, 1966

This past Thursday night I attended the sold-out opening screening of “Eight Days A Week” – director Ron Howard’s ode to The Beatles that focuses primarily on their touring years, from 1962-1966.

It is hard now not to think of The Beatles as anything other than a phenomenon – Beatlemania! – and an iconic force of musical nature.  They were all of those things, but what this movie so effectively reminds us – as John Lennon famously said somewhere in the “Beatles Anthology” – is that they were “just a band.”

But oh my, what a band…

With vintage photos and film clips from the late 1950s and early 60s, “Eight Days A Week” shows us  four guys who grew up together (OK, maybe not so much Ringo, who joined The Beatles just as they started their recording career, but he shared their scrappy Liverpool origins).  It was essentially John’s band from the beginning, but part of his gift was his ability to recognize in Paul and George talent and ambition equal to his own.

The mission of the documentary is to trace the full arc of their years as a touring band:  from the clubs of Hamburg were their sound was forged, to the Cavern Club in Liverpool where they found their audience, and eventually around the world, where their concerts were drowned out by screaming fans.  Throughout the arc we are watch as the role “pop music” in the cultural firmament is transformed in front of our eyes and ears.

But the full power and sheer artistry of The Beatles is more fully conveyed in the 30 minutes of concert footage that follows the documentary.

Here are The Beatles in a truly epic setting: Shea Stadium in New York – the first performance of their final tour in 1966.  They dash out on the field and climb atop a stage that looks like a boxing ring erected over second base, in the middle of the vast expanse of a baseball field, 50 yards away from the nearest fan, some 56,000 of whom are screaming their heads off through the entire show.

Still,  you can’t help but be impressed with the quality of the performance.  The set includes both covers and originals, opening with “Twist and Shout” and ending with “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help.” Showing the complete concert after the documentary is its own tour-de-force; it reminds us what the phenomenon was really about: the sheer power of skilled musicianship, the intensity of accomplished artistry.

The documentary is a 90 minute setup; the concert footage is a 30 minutes payoff – the undeniable proof of everything postulated in the film.

Ron Howard’s film also reminds us just how much “Beatlemania” was a reflection of the times.  In America especially, The Beatles arrival in February 1964 was the medicine a grieving nation needed after the shock of the Kennedy assassination.  Their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show carved the opening cracks in what would eventually become the “Generation Gap.”  We are reminded of the tumultuous history that The Beatles were part of, from the conflagration in Vietnam to the Civil Rights movement.

One detail in the documentary that surprised me addressed the matter of race as it is uniquely experienced in America: The Beatles had a clause in their contracts that declared that they would not play for segregated audiences.  A voice over from Paul McCartney explains how foreign the whole idea of segregation and Jim Crow was to their experience in England.

Howard deftly gives all four Beatles nearly equal screen time for retrospective commentaries.   The surviving Beatles, Paul and Ringo, appear on screen several times in their current incarnations; There are equal amounts of archival footage of John and George looking back on their years as Beatles.  Their commentaries lend a “Rashomon” like perspective to the whole experience.

The Beatles 1966 tour ushered in the era of the stadium concert – despite technology woefully suited for the purpose; George explains how Vox built amplifiers especially for this tour: “I think they were a hundred watts…” – and much of the audio was piped through the crackly stadium PA system: “Now playing at second base… The Beatles!”

I think it was Ringo who described the aftermath of what would history would record as The Beatles final live performance, the last concert of the 1966 tour at Candlestick Park in San Francisco:  After the show the band was raced out of the stadium grounds in what Ringo describes as “a meat wagon” – a bare metal armored police wagon, the kind that ferries convicts to prisons.  It was pretty much within those lurching steel confines that all four Beatles decided “we’re not going to do this any more…”

Freed from the demands of a touring schedule, The Beatles dedicate themselves to the studio.  There is footage from the EMI studio at Abbey Road of audio tape loops strung between tape machines… and then there is “Sergeant Pepper.”

From there the documentary quickly traces the remainder of The Beatles recording career: 5 albums in three years, from “Magical Mystery Tour” to the “White Album,” “Abbey Road” and the “posthumously” released “Let It Be” (which was released after the band announced its demise early in 1970).

