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Hello I am Billy Dees and I am thrilled that you stopped by my website! This website is a collection of my editorials and blog posts. Social issues, politics, and pop culture are among the topics featured. The Billy Dees Podcast is available on most of the major internet radio platforms. An episode list starting with the most recent and live shows will appear here:

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My Fan Experience with George Michael

Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries2016 was a bad year for losing some great musical artists. Prince, David Bowie, and Glenn Frey are among the many notables who past away and were also some of my personally favorite musicians.

One of the other deaths that hit me was George Michael. For me, he was more or less in his own category. Prince and Bowie also helped redefine the image of masculinity but Michael brought a special sensitivity that seemed to resonate with me more as I matured myself. 

I was very young and just getting out into the world of real responsibilities when “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” came out by the duo of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley in the group “Wham.” The album “Make It Big” was released the latter part of 1984 and churned out hits through 1985. (Michael was the principle producer.)

George Michael and I were about the same age and “Wham” was all over the radio and TV that year. My 20-year-old self was getting the early stages of a sound business together while at Kent State. I was working with mostly rock bands and doing some of my first voice-overs and DJ work. When I mentioned “Wham” to some of my contemporaries the standard remark was, “You mean you listen to that little f*g?” I’m not sure that "term" was in reference necessarily to Michael’s sexuality (at that time little was known about it) but it was the standard pejorative used by many of my hard rock buddies toward all famous men who did not bite the head off of dead animals or brag about how many women they laid in one night.

My answer to that rude and awkward question was that I was interested in radio and I had to be aware of all types of music. By and large that was true, much of the music I was exposed to through working in the sound business would not be on my personal playlist at home. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” was part of a wider group of songs to me at that time, however, “Careless Whisper” was already on my radar as an indication that something more was coming from George Michael.

When Michael’s solo album “Faith” was released in ‘87 & ‘88 my days of minimizing my status as a George Michael fan were over. He was a couple of years older and so was I. I had matured to the point that I was no longer going to back away from the things that I liked or the people who inspired me.

“I Want Your Sex” exploded onto the dance charts. The controversial video actually spelled out the message “explore monogamy” on the bare skin of a model.

As the hits kept coming from “Faith” it became apparent that Michael was more than a typical pop star. 

This is especially true when you consider the pop scene today. I don’t want to sound like the typical older guy who says that they just don’t make them like they used to. Objectively, yes there are a lot of talented people out there today. However, true artisans in the wide venue of pop culture are rare. I would caution current recording artists not to rely too much on technology. One thing that dates a song is relying on the technology of the time to carry the tune. No pun intended. Great vocals and writing, by contrast, are timeless.

“Father Figure” is a good example of an awesome song. It could almost be described as a ballad mixing elements of pop and gospel with rhythm and blues sensuality. At this point George Michael became a crossover artist of enormous significance in numerous genres. Michael wrote and produced the song. It is one of the first major pop hits that I am aware of that deeply explores the complexity of an intimate relationship; in this case a suggestion of erotic exploration and role playing by consenting adults, done with sensitivity and affection. Michael’s soulful vocals just float over the mix.

Let’s just say that we don’t hear songs like that every day. 

I particularly like the part of the song that goes:

"If you are the desert
I'll be the sea
If you ever hunger -
Hunger for me
Whatever you ask for
That's what I'll be...

So when you remember the ones who have lied
Who said that they cared
But then laughed as you cried
Beautiful darling
Don't think of me…

Because all I ever wanted…"

George Michael’s active reign as one of the biggest stars in the world may not have lasted as long as some others, but he helped open the door to a new style of male pop star. In this way I feel that I matured with him. He made it cool to be sensitive and passionate. He also had a fervent respect for the process and discipline of creativity in one’s work. Now, after his death, stories are surfacing of his wonderful generosity. The stories come as no surprise to me because the human side of him was apparent in his work and in the various interviews that I followed about him over the years.

