Last week, I saw a trailer for an upcoming movie called The Tender Bar. Something clicked in me with the story and, after seeing that it was based on a memoir, I bought the memoir from Amazon the next day.
I flew through the book in a week.
It’s a true story about an east coast boy growing up without a father. While he has a strong connection with his single mother, he also yearns to learn what it means to be a good man and searches for father figures around him. The book is called The Tender Bar because the author forges a connection with a specific bar in his Long Island home-town where he’s drawn to the men who congregate there including his Uncle Charlie. The coming-of-age story culminates when the author writes of a transformative scene with his father, looking into the mirror after the near-violent altercation the author exclaims to himself, “my father is not a good man but I am not my father.”
The Tender Bar is a touching story of a young man struggling to discover the secret to manliness, the secret ultimately coming from the one place he never thought to look when he was a child.
The movie adaptation will be released through Amazon this December. Directed by George Clooney and written by JR Moehringer and William Monahan.
Autumn leaves fall from their trees, guided by winds of fate and atmospheric pressure changes, and I obsessively count each leaf through a window analogizing each leaf as one of my many failures falling from the absurdly high expectations in my mind. Autumn colors are beautiful but depressing since all I can think of is the metaphor of death as the land slowly succumbs to winter’s bite. Yet there is also comfort in the act of surviving the winter because it is a reminder of the resilience of humans, a reminder of the best of the human spirit for endurance and progress.
52, 53, 54, . . .
I’m staring out the window now simply counting the falling leaves.
56, 57, 58, . . .
The bell above the entry door jingles and my eyes avert from the window to a beautiful woman who just walked into Elevation Coffee.
A glimpse into my mind as I sat at a Taos coffee shop enjoying a day off work.
The line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1973
How can a person protect himself from the evil within himself?
I believe evil is forestalled with focused and diligent self-reflection and improvement – questioning what you think you know, delaying judgment of others, assuming with whomever you speak that they know something which you do not, and recognizing humanity wherever you find it and in whomever you find it. Regardless of how much evil you witness around you, you can still make the world a better place by setting the example within yourself. Raise your own standards and show others how to love.
How does one show love (even to a complete stranger)?
Patience, gratitude, honesty, and mercy.
It takes courage to pursue justice and it takes temperance to acquire wisdom.
Remember the past, look towards the future, and exercise kindness.
. . . While the Negro should not be deprived by unfair means of the franchise, political agitation alone will not save him, and that back of the ballot he must have property, industry, skill, economy, intelligence, and character, and that no race without these elements could permanently succeed.
If a man like Booker T. Washington, who was born a literal slave, can lift himself out of the horror of institutional bondage then build his own character through a stoic dedication to hard work and self-improvement to eventually start a college in the heart of the South, any 21st century American with all of the technological and social privilege that time has granted us can rise to higher aims.
Frances Haugen, the former data engineer for Facebook who disclosed internal documents from the social media giant to the United States Securities & Exchange Commission and the Wall Street Journal, says that current algorithmic standards on social media harms young people.
I don’t think I’m alone in my expression of the colloquialism, “duh!”
It’s been known for some time excessive time spent on digital social media platforms actually increases depression in teenagers as well as further pushes unrealistic body images onto young girls. Did we really need a “whistleblower” to get us all hyped up about these facts? What Miss Haugen is doing is not so much whistleblowing as it is just calling out the elephant in the room. If Miss Haugen was actually revealing something dangerous to the status quo, would she really be called before Congress for discussion? Or would she be marked for prosecution and driven into hiding in a foreign embassy, awaiting the protection of any institution willing to shelter enemies of an empire?
Perhaps the reason why our officials in the United States Congress are so eager to prop up Frances Haugen as a hero is because the ruling oligarchy want to seize social media’s power over political discourse as Glenn Greenwald so eloquently put in his commentary on the matter. One question that each American citizen should be asking is, when did these technology giants become the gate-keepers to political speech? Here’s another novel concept particularly for these younger generations: perhaps we are all spending a little too much time in digital environments and not enough time in the real world spending real time with other people in the physical space (do not throw the pandemic at me – our issues around too much screen time began prior to this pandemic). How about we actually make efforts to understand each other by talking things out rather than hitting the “block” button every time we’re exposed to a different opinion?
