Blog

Black History vs Critical Race Theory (CRT)

Today, February 1st, marks the beginning of Black History Month in the United States for the year 2023. At least in any school district still allowed to teach it.

In the past, I have observed the month by trying to put forth a series of social media deep dives into the lives of the Black men and women whose incredible contributions to medical, industrial, technological, and social advancement of our nation have largely been erased from our societal record while their contributions remain a part of our daily lives. My intent was to focus on those individuals overlooked in favor of the constantly rehashed chosen few deemed worthy of very brief cherry-picked [white-washed] discussion by those in charge of the curricula.

This year, in light of the assault on all aspects of Black History education by White Nationalist American conservatives and evangelical Christians, I am only going to write this one essay on the subject.

Contrary to what Republicans would have you believe, a focus on teaching Black History in our schools (even for just a month) is intended to show that People of Color, most specifically Black people, have contributed so much to the advancement of our society, culture, nation, and world that most of us take for granted. In most cases this was done both for, and in spite of, a society, culture, nation and world that has long sought to belittle, demean, exploit, dehumanize, gaslight, enslave, and eradicate them.

The lessons on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., always focus on largely white-washed highlights of his “I have a dream speech. The lessons on the Black Panthers always focus on the fact that they were walking around in public armed with pistols and long guns. Teaching about Harriet Tubman focuses on her as a matriarch leading countless slaves to freedom.

Modern American Republicans (those political conservatives and evangelicals) want you to believe that learning these things somehow harms the emotional and psychological health of modern White children. They have chosen to mislabel it as Critical Race Theory which is not now and has not ever been a focus of any public elementary, middle or junior high, or high school curricula, not even for one month a year.

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a largely academic exercise for jurisprudence and political scholars. It explores how racial bias and discrimination have become embedded within societal systems and that harm that creates directly for those targeted by it and indirectly for our society as a whole. It then forces us to look for ways we can begin to excise those biases and discriminations from those systems to create a more fair and equitable society for us all. Accomplishing this would not in any way diminish or harm any White child, it would only help put an end to continuing the diminishment and harm they inflict on all People of Color.

Encyclopedia Britannica’s online entry for Critical Race Theory states:

“[R]acism in the United States is normal, not aberrational: it is the ordinary experience of most people of colour. Although extreme racist attitudes and beliefs are less common among whites than they were before the mid-20th century, and explicitly racist laws and legal practices—epitomized by the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation and denied basic civil rights to African Americans in the South—have been largely eliminated, most people of colour continue to be routinely discriminated against or otherwise unfairly treated in both public and private spheres, as demonstrated by numerous social indicators. African Americans and Hispanic Americans (Latinxs), for example, are on average more likely than similarly qualified white persons to be denied loans or jobs; they tend to pay more than whites for a broad range of products and services (e.g., automobiles); they are more likely than whites to be unjustly suspected of criminal behaviour by police or private (white) citizens; and they are more likely than whites to be victims of police brutality, including the unjustified use of lethal force. If convicted of a crime, people of colour, particularly African Americans, are generally imprisoned more often and for longer periods than whites who are found guilty of the same offenses. Many Blacks and Hispanics continue to live in racially segregated and impoverished neighbourhoods, in part because of zoning restrictions in many predominantly white neighbourhoods that effectively exclude lower-income residents. Predominantly Black or Hispanic neighbourhoods also tend to receive fewer or inferior public services, notably including public education. The lack of quality education in turn limits job opportunities, which makes it even more difficult to leave impoverished neighbourhoods. On average, Blacks and Hispanics also receive less or inferior medical care than whites and consequently lead shorter lives.”

If we were to approach those oft-revisited Black History Month lessons from above with a CRT viewpoint we’d be doing a critical analysis of Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” as well as why it was necessary to be written from a jail cell. We’d be talking about the reason the Black Panthers were armed was to protect Black citizens from racist attacks which led to White conservative politicians led by Ronald Reagan and the NRA to establish California’s first major gun control restrictions, the Mulford Act. We’d also discuss how that same organization, the Black Panthers, were responsible for the creation of the school breakfast programs that greatly benefited all impoverished children, including White children. We’d learn about how the 2nd Amendment was established in large part to maintain armed slave patrol militias to recapture escaped slaves the the warrior-spy Harriet Tubman was forced to become to protect those she was helping reach safety.

This month, I encourage and implore you to learn some real facts about both Black History and Critical Race Theory.

Set aside a few hours to learn how the history of American Slavery has affected every aspect of the American society that was built both by and atop it, and learn how that same society has worked hard to erase the memory of those contributions while still benefiting from them.

