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Posted by on Sep 16, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 0 comments

Dealing With the Hazards of Social Media (New Podcast)

 

Note:  Matt Lessinger, a longtime friend and philosophical compatriot approached me recently with the idea to host a new podcast.  The concept was simple:  A conversation.  An intelligent conversation. 

One week later, here we are.  Our first podcast, which runs nearly two hours, is finished and posted.  We tackle the question with no simple answers, namely — what is social media doing to us?

Here’s Matt’s introduction of the new show on (where else?)….his Facebook page: 

 

Hello friends …

I hope you’ll indulge this experiment. Nolan Dalla and I agree that social media is a very difficult place to try to engage someone in intelligent conversation. So, we decided to have an intelligent conversation of our own. I enjoyed it tremendously, and I hope it will be the first of many.

I conceived this idea because the prevailing wisdom is that you can’t change people’s minds on social media. That may be true, but I knew that talking with Nolan about any topic would open my mind (and hopefully yours) to different possibilities. With each conversation that I post, I will describe an opinion of mine that evolved as a result of the conversation. Here’s the one for this week:

*I believe that social media is continually making our society worse. As we’ve become more and more polarized, I have held a very pessimistic view of what our society will become after another decade or two of social media usage. But in having that view, I was always very narrowly focused on Facebook and Twitter. Nolan pointed out that TikTok and some other social media platforms are catering to teenagers, who are really just trying to have fun. Meanwhile, adults are the ones who are typically more confrontational on social media, and often come off of it feeling angry or miserable. I hadn’t given the generational difference too much thought. Ten years ago, we adults were so worried that teenagers would misuse or abuse social media. We wanted to make sure that they were taught how to use social media responsibly. The problem is, we forgot to give that lesson to ourselves.

If I was 95% pessimistic about the future of our social media society, I would say after talking with Nolan that I’m now only 85% pessimistic. It will come down to whether the next generation will learn from all of the mistakes that we 21+ year olds have been making on Facebook and Twitter, or will they repeat the same dumb mistakes that we continue to make.*

Please enjoy this conversation, and feel free to share any topics that you feel are worthy of discussion.

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Posted by on Sep 10, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Politics, Travel | 0 comments

When They Stood Tall: Remembering the World Trade Center — Before 9/11

 

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Introduction:  It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two decades.  Today marks the 19th anniversary of 9/11, a fitting time to look back and remember the World Trade Center before they collapsed on that terrible day.  Marieta and I visited the World Trade Center a few times.  We even went to the top of one of the towers about a year before the tragedy.  Today’s essay includes some photos which were taken during those visits.  These photos are all that remains.

 

Note:  For a broader perspective of what I witnessed at the Pentagon on the day of 9/11, read this personal recollection posted at my site a few years ago — REMEMBERING SEPTEMBER 11, 2011 AT THE PENTAGON

 

They were colossal….even by New York standards.

The twin towers.  So utterly unremarkable in design, yet so grandiose by sheer size and scope, weren’t just windows to the world.  They were extensions of our national character and pillars of America’s unequivocal stature as a global superpower.

Within sight of those two towers, the Statue of Liberty is often said to symbolize our national identity.  But the unruffled lady bearing a flaming torch is more of an idea, really.  Perhaps even a myth, given where we are and what we’ve become.  Rooted squarely within the planet’s financial epicenter, the World Trade Center arose as the true manifestation of a nation, an economy, and a people — imposing, bold, excessive, and unapologetic for it all.

Which is precisely why they were such inviting targets on that fateful day no one saw coming.

 

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I took this photo about a year before it happened.

The view from the top of the towers looking east towards Brooklyn was breathtaking.

Visitors rode express elevators from the ground floor to the observation decks.  One was inside.  Another was on the rooftop, outside.

 

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That’s Marieta off to the right of the frame.