The movie ends with  the most footage I have ever seen from The Beatles last-ever ‘concert’ – that day in January 1969 when they set up on the roof of the Apple Corps headquarters in London and played to the people on the street below.  It’s more than three years since the last time they performed “live” together, and the footage proves, once and for all that The Beatles were still, and always were, a great fucking band.

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“Eight Days A Week Is” playing at The Belcourt.  Info and tickets here.  It will also be released to streaming video via Hulu next week. A subscription will be required. So go see it in a theater with good surround sound.

Labor Day (#UnRetirement)

Processed with Snapseed.

Seems like as good a day as any to start a new job. 

Yes, I have a day job now.

I was hired by Apple to work in their Green Hills… well, they don’t want to call it a “store” any more.  So I just work at “Apple Green Hills.

Please come by and say hello.  I will be happy to direct you to the people who can resolve your issue (it ain’t me, babe…)

 

They Said “No Photos!”

GuyClarkQuote

but when has that ever stopped me?

File this one under the hashtag: #OnlyInNashville:

I went to the Ryman Auditorium last night for the “Guy Clark Celebration” – a tribute concert for one of Nashville’s most revered songwriters, who went on to the great writing room in the sky back in May.

The tone for the evening was set early on by host Vince Gill, who promised “three hours of music an no shitty songs.”

And no shitty singers, either.  I’ve been going to stellar shows in Nashville for more than 20 years now, but this was a lineup like you’ll never see again.

How’s this for name dropping:  Jerry Jeff Walker, Vince Gill, Terry Allen, Shawn Camp, Verlon Thompson, Sam Bush, Bobby Bare, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, Joe Ely, Steve Earle, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Robert Earl Keen, Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White, Chris and Morgane Stapleton, Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett, Gary Nicholson, Delbert McClinton, Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd.. (thanks to Jim Moran for posting the cast of characters on Facebook).

You really can’t see ’em, but that’s who all is in the photo at the top of the post.

As I posted myself last night “I don’t need to go to any more concerts this year, I’ve already seen everybody…”

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The Ryman was insistent throughout the evening that there were to be absolutely no photos of the show.  Every time somebody in the audience pulled out a cell phone, an usher showed up to point an admonishing finger at them.

But when that stellar ensemble gathered on the stage for the last two songs, there was no way I was not gonna record that moment.

I got out of my seat (near the back of the upper deck, aka “The Confederate Gallery”) and went to the very back of the venue, got my iPhone out, discretely got it ready, and then brought it up to eye level and grabbed the ONE shot above.

Then the photo-Nazi usher ran up to me and said “No photos!”

And I said, “OK…” and went back to my seat.

*

If you were not fortunate enough to be present for last night’s tribute concert, consider going over to iTunes and investing in the tribute album that Tamara Saviano put together back in 2011, “This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark” – which includes performances by a lot of the artists who appeared last night.  Or if you still believe in plastic delivery, you can get the CD at Amazon  (it does not appear that the collection is available thru Spotify).

Then listen to it and give yourself a master class in songwriting.

"This One's For Him" - the Guy Clark Tribute album.

“This One’s For Him” – the Guy Clark Tribute album.

 

 

 

What Ever Happened to
The Age of Aquarius?

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The Oracle of Facebookistan has reminded me that this week is Woodstock Anniversary Week.  It’s some odd anniversary, like 47.

I have already composed and posted my recollections and reflections on the subject.

This is an excerpt from a book (or maybe it’s a one-man show?) that I was working on earlier this year.  I kinda hit a wall with it, and then life happened. I’ll get back to it one of these days…

Whatever Happened To The Age of Aquarius? 

That’s the first of three installments, just follow the links at the bottom of each to get to the next.

How To Shooting Star

perseids

As I mentioned yesterday on Facebook, I’ve been chasing the Perseid Meteor Shower since 1973.

That was the summer I drove across the country, after getting a diploma (I would use the term ‘graduated,’ but only loosely…) from Antioch College (I’d  attended made-up classes at a branch campus in Columbia, MD. Remember, 1973 was still the 60s…).