Go watch Hulu’s short series of episodes based on the Pulitzer Prize winning “1619 Project.”

Hopefully, that will pique your interest enough to go read the full award winning series of articles created for the New York Times by Nikole Hannah-Jones.

The #Culturalinertia of the Zombie Apocalypse

As far as we can tell, humans have been mystified and filled with hope and fear by the concepts of the possibilities of life after death and the possibility that death is the ultimate end.
 
For many it alters the way they choose to live, behave, and interact.
 
Entire religious belief systems have been built and destroyed because of it.
 
It has been the subject of endless theological and scientific study and debate.

It has permeated every aspect of human entertainment culture from the various forms of heaven, hell, purgatory, angels, demons, eternal banquet halls celebrating warriors, eternal pits of fire and brimstone punishing sinners, to the aspects of the undead walking the earth as vampires, ghosts, zombies, and the twisted monsters stitched together by mad scientists.  

Much of our #Culturalinertia and how it has shifted can be measured by looking at how such things are discussed as its presentation evolves through entertainment.

The TV show ‘Supernatural’ ran for over 15 years, it survived after the network it originated on died and disappeared, and it had a very different take on modern religion than any previously show could have put on air.    It followed in the footsteps of “Charmed” and Buffy the Vampire Slayer” introducing the concepts to millions that not all “monsters” were bad and not all “heavenly creatures” had the best interest of living humans as a priority.
 
We can see a similar evolution in the seemingly never-ending cultural fascination with a zombie apocalypse.
 
The modern form of it started with George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.”   This movie launched not only an enduring new genre of film, but dared to be one of the first major studio films brave enough to make a Person of Color the hero in a position of authority leading White characters. It also laid the groundwork for building nearly every horror film sequel franchise that has been made since.

The only real question of morality in Romero’s films though was whether one would have the fortitude to kill a zombie that had once been a person we knew or cared about.

But, to keep us from getting bored with it, the zombie mythos has had to evolve many times since that movie’s release in 1968.  Romero’s follow-up films helped forge the path for that as well.
 
Then came the inevitable spoof films and reboots like “Revenge of the Dead,”” Night of the Day of the Dawn Of the Dead,” one of my favorites: “Shawn of the Dead” or my daughter’s favorite — the zombie apocalypse Christmas musical — “Anna and the Apocalypse”

These would be followed by reinventions of how zombies would move in “28 Days Later” and its sequel as well as South Korea’s “Train to Busan.”
 
Through all of these, the fascination with the genre has been more about either being torn apart and eaten alive or the fear of falling victim to whatever virus or curse was turning people into reanimated corpses with a singular purpose of spreading their affliction or a never ending hunger for human flesh/brains.
 
Entire fictional religious and scientific backgrounds have been created, fleshed out, torn down and rebuilt to explain how it could happen in each particular film’s fictional universe.

Then “The Walking Dead” came along and changed it all again, both with its graphic novel and its TV show.

This show survived for more than a decade and spawned multiple spinoffs simply because it decided to introduce the audience to something scarier and more monstrous than the zombies.   The moral ambiguity of the humans capable of surviving in a post-apocalyptic world and the struggles they’d have with their own humanity to manage it.  It explored not just the terror of surviving the initial outburst and its spread, but the terror of competing with other survivors for food, water, and an ever-depleting supply of shelter, ammunition, fuel, and other vital resources.

These survivors quickly learned how to navigate and defeat the monsters in all but the most dire circumstances.  They even eventually learned how to weaponize the monsters against each other.

This brought new dimension and depth to explore in what was becoming a played-out genre.
 
Would becoming a living monster be worse than becoming an undead one?   Would you be the kind of person that would sacrifice others to save yourself or yourself to save others if it became necessary to choose?  Would the answer live on a sliding scale of morality and self-preservation depending on who was involved?  What psychological struggles and tangible hardships would arise with the possibility of conceiving and delivering a child into such a world?  What kinds of cooperative communities, leadership politics, and both internal and external rivalries would arise between such communities?

It even allowed children as primary characters to do what was necessary to survive or sometimes failing.   It didn’t shy away from making the parents of those kids deal with the undead monsters they had become, or the making the kids deal with the undead monsters they’re parents became.
 
These are the plotlines that allowed the entire genre to rise up and start plodding forward again.

A few years after the Walking Dead TV show first aired, a video game was released called “The Last of Us.”  It won tons of rewards for both its visuals and storytelling.    And it re-wrote the “zombie” mythos all again.  These monsters weren’t walking undead.  They were infected, not by a virus or curse, but a very real (in our world) fungal infection.   A fungal infection that already takes over living hosts with no purpose other than to spread itself through other hosts as far and as fast as possible.  This fungal infection is called Cordyceps.  It is the one that already infects and spreads through ants that are known as “zombie ants” once infected. The fungus overgrows the central nervous system and assumes control of the body. 