Here’s another angle, of the view looking east, but angled more towards the south.  If you look carefully, you can see the tip of Manhattan Island starting to curve around, there off to the right side.  The World Trade Center was only a block or so away from the shore.  In fact, a landfill was added to part of the outer perimeter which allowed traffic to move more easily.  A park was also added near the waterfront.  Of course, that’s all gone now, or at least it’s been transformed.

 

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When we stepped inside Windows on the World, the famous restaurant perched on the 106th and 107th floor of the North Tower, this was the view looking out towards Hudson Bay.  There in the center of the photo where the golden sunset radiates off the water is Liberty Island, which provides the base of the Statue of Liberty.  You can barely see her proudly standing there in the glow of the sunshine.

 

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The twin towers standing so close side by side meant you could sometimes see people over in the other building.  Those working in offices were on display, but if you fear heights, like me, the view was dizzying.  Company executives with corner offices who by the very definition of where they worked had “made it.”  All strangers.  But in a very real sense, they were our friends and our family, too.

Watching someone over in the other tower, catching their eye, and waving was pretty amazing.  Seeing them wave back was a real joy.

I wonder what happened to some of those nice people who waved.  I wonder how many survived, and how many did not.

 

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The first thing that hits you when you step outside onto the observation deck at the World Trade Center is — the wind.

It’s windy.

Not like a breeze.  Not even gusts.  It just blows…..hard….all the time.

We went outside on a perfect day.  I can’t even imagine the difficulty of what it must have been like to do construction or maintenance work on the roof of these buildings.  The wind was brutal.

Here’s the view from the outer observation deck looking directly north, uptown on Manhattan Island.  Oddly enough, when being up this high it’s so far up one might lose any fear of heights.  It’s almost like flying.

 

After

Just about everyone connected in any way to the events of 9/11 had an opinion on what to do with the now-sacred site.  In the end, rich and powerful financiers do what they always do, which is to tear it all down, haul it away, and rebuild again.  The land beneath the bodies and rubble was far too valuable to be left simply, as is, which would have been the most appropriate tribute.

At the very least, part of the iconic outer skeleton of the World Trade Center should have been left intact, and then other buildings could have been built around it.  Something, at least, should have remained of those fallen towers, to remind us.  Something tangible.  Something people can see, and touch, and remember.

Now that those two platforms of such wonderfully unique perception are gone, we can no longer gaze out, reflect, and enjoy.  The purgatory between earth and sky stands no more.

 

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Posted by on Sep 6, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments

What I Miss Most

 

 

America’s political crevasse has wrecked families and ruined friendships.

It’s tested our patience, made us question our values, caused us to rethink priorities, and utterly dominated every sector of our lives nearly to the breaking point of exhaustion.

This comes as a non-partisan observation. As you read on, I think people on the Left and the Right will be somewhat in agreement.

In recent years, I’ve witnessed friends and colleagues, who never expressed their political opinions before, becoming both outspoken and active. It’s as though fuses were lit. Passions exploded. This is true for Trump’s defenders and his critics.

I never thought before this ordeal that I’d ponder, let alone scribe, the statement which I’m about to make: I AM SICK OF POLITICS.

Now, to understand the gravity of that comment, you must understand that I have lived and breathed and inhaled and expectorated politics for all of my adult life. 36 years ago, I earned a degree in political science and later, worked in government for more than a decade. No matter which party ruled, or who was elected, my enthusiasm for the American political process, even with its many shortcomings, was heartfelt and genuine. And even after leaving politics in pursuit of other interests, in my spare time, I continued to read about current events and explore ideas. That was my hobby, but even that description doesn’t do the devotion justice.

Hence, I never thought I’d finally reach the stage of fatigue where I dreaded turning on the television each morning, for fear of the next and newest shock and scandal and the inevitability of another galactic battle between alternative universes of an opposite reality. I never thought I’d come to the point of reading books on political and social philosophy as nauseating. I never thought I’d reach the end of the path of what had been a roadway of insatiable curiosity to slamming into a cul-de-sac.

But now, here I am.