I’d thrown a few things into the back of my 1966 VW Squareback (affectionately named “Duck” and sporting a Daffy Duck decal on the front fenders) and headed off to seek my fortune in Hollywood.  I’d done some “guerrilla video” in college and figured it was time to see how real TeeVee was made, so off I went, taking three weeks to get from the east coast to the west.

Along the way I stopped at the Vagabond Ranch outside of Granby, Colorado, at the edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park.  I’d spent two summers there when I was 14 and 15 years old.  Those might have been the best summers of my life.  Vagabond wasn’t a “dude” ranch, but it was run as a Western-themed summer camp by a couple from Connecticut,  Charlie and Ronnie Pavek.

Not very many people nowadays remember “Spin & Marty” – a short movie series that Walt Disney ran as part of “The Mickey Mouse Club” in the 50s;  It was about a city kid (Marty) who got sent to a western ranch where he got to ride horses and friend up with a cowboy kid named “Spin.”  That’s about as much as I remember about the series, but it was always my frame of reference; I still tell people that I spent two summers in the mountains of Colorado, “acting out my ‘Spin & Marty’ fantasies.

For the four summers before Vagabond, my parents sent me for two months at a time to a ‘sleep over’ camp in Maine called Kennebec – a sports driven, competitive environment inhabited mostly by affluent Jewish kids from the Northeast.  That’s where I spent the summer of 1962 being tormented by an 11-year-old monster named Jeffrey Katzenberg (the name might be familiar?).  But that’s a story for another time.

I never exactly excelled at sports; I could hold my own at tennis and I was an OK sailor, but the first time another kid threw a hardball at my head (he wasn’t aiming at me, he was just 11 years old and it’s not like he had any control…) I knew I was never gonna be a baseball player.

Basically, sports suck when you suck at sports.

Vagabond was the exact opposite of Kennebec.  There were almost NO sports.  Instead, I spent the summers mostly riding horses in the mountains.  Unlike Camp Kennebec, I have nothing but fond memories of Vagabond Ranch.  I even recall with some distant fondness the night I spent shivering under a tarp in the rain at 11,000 feet; and my favorite horse, a red mare named “Strawberry.”  She could be tough to catch in the coral, but once saddled Strawberry was a soft and responsive ride.

So that summer of 1973, I made my way across the country, alone in my little VW – Niagara Falls, the The Great Northern Plains, The Badlands, The Black Hills, The Crazy Horse Monument – I stopped at the Vagabond Ranch and said hello to the Pavek’s.

I must have gotten there the night of August 11  –because that night all the campers were taken out to a meadow to lie on their sleeping bags and watch the Perseid Meteor Shower.  I’d never heard of the Perseids before that.  But once I saw them – probably 2 or 3 shooting stars every minute – I was hooked.  I’ve tried to see the Perseids almost every year since.

The flier my then-future-ex-wife Georja Skinner made for the Perseids cruise we ran in August of 1982.

The flyer my then-future-ex-wife Georja Skinner made for the Perseids cruise we ran in August of 1982.

Probably the best I ever saw the Perseids was from a few miles off shore from Lahaina, Maui, in the summers of between 1981 and 1992.

From Lahaina, you start out 70-some nautical miles from Honolulu, the nearest big city; once you get a few miles offshore there’s little impact from the lights of Maui.  The sky is ink black and there are stars by the bazillions.   The years we went out on the boat, we probably did see 60-100 shooting stars every hour (but not every minute!)

In the summer of 1999, I went back to Vagabond Ranch with my then-future-and-still-second-wife Ann.  The Ranch was no longer owned by the Pavek’s (who were no longer living) but was owned the family of Richard Kelly,  the owners of – how’s this for irony?–  a large hotel chain in Hawaii. Since the Kellys only  visited the Ranch occasionally, the caretakers of the property, Mark and Jane Bujanovich, welcomed us to stay a few nights and we watched the Perseids with them.  I’d forgotten how cold even a mid-August night can get at 8,000 feet…

It has been harder to see the Perseids since I’ve been living in Nashville, but almost every year when there’s been a waning or new moon, we’ve tried.  Last year we went out to Bell’s Bend.  This year I went out to the Natchez Trace and set up my camera with my photo-buddy Ken Gray.