The only reason the virus can’t infect humans in our current world is that it cannot survive at the temperatures found inside a living human.   The game itself never explains how that changes, but the new TV show based upon it does.

The fungus, like many things, is forced to evolve to survive in higher temperatures as the global climate warms.  The slight adjustment needed to survive at human body temperatures from its current limit of about 94 degrees Fahrenheit doesn’t require a massive suspension of disbelief to make it terrifying.  The show also changes its secondary spread methodology from airborne spores (which the game used as an obstacle to be navigated) to a more scientifically sound growth of fungal tendrils.

It cannot be stressed how viscerally this concept lands right now as we are navigating our third year of a massively contagious global health pandemic and the ongoing crises created by the environmental changes brought about by rising global temperatures.

It isn’t surprising that modern survivalists have gone from prepping for the likely possibility of a nuclear apocalypse to one created by an unstoppable health crisis or global climate catastrophe.  
 
You can even buy premade zombie apocalypse survival kits now and they’re not entirely considered “gag gifts.”

As our society evolves to new levels of personal and interpersonal risk and horror, the entertainment we use to escape and/or cope with it also evolves to keep pace.

We can learn much about ourselves and others by analyzing the trends that endure, the ones that are rejected, the ones we mock, and the ones to which we pay homage.

End the Nightmare, Help Make His Dream Our Reality

I did not want to be the middle-aged White guy posting the obligatory Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., quotes today in order to honor the holiday named after him while our society continues dishonoring everything he was, he did, and was done to him, in order to earn that holiday.

A lifetime friend, and retired federal law enforcement officer, who is also a Black man born around the same time the Reverend Doctor was assassinated, and raised in the supposed “post Civil-Rights” era, posted this reminder this morning:

“Dr. King was arrested 29 times. He was a protester. He was not a nice man who said nice things from the pulpit. He was a protester. He was also not well liked as people like to assert. At the time of his death he arguably was the most hated man in America, due to him speaking out against the Vietnam war.”

Two days after his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, FBI Domestic Intelligence Chief William Sullivan wrote in a memo ‘We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security,’. Which culminated in the FBI sending a letter to Dr. King’s home which was opened by his wife, documenting their surveillance of his extramarital affairs and telling him that he was an ‘evil, abnormal beast’ and that he needed to commit suicide with 34 days.

Now, over half a century later, the same type of people that screamed at and attempted to kill young Black children being integrated into previously all White public schools, the same type of people who screamed and attempted to kill Martin Luther King, Jr, and his supporters, are the ones still fighting against “Black Lives Matter” movements and screaming about their intentional misunderstanding of actual history as “critical race theory.”

In many cases it isn’t just the same type of people, it is the literally the same people.

Republican politicians around the nation have been working hard to eradicate all of the Civil Rights gains that Dr. King helped us to put in place and the voting rights protections that came about as a result of those continuing his work after his death. These same politicians will be very carefully cherry-picking quotes from his speeches and work today — mostly likely out of context quotes that seem to be calling for perpetual non-violent protest of uncompromising oppression — in order to further the white-washing of his legacy.

If you haven’t read Dr. King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” you should start there, before doing anything you think is intended to honor his memory today. Only then will you have a true understanding on his feelings toward the use of both non-violent and violent protest of unjust laws and systems. Only then will you understand what he was truly fighting for and why he was assassinated.

Only then will you understand why we can never be a truly free and democratic society until we reject the nightmare he was protesting and start making the dream he had for us all into our reality.



The #Culturalinertia of Consent

The issue of consent in our society is problematic at best, and mostly one sided.

This is because our society has a established a long history of supporting male dominated stereotypes for nearly all interactions, personal and professional, across all aspects.

Even with our language we assign male attribute descriptors to discussions of strength and bravery.

“Take it like a man.”

“Grow some balls.”

We expect strong, tough, capable, brave men to be devoid of empathy, compassion, and personal feelings other than anger and lust.

“Real men don’t cry.”

“A real man wouldn’t let anyone talk to them that way.”

We assign feminine attribute descriptors to discussions of weakness, while we treat compassion, understanding, and nurturing as additional forms of that weakness.

When men are being perceived as weak, we attribute female descriptors to them. When women are perceived as strong or forceful, we attribute male descriptors.

“Don’t be a pussy.”

“You punch/throw/run like a girl.”

“She’s got more balls than the lot of them.”

“She’s twice the man you are.”