Over the next eight weeks, I am determined to work as hard as I possibly can and put everything within my soul into electing the people and party who I believe can best deliver something that’s vanished in recent years.

And that is — normalcy.

What I miss most is — normalcy.

Yeah, I want a revolution. I want big changes. I want the ideas I believe in to win. But this election isn’t about ideas or issues or ideology so much as it’s about normalcy versus pandamonium. Sanity versus chaos. Normal daily activities for ourselves versus fighting in the streets and ceaseless wars on social media.

If my preferred candidates win, does that mean the nation’s deep fissure of division will heal? Of course not. Division and arguments and debate and pain, perhaps lots of pain given the hole we’re in, will continue.

But for a few years, we might also get a break. A breather. A little normalcy. A bit more kindness. Fewer scandals. Less cruelty. More civility. I’m voting for that.

On or before Nov. 3rd, I’m voting for the thing I miss most — normalcy.

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Posted by on Aug 28, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments

Who is This Man?

 

 

CAN YOU IDENTIFY THIS MAN?

Here are a few hints:

— He born on May 18, 1855, in Mount Morris, NY. He lived much of his life in Rome, NY.

— He became an active member of the First Baptist Church, where his father was a minister. He also became a minister and author.

— He once ran for the office of Governor of New York State, but lost.

— He was a self-described “Christian Socialist” who (in his own words) championed “the rights of working people and the equal distribution of economic resources,” which he believed was inherent in the teachings of Jesus.

— While speaking as a minister, he was once removed from the pulpit in Boston for preaching out against the evils of capitalism.

— Later in his life, he left the ministry and stopped attending church altogether, reportedly because of the racism he witnessed there.

— His career as a preacher ended because of his tendency to describe Jesus as a socialist. He taught classes with topics such as “Jesus the socialist,” “What is Christian Socialism?”, and “Socialism versus anarchy.”

— Today, he’s widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the early American socialist movement.

 

So, who is this person?

His name is Francis Bellamy.

Who? So, what was he best known for?

FRANCIS BELLAMY wrote THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE. *

So, next time you think the principles of democratic socialism are anti-American, try this:  Say your pledge and remember the words and wisdom of its author.

 

Footnote:  Bellamy wrote the original Pledge of Allegiance, which did not contain the words, “under God.”  He believed in the absolute separation of church and state and did not include the phrase “under God” in his pledge, which was added in the 1950s, 25 years after Bellamy’s death.

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Posted by on Aug 21, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Politics, Travel, What's Left | 2 comments

Blame Republicans and Conservatives for the Death of Small Town America

 

 

Here’s a fact?  97 out of the 100 poorest counties in America are in red states — i.e. Republican states.

 

Democrats often get blamed for the collapse of many American cities, particularly inner-city neighborhoods where stores and shops are boarded up and poverty is a daily way of life for the people who live there.

The ruse goes something like this:  Big cities are mostly run by Democrats, who comprise a majority of mayors and city councils.  Accordingly, Democrats are at fault for slums, crime, and a pervasive diseased culture of hopelessness.

The accusation does seem to have considerable merit to those with little or no grasp of history nor an understanding of urban affairs.  The accusation appears to ring true to those stuck inside echo chambers of hyperpartisan disinformation, which is a deliberate and constant toxicity brewed on right-wing media.  The accusation does look factual to someone who’s spent no time actually working in big cities nor ever comes into direct contact with people who born and live most of their lives poverty.  It’s attractive clickbait to those susceptible to the mindlessness of memes, those who don’t really give a damn at all about their fellow brothers and sisters struggling to make ends meet in the ghetto.

Indeed, there’s a lot of blame floating around out there and most of it is aimed at Democrats.

Now, let’s look at the truth.

 

 

Oddly enough, for reasons I can’t quite comprehend, no one blames Republicans for the collapse of small-town America.  I mean, wait-just-a-minute here:  Aren’t most small towns run by conservative Republicans?

