July 16, 2014
I have embraced social media for business purposes to the extent of my knowledge. I say that because it seems to change every day. What was hot yesterday is ancient history today. Facebook – once the territory of the young – now is most popular with an older demographic. I know I am behind the curve with what social media to use to market my business, books, and this column; but I only have so much time in the day and I cannot afford someone to monitor that aspect of my business.
However, I am on it enough that I begin to wonder about people. We seem to live in a society that is now more connected than ever, but becoming ever more isolated on a personal level. I have observed that there are different categories of folks on social media. You have the ones who use it purely for business – there is very little personal insight they put out there if it has nothing to do with their company. Then you have the ones who like to have fun with it. They post now and then and it is along the lines of showing what they are doing on vacation or they like to put up funny sayings or videos. Then you have the ones that I am beginning to feel sorry for – the terrible narcissists.
At the core of extreme narcissism is egotistical preoccupation with self, personal preferences, aspirations, needs, success, and how he/she is perceived by others. Social media has taken this and allowed people to do a lot more than admire themselves in the mirror all day. The majority of what they post in social media tends to be along the lines of “look how great I am” or “don’t you wish you lived here” or “this is how much money I spent on this thing,” or “my day was so bad,” etc. They supplement these posts with an abundance of selfies, constant references to themselves and not anyone else, and the stretching of truth so that anyone who really knows them know they are full of it! Social media has turned into a way for folks to pat themselves on the back so they do not hurt themselves.
I cannot help but think this is unhealthy for an individual. I believe the majority of us have self-esteem issues to some degree, and there are many positive ways of working on whatever bothers us. I just do not think that always saying “look at me” is the best way to deal with it. I am a big believer that we have to give ourselves positive affirmations: “I am talented,” I am good at my job,” I am a good Mom,” etc. – just not constantly in public. For one thing, you are boring the crap out of the people you are trying to communicate all of this stuff to, and they now think of you in a less favorable light than they did before.
This column may just be my rant about people I see on social media who I do not have the courage to directly tell them, “Do you know how much of an ass you look like!” This is also my real feeling that we are getting so disconnected from each other. Half of the problems in our country and our world are that anyone can put anything on Twitter or Facebook and it is taken as fact. I do not think it is a coincidence that the philosophical divide we have in this country gained fuel with the advent of social media. It is now so easy to find people that share the same opinion that you now have a collective group who cannot look at another side of the argument.
There are many people who would rather use their smartphones to text or email someone rather than use it to make a phone call. God forbid if you get that personal with someone!
Essays on government, education, family life, etc. that helps put issues and solutions in perspective with thoughtfulness, not extremism. You know, like the majority of Americans really want! Go to The Book Corner.
July 9, 2014
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…Charles Dickens – Tale of Two Cities
I have not read this novel since college. That was so long ago that I actually held a book in my hands and went page-by-page instead of using an electronic device. Anyway, it certainly sums up the atmosphere that has spread across this great country of ours. Just as the opening lines of the book express great extremes, that is where we seem to be as a country. Life can be so technologically advanced that our computers and communication devices make the original Star Trek equipment seem dated. On the other hand, there is great pessimism and fear about where we are heading as a nation.
Nowhere is this difference more evident than in the financial disparity of our country. Donnie Deutsch on MSNBC put it succinctly on MSNBC’s Morning Joe the other day when he said that America is really two economies and we have to stop treating it as one. I couldn’t agree more since I have expressed this view so much in the past two years. We have the Wall Street economy (the wealthy) and the Main Street economy (everyone else). At one time, these two streets intersected. A booming stock market used to mean companies in the USA were expanding and adding jobs. What was good for corporate America, was good for the country.
It is a different world now. More than ever before, we now have an international economy. A company may still expand, but now it can easily do in another part of the world where it is cheaper. The driving business of any company is to make money. That is capitalism. Now we have capitalism on steroids where the appetite of the shareholders for more profits is insatiable. Any CEO, whose company is in danger of not meeting or exceeding expectations for the company, fears being kicked to the curb. (It does not matter that he or she is usually given a severance package that enables them to buy their own island or small country).
By the way, while this is going on in the highest corporate arena, income has gone down for the average American. Many of the new jobs that are being celebrated by the media are part-time or below subsistence level.
My question is: do American corporations have a responsibility to the country they grew and thrived in? If you take Mitt Romney’s argument that corporations are people, shouldn’t they have the same love and sense of responsibility to the USA as we do? You would think, but that is obviously not the case.
I love what a friend of mine started doing. Marc LeVine of ICA Social Media is a marketing professional who started a “Corporate Hall of Shame”. His philosophy, which I applaud, is that “if you are not a socially responsible and good business neighbor, you do not deserve to thrive in America.” One of the first companies he showcased was T-Mobile who “earned a windfall in recent years from third-party merchants offering bogus text message subscriptions for things like flirting tips, horoscopes and celebrity gossip. Those charges frequently weren't authorized by customers. The charges were allegedly concealed on customers' monthly bills.”