Nine members of the Democratic Party expressed sentiments in the form of a written letter to the Speaker of the House against lower drug pricing in the $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill currently making its way through the United States Congress.
The justification for maintaining current drug pricing is supposedly to maintain our innovation in industry which surpasses that of the European market. A concerned citizen could look at who is providing big donations to those nine representatives.
“The statements of US government officials and industry representatives imply that the US market is paying for the development of most new drugs. There is ample evidence that domestic profits in several countries that have price or profit control cover research and development expenditures. For example, in Canada, domestic sales on average are about 10 times the research and development costs. In the United Kingdom, the pharmaceutical industry invests more of its revenues from domestic sales in research and development than do companies in the United States. Statements by US government officials and industry representatives also imply that the United States is becoming a dominant source of innovation because of its lack of drug price regulation. From a purely theoretical standpoint, these statements are troubling because they imply a country-specific source of innovation. The industry is private, however, not government owned, and operates in a worldwide market. It is also doubtful that pure price considerations would affect where a drug was developed, and more strategic considerations such as the availability of drug-specific research resources and infrastructure in a particular country may be a more important consideration.”
“Literally every single piece of media within the last decade has been a reboot of a pre-existing cult classic TV series or movie and it’s so vapid and soulless, unlike the original media these reboots are based off. And as a movie-goer, I am so tired of the endless cycle. What happened to creative creators with new stories to tell and characters to love (Suitably Bored, 2021)?”
How did Hollywood become so stale, stagnant, and boring?
Hollywood has become a stagnant puddle of ideas the last 10 years, as evident by them constantly scraping the bottom of the barrel and bringing back beloved cult classic franchises from the archives of the dead. Most if not all of these franchises or one-shot movies were not intended to have multi-million dollar reboots or start a new billion-dollar franchise. And let’s be honest with ourselves here as the movie-going public, has any of the reboots we got from Hollywood in the last 10 years bought anything new or interesting to the table? No. Do these movies have the same heart and creativity that the originals had when they were released? No. Are these reboots intended to be shameless cash grabs on nostalgia and the glory days of Hollywood? Yes.
Honesty and consistency are two of the rarest qualities in a human except for, I suppose, a consistent tendency for laziness. It takes effort to actually follow through with something you’ve said and telling the truth can be scary especially when you’re unsure what the truth is.
I think I know a thing or two about laziness being an incredibly lazy person myself. I often attempt to justify my laziness through my lack of physical coordination and proclivities against any sort of athletic activities (ironic given my height). However; humans did not evolve for stationary movement, it is a sign of our modern prosperity that so many humans have the luxury of remaining in their homes communicating on our various electronic computing devices. Many of us in developed countries now need reminders to stand up and move. We also need to remind ourselves to go out and interact with people in-person – in the physical space.
It can be difficult to transmit a sense of empathy over electronic screens through text communications. Even across video-sharing platforms there are still barriers between people – you have an incredibly limited view of what you see around the other person, you cannot smell their environment (your sense of smell is most closely connected to memory), and you cannot touch the other the person (an incredibly important factor in forging connections). The ease at which we can “block” people from our lives is also problematic regarding community-building and maintaining lasting connections. One cannot block a person in real life. IRL, you must deal with a person and all their flaws. Fortunately, the fun part about flaws is that everybody has some; no one is alone in that regard. Perhaps our flaws can be a point of connection in the physical space – let’s all get together and talk about our flaws! 🙂
I value honesty and authenticity above anything else in another person but it seems like, the further we go into a more digital environment, the more rare those qualities become in people. On the world wide web, everyone is crafting an image – a façade – to project to whatever sub-community of which they’re a part. The people putting their real selves out their for the world are drowned out by the people wearing masks and trying to fit into something.
If you want to understand other people, first you must understand yourself, both of which can be a great undertaking.