*

So this is how you shoot a shooting star: you drive as far away from the city as possible. The Natchez Trace Parkway outside of Franklin, TN is only one order of magnitude-of-light-polution less than Nashville and its environs, but it’s a decent night sky.

You start at about 11 PM.  You set your camera on a tripod with a remote control shutter release.  You aim the camera at a dark corner of the sky with the widest-angle lens in your bag (in my case a 14mm equivalent) to cover as much of the sky as possible,  and set the shutter to open for  15-30 seconds with the aperture wide open at a fairly high ISO, like 1600.  The 15-30 seconds is long enough to get an exposure from the star field, and you hope that the high-ISO is enough to capture the fleeting light of a hot grain of cosmic dust as it streaks across the frame.

After that, it’s entirely random.  So you open a folding camp chair, sit down, and just start releasing the shutter, over and over again, until something streaks across the sky while the shutter is open,

And then you apply the one tool that you will not find in any camera bag: abundant patience.   A little luck helps, too.

In this case, I shot about 100 frames, between roughly 11PM and 2 AM.

This was yet another year when the coming of the Perseids was touted as going to be the most dazzling display in memory.  That’s what they say every year.  But every year… enh. Not so much.

I exposed frame after frame after frame, but for more than two hours, nothing happened in the frame.  Once exposed, the camera takes as long to save the file as the shutter was open – 15 or 30 seconds.  Several times, that’s when something blazed across the frame. But for as long as I was out there, it was less like 2 or 3 every minute and more like 1 every two or three minutes.

As 2:AM approached… I finally got one.  After that, it’s like fishing.  You get one… you want another.  It did seem like the activity was picking up a little, an so I kept releasing the shutter.  Slightly after 2AM, I got one more, a little better than the first.  That’s the one at the top of the post.

And then I drove home.

So that’s how you shoot a shooting star.  You go out in the wee hours of the morning. And you wait.  And then you wait some more.  And when you’re finally ready to give up… you get one.

Forty-plus years I’ve been chasing the Perseids.  That’s the first I ever got a picture of one.

But regardless of the actual number, every Perseid Meteor or see is filled with the memories of a lifetime of shooting stars.

Don’t Try This At Home

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This is a story about how being a jerk can actually pay off.

I went to the Container Store in the Green Hills Mall yesterday because it is Nashville’s only retail source for Moleskine notebooks. While I generally avoid having/doing anything quite so trendy, I had decided Moleskines are as good a bound journal as any, so I  went to get one.

I walked into the Container Store and my first impulse was to find an employee and ask “where are the Molekines?”

Good luck with that…

There was not an employee anywhere to be found  in the vicinity of the entrance, or on the whole upper floor.  I could tell just by looking around  the first floor (which is relatively small area compared to the rest of the store which is the floor below) that the Moleskine display was not going to be on that floor, so I took the escalator down to the main floor.

The escalator opens to a large open area in the center of the main floor.  There are cashier counters in the center of area.  But, again, there was not a sole to be found – except for some other customers who seemed equally baffled at their inability to find any personnel to help them.

I felt like I’d stepped into some television show where only the employees had been swept up in the Rapture.  I figured the next scene would be customers helping themselves and just walking out of the store…

Just in case I was wrong about that, and being the incorrigibly obnoxious person that I often default to, I just shouted, quite loudly and to nobody in particular,

“DOES ANYBODY WORK HERE?!?!”

And of course, at just that instant  a young man appeared from amid the the aisles and stacks in a regulation black t-shirt – rather shocked that anybody would actually conduct themselves that way, and equally embarrassed that a customer had found it so difficult to get help that he seemingly had no recourse but to ask for it at the top of his lungs.

Quickly and efficiently, the young man asked what I needed and directed to the Moleskine display. After a few minutes of deliberation I decided which notebook I was going to buy. The task was made slightly more difficult than it needed to be because all of the products on display were hermetically sealed in plastic wrap, making it impossible to see what the pages inside actually looked like.  But I managed to figure it out.

Ah, retail… This is why I buy almost everything except groceries from Amazon.

I made my selection and rode the escalator back to the upper floor to the only cashier that was open and waited my turn in line (another one of my least favorite features of bricks-and-mortar shopping).  The couple I’d seen downstairs that was as perplexed for help as I was in front of me.  They paid for their stuff – a variety of big plastic containers – and then it was my turn.