Another was Walgreens, “the largest drugstore chain in the United States with more than 8,700 drugstores spread across the nation, who is on the verge of moving its corporate headquarters to Switzerland as part of a merger with Alliance Boots, the European drugstore chain. Even if it becomes a Swiss corporation, Walgreen will remain your Main Street druggist. It just won't pay nearly as much in U.S. taxes.”
This is the garbage that goes on in our capitalist environment today. You know, at one time, American leaders took on the rich and powerful. Now they take on their donations and are happy with saying that is how capitalism works. The foundation of America is not her companies…it is her people. It is never a good plan to erode the foundation of anything. I know sweeping changes are not going to happen overnight. At this point, I would be happy if the government, business world, and news media would acknowledge that this reality is a really big problem. That would be the first step to figuring out what we need to do.
July 8, 2014
Over the 4th of July weekend, I attended a minor league baseball game on Saturday night. If you have never gone to one, I highly recommended it. Many times, they are more fun than going to an over-priced Major League ballgame with over-priced players.
They had fireworks after the game and to kick them off, the stadium played a piece by the late comedian Red Skelton on our Pledge of Allegiance. I remembered seeing this on television when I was a kid, and it struck me then how powerful it was. Furthermore, I thought about this recitation on the Fourth of July and filed away in my brain to look it up on the internet for a future column. Well, I don’t believe in coincidences, so the future is now. Enjoy and share:
As a schoolboy, one of Red Skelton's teachers explained the words and meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance to his class. Skelton later wrote down, and eventually recorded, his recollection of this lecture. It is followed by an observation of his own.
I - - Me; an individual; a committee of one.
Pledge - - Dedicate all of my worldly goods to give without self-pity.
Allegiance - - My love and my devotion.
To the Flag - - Our standard; Old Glory ; a symbol of Freedom; wherever she waves there is respect, because your loyalty has given her a dignity that shouts, Freedom is everybody's job.
United - - That means that we have all come together.
States - - Individual communities that have united into forty-eight great states. Forty-eight individual communities with pride and dignity and purpose. All divided with imaginary boundaries, yet united to a common purpose, and that is love for country.
And to the Republic - - Republic--a state in which sovereign power is invested in representatives chosen by the people to govern. And government is the people; and it's from the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.
For which it stands
One Nation - - One Nation--meaning, so blessed by God.
Indivisible - - Incapable of being divided.
With Liberty - - Which is Freedom; the right of power to live one's own life, without threats, fear, or some sort of retaliation.
And Justice - - The principle, or qualities, of dealing fairly with others.
For All - - For All--which means, boys and girls, it's as much your country as it is mine.
Since I was a small boy, two states have been added to our country, and two words have been added to the Pledge of Allegiance: Under God. Wouldn't it be a pity if someone said that is a prayer, and that would be eliminated from schools, too?
You can see the actual video on YouTube. Maybe it is time to re-emphasize what the Pledge really means to young and old alike. For politicians too...it is not just a photo-op!
July 3, 2014
If our paper tiger leaders of 2014 made up our Founding Fathers, we would be watching cricket and drinking tea on the Fourth of July. Think about it for a minute. If you read any in-depth historical treatment of the gentlemen who gathered in Philadelphia 238 years ago, it was a huge clash of wills and political philosophy before this gathering of the original colonies voted to break away from Great Britain. It is an entertaining musical, but I always thought the play and movie 1776 did a great job in bringing to life the various debates and problems of that era. History books in school give about three paragraphs to our birth as a nation, and it was not the slam-dunk that many made it out to be.
Many differences of opinion had to be balanced in order to get the Declaration of Independence written and approved. Originally, half the delegates did not even want to break away from Great Britain. Remember, in all of recorded history to that point, a colony did not just break away from the mother country without its permission. Some delegates could not conceive the notion of doing away with slavery and this was a big sticking point. That issue was shelved for another 85 years and had to be decided with another bloody war.
Here is how July 4, 1776 would have gone if today’s politicians were in charge:
The arguments and debates to get our country formed were neither clean nor easy. There were plenty of personal egos and self-interest involved in Philly in 1776. Somehow, the delegates of the Continental Congress managed to cobble together a Declaration of Independence and stood together against the mightiest European empire of the day. They came to realize that there was strength in coming together and that they had to act as a single entity for the common good. It took a hell of a lot of arguing and compromise to thumb their nose at Great Britain, but they did and the results were more than they could have ever dreamed.