For being thirty years old the video stands the test of time fairly well. It has somewhat of a cinematic and story-type feel to it more so than a series of flashes and quick edits usually present in music videos. However, like most great songs the video in any case is almost a distraction from Michael’s lyrics, the soulful sound of his voice, and his emotion in the singing. I would recommend listening to the song on a fairly good set of speakers if possible.

Interview with a 40 Year U.S. Navy Veteran (Podcast)

This podcast is an interview with Joe Prusacik, a veteran of the United States Navy who served for 40 years. During this interview we cover JFK, Joe's service during the Vietnam era, and how changes in military culture often relect those in society at large.

This podcast is also available on iTunes and Stitcher under "Billy Dees."

This photograph was taken August 23, 2016 at PerfectMediaProds Recording Studio 

Listen to "Interview with a 40 year U.S. Navy Veteran 8 23 2016" on Spreaker.

"How to Write and Share Humor" by Donna Cavanagh

Donna Cavanagh has just published a new book, “How to Write and Share Humor.”  

Featured in this post is the book trailer for the release.  

For those of you who are not familiar with the concept, a book trailer is a video about a book that is often stylized as a movie coming attraction. We chose a fairly straightforward approach highlighting the content of the book. Donna has had associates and friends send her pictures of the book from various landmarks around the country as part of her #SummerOfHumor tour. We assembled some of the images into a book trailer that I voiced-over. 

You can follow Donna Cavanagh on Twitter @dtcav and purchase her new book on Amazon

The week of August 1, 2016 I was featured in an interview by Donna on her site HumorOutcasts.com.

You can check out the interview post here. The feedback and support that I have received from staff members and readers has been fantastic and much appreciated. 

Podcast Competitive Cheerleading as a Sport

#Interview #Commentary #Sports

This podcast is an interview with Marissa, a former avid competitive chearleader and now a coach. In the show she discusses the sport and how competing in the world of cheerleading has affected her life. You can follow or tweet Marissa on Twitter @muhrisah_

Photograph taken March 18, 2016 at PerfectMediaProds Recording Studio

Listen to "Competitive Cheerleading and Its Classification as a Sport" on Spreaker.

“You Don’t Know What It Is Like Because It Has Never Happened to You.” - Are You Sure?

Editorial

How many times have people accused you of not being able to understand their situation because you have never experienced the same thing?

“You don’t know what it is like to be divorced because you are in a good marriage!”

It is true that not everyone is going to appreciate your personal trials and tribulations. However, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss someone who may be trying to relate to your plight in life because he or she has not experienced the same issue. Yes, shared experiences can certainly be helpful to attain a spirit of commonality with another person regarding many things in life. By the same token, I wouldn’t say that a common experience is a prerequisite to a mutual understanding or is even as significant as it may seem.

Presuming the person you are trying to communicate with is a compassionate human being who is genuinely trying to understand your experience, we have to consider two things. The first thing is the capacity of the human mind. Secondly, events happen in a particular time and space. Is there such a thing as a truly identical experience in the first place?

I have never been on the moon but I know it’s damn hard to breathe up there. I do not have to go there to understand that.

On a scale of much superior grandeur, Albert Einstein mentally envisioned a gravitational reality of our universe, which only now is being proven to be true by our best scientific instruments. Stephen Hawking can imagine what it is like in the far reaches of space around the area of a black hole with amazing mathematical accuracy. I would never underrate the power of the human mind to imagine anything.

We must also consider that just because other people have had the “same” type of occurrence happen to them as we have, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they experienced it in the same way. Therefore, there is no guarantee that someone with a supposed common experience as you will have a greater understanding of it than someone who hasn’t. As a matter of fact, they may have less empathy.

“I don’t know what your problem is? I went through the same thing last year and I got through it. Nobody had to help me.”

When people say something like that to you it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a stronger resolve than you. Along a more philosophical measure, what it may mean is that all of our experiences are more or less unique to us.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” – Heraclitus

If this is true then it follows that no two people can step into the same river twice in exactly the same manner either. We all step into the changing river as different and changing people, in a different spot, and at a very specific instant in time.