Today, members of the Capitol Police give testimony (Live Coverage: House Panel Holds First Hearing on Jan. 6 Probe, The Hill Staff, 7/27/2021) in the House of Representatives regarding their experience during the insurrection that occurred on January sixth of this year. Their recollections from that day are vivid and horrifying, they even describe the insurrectionists as domestic terrorists (which I think is an honest description). I think any reasonable person would describe the events of January 6, 2021, as nothing short of a rebellion against the United States government. However, there are still people who would describe the rebels as American patriots while describing the police officers as traitors.
How did Americans become this polarized?
The two majority political parties have seen growing polarization over the past two decades with over a third of voters from each of the parties showing stark (Staff Report, Pew Research, 2021) differences in political opinions. The linked article above shows differences in opinions on voting rights, an arguably staple issue. Only 38% of Republican Party voters favor automatic voter registration of American adults compared to 82% of Democratic Party voters; the same percentage of Republican Party voters are in favor of early voting compared to 84% of Democratic Party voters. Support for differing positions is growing more and more stark within each party.
I think this polarization is tied to two different phenomena in 21st century America. First, the balkanized news media ecosystem in which we find ourselves swimming amid the many electronics screens that dominate our households. We have so many choices of news and commentary channels that we are increasingly retreating into our own ideological bubbles and shutting out any opposing view points. It’s imperative that individuals make efforts to search for sources of information outside of their own ideology (assuming self-awareness of one’s own ideology which can also be difficult to achieve).
The elimination of the Fairness Doctrine (WikiPedia, accessed 7/27/2021) is another contributing factor to political polarization. Repealed in 1987, the Fairness Doctrine (Victor Pickard, The Washington Post, 2021) mandated radio and television broadcasters to present opposing views of allegedly controversial issues to the American public operating under the justification that, because there were so few news broadcasters, a mandate was required to maintain a diversity of opinions (correctly assuming that news media has an significant impact on the political opinions of American voters). The conservative argument to this in the era of digital media is that there are so many outlets for news & commentary today that a government mandate on media organizations is no longer necessary. However, this assumption fails to explain how a handful of companies control (Ashley Lutz, Business Insider, 2012) the legacy media (established news sources like CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, etc.). The fact that more Americans are capable of accessing a plethora of news stations today is beside the point of contention regarding who owns most of those news stations. The digital era presents Americans with more opportunities in news but most of the money still resides with legacy media (not to mention the political parties that influence respective news stations with their war chests). In other words, the laissez faire argument falls flat as usual – Americans cannot rely on private organizations to police themselves or forgo opportunities for profit in pursuit of a public interest. There is also the issue surrounding the advent of digital social media. Platforms like YouTube and Facebook have become primary players in so-called alternative news media but they are technically not broadcaster themselves, not subject to traditional regulations over periodic content.
The second phenomenon that has fueled polarization is the growing influence of money in political processes. American elections have been growing more expensive through our history. Since the start of this century, every national congressional and presidential election has topped (OpenSecrets, accessed 7/27/2021) billions of dollars. A specific Supreme Court case (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Oyez, accessed July 27, 2021) has only exacerbated the issue with election spending growing exponentially since 2010. Concern over large financial interests in elections is nothing new. The first attempt to regulate financial expenditures on elections was the Tillman Act of 1907 (WikiPedia, accessed 7/27/2021). The act, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt prohibited corporations from spending money from their own treasuries on specific election campaigns. Obviously, the Supreme Court of the United States has taken the nation in a different direction since then. Today, independent organizations can spend unlimited amounts of money advocating for a specific political candidate which ensures that people with more money are able to crowd the media air waves with advertisements, effectively shutting out less fortunate voices. I think advocacy for limits on campaign spending by independent organizations could be argued for using the Equal Protection Clause as justification but I’m not a lawyer.
The corrupting influence (OpenSecrets, accessed 7/27/2021) of capitalism on democratic-republicanism is obvious at this point in our history. Donations of $2,500 or more from individual people (large donations) make up the bulk of expenditures to political candidates, donations $200 or less (small donations) make up barely over 10% of all political expenditures. Health insurance companies, for instance, donate (OpenSecrets, accessed 7/27/2021) millions of dollars every cycle to political campaigns. This fact could be one factor in why the United States is the only industrialized country on the planet that does not guarantee a universal healthcare policy to its citizens despite a majority (Bradley Jones, Pew Research, 2020) of Americans supporting universal healthcare.