The fact is, small-town America has been in a tailspin for several decades.  The evidence is overwhelming.  Despite a so-called “boom economy,” many town squares, once thriving centers of commerce packed with locals who shopped and ate lunch and conducted most of their business with people they knew, now resemble snapshots of what things were like during the Great Depression.  Boarded up stores.  Broken windows.  Vacancy signs.  Buildings completely deserted.  You know, just like in the big cities.

Look at some of these pictures.  You can’t tell if these buildings are in Detroit or Dixie.

Things are at their very worst — in other words, the economy really sucks — in small towns in the South and the West.  Many towns have quite simply vanished.  They are de facto ghost towns — places with signs and spots on a map — and they number in the hundreds, if not thousands.  And they’re vanishing.

Why is this happening?  Many reasons.  One is that Walmart has steamrolled over more businesses and led to the shutdown more factories in America, due to outsourcing its suppliers and manufacturing overseas, than any company in history.

Looking for a culprit to blame for all the stores in the town being vacant?

Here’s something you won’t read on the right-wing rags.  Thank giant corporations, industrial farming, conservative economic policies pushed by Republicans, union-busting, and the insatiable greed of the market greased by company shareholders who consistently demand profits over people.  If a product can be made cheaper in China, fuck it — close the doors and move the plant.  Capitalism 101.

And so, small towns and the people who live in them became the victims of bad economics.

 

 

Yet, no one points a finger at any of the Republican mayors of these deserted towns, nor the Republican congressional representatives who dominate these districts, nor the state and local officials who are mostly Republicans, nor the Governors of states like Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, or Kentucky who are all Republicans

Why is that?

Why are Democrats to blame for boarded up windows in Baltimore, but Republicans get a free pass for creating the thousands of shitholes in their own backyards?

Here’s a fact?  97 OUT OF 100 OF THE NATION’S POOREST COUNTIES ARE IN RED STATES.

Take a moment.  Let that sink in.  Republicans are in charge of 97 percent of America’s shitholes.

 

So now, let’s get back to inner cities.  Yeah, many of those areas suck.  Things are awful.  And someone should take responsibility.

But what are the factors that led to slums?  Who’s to blame for that?

I have a theory, and I’m convinced that I’m correct.  Let’s see if you agree.

In the 1950s, a phenomenon social scientists later came to term as “White Flight” began happening.  Whites began fleeing inner cities and moved to the suburbs.  Since White people owned most of the wealth and held all the political and economic power, most cities were left devastated by the mass departure which took place over a long period, generally between 1950 and 1985.  Fewer people with wealth paying taxes meant cities didn’t have as much money.  Stores fell into disrepair.  Sections of cities began collapsing.

During this time, factories closed down or moved to other parts of the country, but more often overseas.  Thousands of them.  Cities that once were home to millions of factory workers who spent their paychecks in town, were left deserted.  Who is to blame for this?  Liberals?

Think again.

Then, neighborhoods were carved up.  People with no power became pawns.  Highways were built, highways mostly intended for commuters and companies making deliveries, and inner cities became reduced to the dark recesses of an off-ramp, an area of town we were instructed not to go into.  Stay away, we were told.  It’s dangerous.  Inner cities didn’t get that way all by themselves.  They were starved.  They were choked.  They were bled dry.  And the skeletons of today are the remnants of centuries of racism and the grotesque failure of an economic system tailored to wealth and power and privilege, while indifferent to its victims.

Yes, conservative economics ruined cities.  Greed ruined cities.  Democrats, who have inherited the messes caused by the past, now get blamed for conditions they couldn’t possibly have prevented.  If you don’t feed something that’s living, eventually it dies.  That holds true for inner-city Baltimore.  It holds true for Dixie, West Virginia (population 315).

It’s conservative economic philosophies and Republicans’ distorted policies that have created the squalor of many inner cities, just as it’s conservative economic philosophies and Republicans’ distorted policies that have destroyed small towns.

We and they are one and the same.

 

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