Who we are at any given time, where we are at any given time, and the given moment in time itself; all converge in a manner that is totally unique. We can’t duplicate it, and no one else can either.

My take away from this is that although we may share some general similarities regarding our experiences, at our singular core all of our profound experiences in life are exclusive to us.

In this sense, no one has been through what we, as individuals, have been through. In the end, if we are going to relate events that have impacted our lives to other people, regardless of their personal familiarities, we have to rely on their ability to understand that special spot in the universe that pertains to our inimitable experience.

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”-Stephen Hawking

I believe that does make us, as human beings, very special. If we can contemplate our changing selves in a forever-fluctuating fabric of space and time, then I wouldn’t underestimate someone’s ability to fathom the circumstances and emotional impact of your divorce.

Be generous when communicating and let someone try to relate to your experiences.

Why Space Matters to Our Society and Economy

"In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation." 

"There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all." 

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."       

- John F. Kennedy September 12, 1962 

NASA ImageThe above quotes are from the famous speech that President Kennedy gave which set the goal of putting a man on the Moon during the 1960’s. The space program at that time had the backdrop of an early part of the cold war. Space interests in regard to national security and intelligence continue to be serious issues of today. If you review the entire Kennedy speech, you will find that the message is about investing in science and technology as much as it is about exploring space. Additionally, it speaks to a humanity that we all share. 

The resources allocated for NASA are a fraction of the overall budget for the United States and are often tragically limited because of incredibly wasteful general spending. Yet, so much has been brought forth by the investment in space technology for our society in so many ways. It is the one government program that has paid off. 

Here are just a few of the benefits that have been brought forth by the space program either directly or indirectly:

Semiconductor cubing, structural analysis, air quality monitors, virtual reality, aircraft controls, microcomputers (Hello to my friends on mobile devices with GPS!), design graphics, enriched baby food, water purification systems, scratch-resistant lenses, athletic shoes, shock-absorbing helmets, home security systems, smoke detectors, firefighting equipment, flat panel televisions, high-density batteries, trash compactors, food packaging and freeze-dried technology, microspheres, solar energy, weather forecasting, telemetry systems, laser angioplasty, human tissue stimulators, programmable pacemakers, arteriosclerosis detection, ultrasound scanners, automatic insulin pumps, portable x-ray devices, invisible braces, dental arch wire, palate surgery technology, clean room apparel, implantable heart aids, MRIs, bone analyzers, cataract surgery tools, magnetic liquids, advanced welding torches, gasoline vapor recovery, self-locking fasteners, machine tool software, laser wire strippers, lubricant coating processes, wireless communications, engine coatings, better brakes, weight saving technology, improved aircraft engines, advanced lubricants, energy storage systems, along with an array of other things.

Oh no! How could I have omitted golf ball aerodynamics? 

Advancements in space technology have enhanced our way of life, given birth to new products and industries for our economy, and improved the safety of the society in which we live.

NASA ImageIt is also of no small consideration for me that historically all of this progress has been under the umbrella of American leadership for the entire world. Although I am very glad that the world community has an interest in developing space technology, I do find it disconcerting that lately America seems perfectly content to go along for the ride. It is a common cliché reflecting the simplicity of any particular subject to say that, “It isn’t rocket science.” Well, as America’s math and science scores continue to lag behind large percentages of other populations pertaining to the world's largest economies, it seems as though we prefer things not to be rocket science. 

The United States can barely rouse a modicum of enthusiasm for serious space exploration. The space shuttle program is now gone leaving the U.S. to hitchhike rides aboard Russia’s spacecraft. NASA's ability to achieve new space-exploration milestones may very well be limping along because of the government’s disagreements about the agency's priorities. That is a shame because other countries, including China, seem to be picking up the ball. 

During a classic piece of news footage from the 1960s a reporter walked up to a woman in France and asked her how she felt about men walking on the Moon.  Her answer was, “I knew the Americans could do it.” What, exactly, does the world know about us now? What is synonymous with America?