Oligarchic Intrusion, Apathy, Polarization
The high costs of elections coupled with the overwhelming influence of money in politics has led to a majority of Americans abdicating the civic responsibility of voting (Drew Desilver, Pew Research, 2020) under the justification that votes do not matter as much as in past generations, leaving the democratic to the more ideologically charged activists who are less likely to make strategic compromises with their political opponents. The 2016 elections saw 56% of the voting population turning up on Election Day – that percentage was a slight increase from 2012 but lower than the record year of 2008 when 58% of voters cast a ballot. It’s easy to cast blame onto these apathetic citizens, shrugging them off as lazy and irresponsible, but I think the more significant question is why these citizens feel so disconnected from their own government – from their democratic process. Half the nation feels so disconnected from democracy – from the republic – they don’t know where to turn to make their voice heard and, when large groups of people feel disenchanted, disaffected, and desperate, violence is more common.
I spent five years in a university under the assumption that a college degree was all I needed for a decent life as an adult but I feel as if I gained more life experience in the work force outside of the official academia sphere. This general feeling of dissatisfaction is not uncommon among college graduates and it doesn’t help that the cost of college tuition has more than doubled in the last thirty years (Bill McCarthy, PolitiFact, 2019). 58% of Americans say that college is worth current costs and 72% of Americans are in support of free tuition at public colleges and universities (Staff Report, American Public Media-Research Lab, 2019). So about half of Americans do not think college degrees are worth their price and a super majority of Americans are in support of making colleges cheaper in some capacity. I’m with the super majority who wants cheaper college.
Thinking back on my time in American schools, it’s difficult to credit any of that time with any practical knowledge of adult life. Perhaps the biggest contribution schools made to my professional development was knowledge of how to research information and how to distinguish between different sources of information. Practical specifics like job applications, tax documents, and rental agreements I learned on my own after I left the public school system. I think this is an issue worthy of our collective attention. Schools need to place more emphasis on the practical specifics of life especially junior high & high schools. A high school student should be able to navigate the fundamentals of independent living the day that he/she graduates. Basically, high school should be what college is now.
I think there are two primary strategies for reforming American education. The first strategy is to increase funding for public schools allowing for more opportunities for a wider variety of students as well as mandating free tuition for all citizen applicants and increasing pay for teachers. Taking the emphasis off test-taking and giving each student a more hands-on approach with a more personalized curriculum. The second strategy is basically the opposite approach, to decrease funding for public education forcing schools to re-organize and reallocate their budgets and strip down their curriculums with the intention of rebuilding public schools from necessities. Whereas the former strategy is a more Keynesian approach to public education, the latter strategy is a more laissez faire approach to public education.
A separate issue with American education is not the schools themselves but the civil society in which they exist. I think a particular attitude has developed in the American consciousness around educational institutions: that the institutions are beyond criticism with the belief that a college degree is the only way to to make one’s life “successful.” While I agree that more education can only be an improvement to a person’s life, I do not believe that institutions should hold a monopoly on education; a school and an education are two different things. A good education begins with parents and/or family fostering an inquisitive mindset into children. One idea my mother drilled into me in childhood was to never be afraid to ask a question. I think this invoked a curious nature within me about what kinds of questions to ask which people. Curiosity towards the world around you as well as curiosity regarding how the world has been is necessary for an informed populace. Parents need to be more active in their children’s development and push them to ask questions, perhaps even challenge their teachers.
I do not believe that any one institution (be it educational, governmental, etc.) deserves a people’s absolute and unwavering trust. Any person is susceptible to corruption and, by extension, any institution is susceptible to corruption. It is healthy to question any decision especially if it comes from a position of authority. Wirelessly connected computers and the world wide web have increased access to information on a scale never before seen in human history but despite that, I fear humans are becoming even more ideologically reclusive. It’s as if too many choices in news media is causing people to retreat into their own comforts and biases further balkanizing the political landscape. There must be ways for communities (and the broader society) to foster curiosity and encourage people to step out of their comfort zones. My advice for now, to anyone reading this, is simply to watch less and read more.