I put the Moleskine down on the counter and reached for my wallet.  I had my credit  card out and was all set to pay my $20 for the notebook…

…when the young man who had magically appeared downstairs when I started yelling like a crazy person magically appeared again, behind the counter.  He waved off the cashier, then picked the Moleskine off the counter and handed it to me and said “we’re good…” – in other words, giving me the notebook and not charging me for it.

I certainly didn’t see that coming.

I was sufficiently surprised that I did not fully register what else he said. He might have said “I hope you have a better experience the next time you’re in the store.”

Or he might have said “Please don’t ever come back…”

In some kind of bemused shock,  I ambled out of the Container Store with a free Moleskine notebook, wondering how exactly being such a jerk had produced such a seemingly worthwhile result.

And figuring that I would tell the story and end it with the hashtag

#Don’tEncourageMe 

Photo Challenge #6: General Grant

General Grant regales his audience at Appomattox - April 9, 2015

Starting in 2010, I worked on The 1861 Project [Spotify]: “A collection of new, original songs, recorded in a contemporary acoustic style, telling the stories of the real people who fought and lived through America’s Civil War…”  The project was the brain child of Thomm Jutz, who co-wrote all of the songs and produced all the tracks on three CDs released between 2011 and 2014.  I partnered up with Thomm and co-writer Peter Cronin to get the CDs produced and distributed.

Besides my role as the Executive Producer on the project, I also found myself supplying all the photos for the CDs ands the few live shows we did.  This meant that starting in the late winter of 2011, I attended numerous Civil War reenactments, during the course of which I got to know some of the unique… ummm… characters.. that populate these events.

Among the most colorful characters I encountered was Dr. Curt Fields, an educator from the Memphis side of Tennessee who portrays Ulysses S. Grant, the Union commander who did “the terrible arithmetic” (Lincoln’s words) that finally ended the war in 1865.  I first met Curt at the Sesquicentennial reenactment of the Surrender of Fort Donelson, which was one of the first engagements that marked Grant’s ascendance in the winter of 1862.

Let’s just say that “General Grant” has a keen sense of “his” place in history, and so is quite cooperative about posing for photos.  In fact, I went back to another reenactment of Fort Donelson a year later, and Curt arranged for us to get onto the grounds of the actual fort where the battle was fought for a few location shots – like this one of General Grant and two of his aides posing with one of the big guns overlooking the Cumberland River.

General Grant and his colleagues at Fort Donelson - March, 2013

General Grant and his colleagues at Fort Donelson – March, 2013

I ran into Curt/General Grant at several other events over the course of the years of the Sesquicentennial.  I guess he rather liked the photos I took of him, because he always did me the great honor of addressing me as “Mr. Brady” – i.e. “The Matthew Brady of the Reenacted Civil War.”  Considering how many people have also worked with the very photogenic “General Grant” – and Curt’s equally photogenic wife Lena who portrays Mrs. Grant –  it’s quite a distinction.

The last time I saw Curt was in Appomattox, Virginia, where he portrayed General Grant at the Sesquicentennial of Lee’s surrender in April, 1865.  That excursion produced this photo:

Unity - The Final Interview - Grant and Lee at Appomattox - April 10 1865/2035

Unity – The Final Interview – Grant and Lee at Appomattox – April 10 1865/2035

…which I still like to think of as one of the defining images of the Sesquicentennial.

When I first saw that image in the LCD on the back of my camera, I thought I had my “Hindenburg” shot (OK, maybe not quite that dramatic, but you get the idea…).   I tried to get prints or products with this image into the Appomattox National Park gift shop, but they turned me down.  The manager said the horses are too fat.  Go figger…

But I digress…

The image that I’m submitting as the penultimate entry in my “Facebook Photo Challenge” (which I have failed utterly because you’re supposed to put up 7 pictures in 7 days and I think I’m on the second week here…) is the one at the top of this post…

It shows “General Grant” shortly after emerging from the McClean House, where Lee accepted Grant’s terms of  surrender on April 9, 1865.  After the formal reenactment ceremonies were concluded, General Lee rode off quietly in one direction, and General Grant rode off to greet the crowd that had assembled for the occasion, where he delivered what can only be described as a “comedy routine on horseback.”