At least there has been renewed American enthusiasm for a mission to Mars. I hope it continues!

I believe many of the social ills we have in our society and around the world are largely because of a lack of an education and an appreciation for the sciences. None of us are composed of a better set of elements than anyone else. We are all stardust and life is incredibly short. If we are lucky, among the billions that the Earth makes, only 80 or 90 some odd trips around the sun is all we get on our life's journey. 

The fragile biology of our bodies is supported by the same air, water, and nutrients that every living thing, which has ever existed on Earth, has thrived upon. Napoleon, Cleopatra, and even Tyrannosaurus Rex walked under the same sun and sky as we do. There haven’t been any new shipments of natural resources to the Earth. We rely heavily on the environment’s natural processes of decay and renewal, a system that we are rapidly beginning to outpace.

The more we know about our earthly home and how it relates to the incredible oneness that we all share, maybe the more likely it will be that we will make the world a harmonious place for all of us to share.

For my money, the scientific benefits for society as well as the economy, the insight into our existence, and the leadership by America of extending humanity’s reach into space, are entirely worth all of the investment into the space program.

NASA ImageExplorers have shaped and mapped our world. However, our world does not end at the top of our atmosphere. The planet on which we live is a product of a vast universe with endless possibilities. Our exploration into our existence is just beginning. 

 

 

“In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” ― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

 

The Ideological Divide in America

Any time that I engage in a conversation with someone who profoundly professes to be a conservative or a liberal, I know the odds of a meaningful discussion happening fall off greatly. I am referring to those who govern their notions and views with a firm and overriding ideology, not by general philosophical points of view. There are merits to an individual having consistent principles, however, being an ideologue is another matter.

As it is associated with social or political movements, an ideology can be described as a body of doctrines and philosophical bases pertaining to a group or individual. Generally speaking, liberals are likened to Democrats and conservatives are likened to Republicans. Philosophical debates have often worked well in American governance as points of view clash, but then get hammered out on specific points in a system of checks and balances provided by reasonable people from both sides.

Different politicians such as Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neal managed their philosophical gap with a public and sometimes personal affability that exemplified one of the last political eras that actually worked for better or worse. The right and the left are so polarized now that any middle ground of reason has become a vast post-apocalyptic wasteland that no one from either side dares to tread into.  

One may ask if these ideological debates are now moving past the confines of reason in any number of arenas. We hear so much about gridlock and partisanship in Washington but what about in our society? The basic structures of liberalism and conservatism are being contorted into deep-seated belief systems by an increasing number of people across the country.

These entrenched beliefs are becoming evident as the increasing ideological polarization of America is manifesting itself in the form of more groups of people who have radical political agendas. These extreme positions are becoming apparent in everyday conversations as well as in some of the profiles and threads in social media. In fact, this phenomenon is often exacerbated in social media because what should be an age of free-flowing information has become a time where people circle their wagons in cyber groups that have the same style of judgment and block all of those who dare to have a different opinion.

Have you ever checked out the comment section of any major news website? The dialogue there is on many occasions bizarre, ignorant, and often frightening.

I have often stated that I am not a political creature, and one of the reasons as to why that I am not is precisely because of the extreme ideological arguments in modern politics. I do not find any ideological debate intriguing any more than I find squabbling about religion satisfying. Confronting the perceptions of self-righteousness is always particularly frustrating.

I recently had a tweet session with a liberal woman who would not concede, not even hypothetically, that a Republican could ever suggest an idea that was worth deliberation. She had completely removed from the table the possibility that anyone’s position from the outside of her political dogma was worth consideration. There are plenty of these types of closed-minded individuals on both sides of the ideological gamut.

The synchronous orbit that these staunch liberal and hard conservative axioms have around American politics has virtually removed the possibility of a multi-dimensional analysis ever being given to an issue. It is just not a matter of a compromise, often a dirty word in some circles, being lost. There are those magical moments when during an exchange of opposing ideas a new and better concept is achieved. This type of an outcome is rarely attained given today’s political ambiance. Positions on issues are now predetermined via radical ideological templates before the actual constructs of any given matter have even a moment of objective scrutiny.