There is a lot of romanticizing of the Founding Fathers. However, they all had the faults and issues as every person has. They managed to work together though. After the dust cleared from all the debate, they acted on what was good for the country. That is the historical lesson for the President and Congress today. Our country formed on the basis that nobody got their way on every point. That Continental Congress seemed to believe the goals of the nation were more important than individual philosophy. Everybody got a little, and everybody lost a little. They figured things out like grown-ups. 2014 Washington should take a tip from that.
July 2, 2014
I have been thinking about writing on this topic for a while. Originally, I was going to write how movies used to be made from great works of literature and now Hollywood studios use comic books. I have been a big reader and movie buff all of my life and realize that talking on that subject would be a bit pretentious. After all, I really enjoy seeing movies like Iron Man, The Avengers, and the X-Men. Besides, I have read some great “literature” and struggled to get through the book. I have also sat through Citizen Kane twice and just do not get all the accolades heaped on this movie, so who am I to judge.
I then reflected that the history of film in America is a window into each era of the 20th and 21st century. Many movies were crafted in their time to reflect America and to provide escapism from the problems of the day. If you ever watch the movies of the 30’s, many dramas and comedies take place in the upper crust of society. There were also lavish musicals that took folks’ mind off their troubles. Many people were suffering from the depression and did not mind living vicariously with the wealthy. War movies in the 40’s championed the American cause and the 50’s and 60’s had cold war themes. Also, movies in the 60’s and then the 70’s showcased a cynicism that was creeping into society. Granted, these are sweeping generalities that I am listing here, but you get the idea.
While there a variety of movies out there today, the ones that get the most attention are the “tent-pole” films. These are movies that hold up (as is the function of a tent pole) and balance out the financial performance of a movie studio. They are also expected to support the sale of ancillary tie-in merchandise. A lot of these are the comic book, science fiction, or fantasy franchises (Marvel Universe, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, etc.) There are a few lessons we can extract by looking at these movies that is an accurate reflection of where our country is today.
First, Hollywood is a business and like the rest of corporate America, wants to make lots of money. They will still do small, plot-driven movies, but most of the money is sunk into large-scale projects that will result in big profits. I believe if you take all the money spent on huge movie projects in one year, Hollywood would be in the top 50 of countries in terms of economic power. I think the studios accurately reflect corporate America. The goal is to keep the stockholders happy. I notice a big trend in the last couple of years of financial reporting that discusses the success or failure of movies in terms of the impact they have on a shareholders earnings – forget Oscar nominations. It gives studios the incentive to have tunnel vision on the products they produce and they are quite happy in developing cookie-cutter films that they know will have an audience just waiting for them. It is no wonder that truly innovative stories and productions have migrated over to the world of cable television and outlets like Netflix. Movie studios are in a play-it-safe mode and rarely take a chance on an unproven project.
Second, I think the success of these movies do show a shallowness in many of us. This comes in two forms. One is that movies have always reflected a venue of escapism. We want to shut the world out for two hours in a darkened theatre (or on our sofa) and just enjoy ourselves. There is nothing wrong with that. We all need a break, and probably more than we actually take. However, I think we are getting into a state in America where many people are losing the ability to handle anything that takes deep thinking. Young people grow up with video games, unlimited TV, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and have trouble concentrating or focusing on anything of any substance. Reading anything longer than 140 characters is a struggle for many. I back this up with studies in school showing students struggle with basic skills that we actually took for granted a generation ago – like reading and writing. I often talk here about how reporting on government is broken down in the media to sound bites and philosophical slogans, and too many people do not take the time to figure out what is going on.
I think the big movies bring in their audience for many reasons: action, adventure, attractive stars, and special effects that were unheard of a short time ago. I also think people like the idea of rooting for the hero or heroes of these big scale flicks. Let’s face it: in real life we are lacking any big name hero for people to look up to. We have many heroes in the military, emergency services, churches, our own families, etc. – but there has not been anyone on the national stage in quite a while. There is something that inspires us when we see people overcoming the odds and forging ahead to victory – usually for the common good. Nature abhors a vacuum and many of us have to retreat to the movies to find what we yearn for in real life. Without a real hero or leader in our country, we have to settle for one in a costume or from another galaxy.
July 1, 2014
If you look at what you need government for on a very local level, it is to fix the roads and pick up the garbage. As you work your way up the ladder of an ever-expanding government, the very basic needs are the same on the national scene: fix the roads, reduce garbage to create a national environment to promote economic opportunity for all, and defend the country.
Right now in 2014, our national leaders manage the last part (though it is probably being done with a lot of wasteful spending) but cannot manage doing the first two if their lives depended on it. In practicality, keeping our roads and bridges in shape has a big bearing on the nation’s economic environment.
The truth is that America's roads are running out of money
That is because the Highway Trust Fund, which provides transportation funding to every U.S. state, is at risk of running out of money in August, creating a fiscal cliff for the nation's transportation sector. If the fund is not replenished, states ranging from Vermont to Nebraska will be hit hard, and likely forced to put off road construction and repair projects.