I don’t know how he does it, but Curt Fields is so well steeped in everything that has ever been written either by or about Ulysses S. Grant that he can hold forth for hours at a time and tell stories about Grant from Grant’s own perspective.  The material is all Grant, but the delivery… well, that’s all Curt. He keeps audiences enthralled, and while he has their attention he delivers a rich education on the true history of America’s Civil War and the men who fought, won, and lost it.

Curt Fields is much more than a cliche “Civil War reenactor.” He is the quintessential embodiment of a “living historian.”  I’m proud to consider him my friend and I hope these photos capture a little bit of what he brings to the experience.

Photo Challenge #5: The Red Violin

The Red Violin

I thought of this one yesterday after posting that Instagram snapshot of the violin headstocks at NAMM.

This goes back to 2013, when I’d just gotten my first “full frame” DSLR, the Nikon D600, and was looking for things to do with it.

Ann and I had been to a show at a small music store in in the Five Points neighborhood of East Nashville called The Fiddle House (t’s not there any more, it has since merged with the Violin Shop on Franklin Pike).  While we were there, I looked up at a display of violins (just what is the difference between a fiddle and a violin, anyway?) hanging on the wall and noticed this one red-toned instrument standing out amid all the brown ones.

I got permission from the owners of the shop to come back and set up a shot that featured that one red violin.  I brought a strobe with me and tried to light the thing, but all I got was glare reflecting off the varnish.  I finally had to put away the flash and resort to the room lighting, with a slightly higher ISO and a MUCH longer exposure.  Thank god I brought my tripod.

One more note about that Nikon D600: that was my last Nikon.  It was awful.  The worst designed and engineered camera I owned in nearly 40 years of using Nikons. I bought it for  the trip I took to the UK in the spring of 2013 (oh, how I wish I was back there now for those endless sunsets around the Solstice!)  I also carried the little Olympus camera that I’d taken when Ann and I went to Scotland in 2012; that was my ‘back up camera’ for that trip.  But I discovered that I kept going to the Olympus when I got tired of lugging the Nikon around.

It wasn’t just the size and weight of the Nikon that wore me down (I got to calling it “the Anvil 600”), but there were other aspects of the camera that were problematic – not the least that I’d gotten one of the models that was so poorly manufactured that the shutter sprayed crud on the sensor, and some of my favorite shots with a deep depth of field (like f/16-22) were nearly ruined by the spots in the images.

It was not long after I returned from that trip that Olympus announced it’s Pro-line of OM-D bodies and lenses, and that’s all I’ve been shooting every since.

Not that anybody asked…

Photo Challenge #4: John Jarvis

Somewhere in there... John Jarvis at the keyboard

So much for seven photos in seven days…

I’m really not sure how much to say about this one.

I said when I started posting this series last week that I was going to dig around for some files that had not previously seen the light of day.  This is one of those.

About two years ago I got a call to photograph a recording session for one of Nashville’s A-list players, who was making an album with some of the world’s also top, A-List players – most of whom I was not entirely familiar with though I probably should have been.

This is probably my favorite shot from the session… somewhere in there, the renown keyboard player John Jarvis is adding a melody to a track.

I got a lot of great photos of the sessions, but something went haywire.  I turned in the photos… and never heard from the client again.

Probably the less said about that… the better.

Photo Challenge #3
Put Down The Fucking Phone!

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Continuing with the Facebook Photo Challenge…

I’m really not sure what to say about this one.  It was taken several years ago at the Tennessee State Fair in Nashville.

The attraction is is the Super Slide (or whatever it’s called).  You get a pad of canvas and slide down about 100 feet of undulating fiberglass.  Wheeee…. what fun!

I’m just guessing that this is a brother and sister duo.  Judging from the look on the little boy’s face, the ride was a blast.  But not, apparently enough fun for his sister to put her phone down long and actually enjoy the experience.

Such is the world we live in today.

We live in an invisible ocean of information.  We can find out anything in an instant.

And still we wind up with somebody like Trump…

Now excuse me while I go see if I’ve got any fresh notifications on Facebook…