I am concerned that some of these acute ideological trends are transforming into pseudo religious or even cult like syndromes. Both sides of these ideological debates are thoroughly and equally convinced that they alone behold the absolute truth. Drastic ideological positions are morphing into altered states of desired reality.

It has been said that no country has ever went to war without God on their side. Correspondingly, is this delusion of moral and ethical superiority that so many ideologues undergo setting the stage for severe social strife in our society?  How many more ways can we divide each other?

One could make the argument that our system of government does apparently work in regard to the gridlock, the partisanship, and the lack of progress in Washington. We do have a representative government and it may follow that we, as a society and a country, are getting exactly the type of representation that we deserve.

Are Some People Born Evil?

The recent acts of terror both at home and abroad have raised many philosophical questions about what types of individuals would be inspired to commit such horrific deeds. Are they directly influenced by their upbringing and environment to commit evil? Or perhaps is there something at the core of their being that would eventually drive them to commit atrocities against the innocent regardless of what the eventual stimuli may be in their lives?

This leads to one of the oldest debates about human behavior; nature versus nurture. This argument is used in reference to any number of human behavioral tendencies. For the sake of the topic today, are we products of an ancestral lineage that helped create us with a propensity toward evil or are we influenced by other people and other factors in our environment to learn evil traits? Again, to clarify today’s discussion we are not talking about petty crimes or minor moral dilemmas. We are talking about abhorrent evil.

Negative conditioning is most obvious any time a picture of a child surfaces wearing a hooded sheet or a Nazi uniform. This type of negative conditioning is also present on the tough streets of our most violent cities where children are often inured to violent behavior and to idolize criminals. There is no question that these children are not getting off to a good start through no fault of their own. However, despite negative odds many people rise above these types of conditioning and go on to live productive lives. Conversely, many children are raised by loving and caring families along with well-adjusted siblings in diverse communities and somehow still manage to end up choosing a dark path in life.

Specific prejudices are most certainly learned and under the right conditions can be untaught so to speak through education and guidance. However, I’m not sure that the same applies to an actual blood thirst and a desire for mass murder.

Two of the patron saints of evil are Osama bin Laden and Adolf Hitler. In this regard the histories of both men are worthwhile and interesting topics of discussion.

Osama bin Laden was born into a very wealthy family with strong connections in Saudi Arabia. He arguably had every opportunity to live a carefree lifestyle and was hardly a victim of an unfair start in life. Nonetheless, somewhere along the line the rich quiet child transformed into a religious extremist. As his radical views and actions grew his family reportedly disowned Osama bin Laden and the Saudi Arabian government revoked his passport.

Very young Adolf HitlerHitler’s personal religious beliefs are a subject of much conjecture and debate. It is generally presumed that Hitler was a materialist with little spiritual feeling and most likely evoked religion only to legitimize his own interests. Hitler had an estranged relationship with his father who died when Hitler was a young man. His mother died several years later and by all accounts her death was very difficult for Hitler because he was very close to her. Hitler’s ideological development most certainly began to resolutely take shape some years later after the First World War. Hitler was embittered over the breakdown of the war effort and was shocked by Germany’s complete capitulation to the terms of the surrender.

Both Osama bin Laden and Hitler were skilled communicators, intelligent, and able to amass a large radical following. Unfortunately, their bizarre and malevolent brand of charisma reaches beyond their graves to inspire deep-seated violence and hatred for a present-day generation. It is a plausible assertion that if either man directed his leadership skills toward good deeds the world might be a better place.

So, why do some people such as Osama bin Laden and Hitler actually seem to choose to commit diabolical acts?

As the understanding of the human genome has progressed it seems as though both of the arguments for nature and nurture are partially correct. Nature endows us with certain inborn abilities and traits and then the nurture aspect takes these genetic tendencies and molds them as we mature.