So how did the fund end up in such a crisis? The problem is that the fund is not receiving enough money through gasoline taxes, thanks to more fuel-efficient cars and a dip in how much Americans drive. That has led to a 6 percent decline in gasoline consumption since 2007. Given that it is an election year, the White House and congressional Republicans and Democrats have precluded a tax hike on gasoline in fear of alienating voters. A bipartisan proposal had called for raising federal gasoline and diesel taxes by 12 cents.
On top of hurting construction jobs, the lack of funding will also reduce the overall safety of the nation's roads, said David Goldberg, the communications director for Transportation for America, an advocacy group. "We're falling seriously behind in investing in our infrastructure," Goldberg said. "We are behind just about every other developed nation. We used to lead the world. It does seem like earlier generations built this stuff for us, and we take it as a gift from heaven. We haven't been willing ourselves to invest what we need."
Two things here anger me. One is that I am getting tired and ashamed as an American to find out that we continually are falling behind other nations in basic services. Two weeks ago, I wrote how we are not in the top 10 of health care in the world despite all that is spent in that sector. And here we are spiraling downward with a basic need of today’s world where many of our roads, bridges, airports, and transportation facilities are decidedly below par.
The other thing I am sick about is how election years have become an excuse for not doing anything. American history is populated with politicians who wrestled with major problems and led from the front. Now we have a bunch of representatives with the backbones of jellyfish who seem to think they are in some ancient Greek temple where people argue philosophy. I really believe they have missed the boat on what they are supposed to be doing in Washington. We drive on roads that have more divots in them than a public golf course and cross bridges that are just marginally safer than crossing Niagara Falls on a tight rope. If you land in some of our major airports, you would think you landed in Bulgaria instead of a major metropolitan area of the United States.
I am a fiscal conservative and we spend money in this country on some very questionable things. However, there is a time where you have to stop being penny-wise and dollar-foolish. If we cannot get the government to act responsibly on a very basic need in America, how can we trust them on anything else? I am not downplaying political philosophy or how a person feels in the liberal-conservative spectrum, but it is way past time that we as Americans need to get our head out of our collective asses and realize that we too have to discern between the practical and the ideal. We need to lead the way on telling our representatives what they need to start doing, because they are incapable of doing anything on their own.
June 30, 2014
Every four years we go through the World Cup syndrome. The world has gone soccer mad, and there are countless stories about the USA team’s progress in the tournament and how interest in soccer will now zoom in America after the World Cup is over.
I am not Ann Coulter. I am not using her argument that a growing interest in the sport is a sign of America's "moral decay." (She is really out there sometimes.) Soccer is a legitimate sport. My four kids played it in the local recreation league when they were kids, and my oldest son stuck with it all the way through high school and got to play on a state championship team in his senior year. Their games were fun to go to.
Perhaps that is one of the problems I am having. This could be a game that is a lot more interesting to attend in person. I rarely watch baseball on TV, but it is enjoyable to go to a game – even going to minor league games. Watching soccer on TV is akin to watching Astroturf grow. It gets a little exciting when the action gets near the goal, but that happens for 5 – 10 minutes of the entire game. And can someone explain to me how they keep time in soccer? This must be the only game that has a clock that does not really matter. I understand a match is at least 90 minutes, but then it goes on until a ref decides, “OK, we have had enough – game over.”
Now that the tournament has reached its next stage, I do not understand how you let players run around for 90 minutes and then, after it ends in a tie, you decide the game by a shoot-out. If these games are so damn important, why don’t they just go into overtime until someone wins? Shouldn’t a game be decided by who is the best team rather than by a lucky kick or a fortunate save?
I love sports. I do try to watch a soccer game when the USA is playing. If there was a Tiddly-Wink World Cup, I would be watching and rooting for the American team. It is like the Olympics every four years. International competition is fun to watch and even a casual sports fan is pulling for the home team. Nevertheless, a bunch of us were talking at a graduation party the other week and the general consensus of soccer is that it is boring.
It is funny, but this is another subject where we seem to be asked to jump on the bandwagon with everyone else (in this case, it means the rest of the world.) As I mentioned earlier, whenever we go through the World Cup, there are countless stories in the media about how interest in soccer will skyrocket in America and it will become our national sport like in other countries. So what if that does not happen? Why is there such a clamor in almost every aspect of life where we are made to feel like a sinner if we do not agree with the majority? Major league soccer is growing in America. Great, wonderful…but that does not mean it has to be America’s number one sport because others think it should.
Hey, I hope America wins the whole thing and shuts up the international soccer snubs. That would be on par with the USA hockey team beating the Soviet Union team in the 1980 Olympics. That was a great event, but did not cause a nation-wide interest in the National Hockey League. I respect soccer and its fans. They should do the same for those of us who do not think soccer is God’s gift to the sporting world.