By contrast, The Bible addresses the notion that some people are incorrigibly wicked. “Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the Lord.”

I do not believe that there are positive or negative spirits influencing human behavior. However, I do feel that some people will innately and deliberately turn away from what we might call a natural goodness or morality.

Most pets have been conditioned through generations of selective breeding to genetically be predisposed to co-exist with human beings. Those with the most friendly and human like attributes are encouraged to breed. They are also a product of human nurturing as almost from their birth they are raised by humans who love them and show them affection. However, there are times when a pet, despite the best pedigree and nurturing, is a dangerous threat to human beings and therefore must be destroyed.

Is it possible that some people as well are not intrinsically capable of living in a civilized world with other human beings?

There is ongoing research as to what other possible causes there may be for violent tendencies and psychopathic behavior. Many have suggested that irregularities in the brain and the limbic system could play significant roles in the development of violent behavior. Any combination of physical or mental abuse is also a major consideration. A more controversial theory from the biological and evolutionary point of view is that the transition of man from beast to the purveyor of civilization is not yet complete.

Going back hundreds of millennia, the first evidence of the use of tools by our earliest human ancestors in Africa is followed closely by the use of weaponry. It didn’t take long for us to realize that the same tools and technics that could split rocks could also split heads. We are a violent species that has utilized war as much as anything else to shape our civilizations.

I would agree that humans could very well be influenced by our early animalistic instincts. After all, we are just an advanced species of primates and not the only members of that group to engage in aspects of warfare. However, referring to certain evil humans as animals may be an insult to animals because we have managed to kick thing up a notch in the brutality department. Megalomania and genocide are a few examples of classically unique human endeavors. 

The same power of intellect that we possess as human beings that gave us the ability to dream of traveling to the moon has also enabled some of us to craft new ways of indulging our desire to inflict pain and suffering onto other people and living things. In this regard I wonder if it is this dark side of our brainpower that has allowed us to evolve a barbarity that transcends the natural viciousness of the wild kingdom. Serial killers are prime examples of human beings who not only have an insatiable desire to kill but also mix their homicidal cravings with a lust for violent deviance. Sociopaths, who have no conscience but yet retain the uncanny ability to disguise this disastrous inadequacy, by some accounts represent one to four percent of our population.

I wonder how many of us would take a tour of the most violent and locked down death row wards in various prisons throughout the country? What would scare us the most about that experience? Would it be the fear of violence? Or perhaps, would it be that we don’t want to face the fact that the people incarcerated there are not necessarily monsters but are more normal human beings than what we would care to admit? Maybe they remind us of our own evil dark side that dwells deep within each of us. The only thing that separates us from impenitent killers is that they choose to indulge an aspect of their will that we as civilized human beings recognize as the absolute worst traits that humankind has to offer. In my opinion there has to be something misfiring in the character of what makes them human that makes their brand of evil beyond rehabilitation.

Are some people born evil? To some degree I would argue that we are all born evil. However, we are also born with a great capacity to love and care for each other. Those traits have become a valuable part of our intellectual evolutionary process as well. We comprehend and appreciate that it is much harder to create and nurture the fragility of life than it is to destroy it, and that our immense capacity to destroy life could result in the end of our species and possibly the end of all life as we know it. The common desire that we all share as human beings to be loved and respected should extend to all living things and the world that we live in. It is for these reasons that the vast majority of us win our inner struggles to become better people and work toward a better world for everyone. Our love and appreciation for each other is the heartbeat of our humanity.

In this way we as intelligent and civilized human beings have great powers of reason and a free will. There is hardly anyone of any age who is not able to recognize the act of murder as an offense against humanity and the laws of a civilized society. I would caution against shifting the blame for the evil that some men do onto other influences in society. I understand that it may be easier for some of us to believe that we are all born sweet and innocent rather than to have to struggle with our own still evolving inner demons. That is scary because frankly it is a fight that some of us will not win and eventually we all need to own up to who and what we are as an individual human being.

Ultimately, that is what separates the good people from the evil people.