Now, obviously, there has been much recent improvement on these issues with the rise of the #MeToo movement and the increasing acceptance of non-binary gender identities slowly guiding change to our daily discourse. But there’s a long way to go. Especially with the Evangelical far-right pushback to the shift attempting to return us to an error of legalized spousal rape while stripping away all the civil rights gains of all women and all people with non-traditional gender identities and relationship roles.

Meanwhile, much still hasn’t improved at all. Sexual assault victims and sexual harassment victims are still “slut shamed” and subjected to the additional trauma of having their own lives torn apart with character assassination attempts for coming forward with accusations against their abusers.

Laws are being passed all over the country to either reinstate or protect the right of a man to force his wife to have sex with him when she doesn’t want to. Laws are in place to give rapists the right to sue for paternity in states that won’t allow their victims to seek an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy resulting from rape and/or incest.

The Brock Turners and Brett Kavanaughs of the world continue to do whatever they want to whomever they want with little or no serious consequence even when the extend of their deeds are made public.

This carries over into our entertainment as well.

The classic holiday song “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is nothing less than a date rape anthem for men attempting to continue to pressure and coerce women who have already said “No” multiple times into spending the night with them rather than helping them get home safely or just allowing her to leave.

Chris Pratt famously exposed himself to Any Poehler and everyone else on set on the set of “Parks And Rec” during a scene because he wanted to get a more surprised reaction from her on camera. The exposure was not scripted and was not consented to by any other person present. Her reaction is the one that made the cut for the show.

Meanwhile on “Friends” it was scripted for Matt Leblanc’s character Joey to expose himself to the entire cast and a guest star’s character whom his character had literally just met. This was played off as normal behavior for the people in the show for the era it was filmed. But it was handled much differently. Leblanc wore boxers under the robe he was supposed to open during the scene, and showed less than he likely would have in a bathing suit to them. In one outtake of the scene he actually had one of the other actors pictures attached to the front of the boxers. Despite the scripted scene, he still didn’t have consent to truly expose himself to them, and he took steps not to.

Movies and television productions are starting to have intimacy coordinators and counselors on set to prevent anyone being improperly exploited, pressured, or forced into something they are not completely comfortable with.

The need for this is becoming more and more apparent due to the abundance of cases like the one above.

Just this week it was announced that the stars of the 1968 “Romeo and Juliet” movie are suing paramount for the nude scenes they feel they were forced into while filming the movie. The actors were 15 and 16 at the time, roughly the same ages as the play’s tragic characters. Both are now in their 70s. There was no recourse at the time for them, there is now. For years, the version of this film with their nude bedroom scene was shown in public school English classrooms around the nation despite containing nude images of underage actors. Setting aside the power dynamics in play. Minors cannot legally consent.

As a father of multiple daughters, as a brother, a son, a husband, an uncle, a nephew, and a friend to the various women in my life, as a father of a son, I feel it is my responsibility to both teach and advocate for them whenever I can. I won’t even make my kids give “hello” or “goodbye” hugs to family friends or relatives if they don’t want to. Because it will never not be their choice who gets to press against them and wrap arms around their body.

It is important for all women and girls to learn they control their body, who they allow to see and touch it, and how and when that happens. It is equally important for all men and boys to learn that same truth and to honor it.

What is oft overlooked is that the opposite should also be true. Boys and men also have the same control over access to their bodies and women and girls should also honor that. This, despite the fact that society and entertainment want to portray all men as always ready and willing, even if they are already committed to a different person. Not only ready and willing, but completely incapable of having the strength to say “No” even if they wanted to.

It is dismaying how casually and enthusiastically Margo Robbie recently admitted she forced an unscripted kiss on Brad Pitt during a scene filmed for their recent movie, “Babylon,” just because she didn’t know when she’d ever have another chance to kiss Brad Pitt.

Millie Bobbie Brown made a similar excited announcement about her own behavior and cruelty with costar and supposed friend Louis Partridge while filming “Enola Homes 2.” Brown admitted she grabbed his face during rehearsals and kissed him to his surprise. “It was so cute really seeing her take the lead,” she said about the scene. “And also seeing a girl just make the first move is just really exciting.” Additionally, she admitted to punching Partridge while mingling on set. “Because Louis is a good friend I just kept punching him, I wasn’t doing stunts, I really was hurting him,” she said. “By the end of it, he said: ‘Millie can you just fake punch me,’ I was fully just getting him right in the stomach.”

I am not sure if such behavior should be considered expected or unexpected from a child star who, just like Emma Watson, was subjected to a social media “countdown clock” tracking when she would be of “legal” age to be sexualized.

Regardless of whether we use male or female descriptors for the behaviors; regardless of who is the instigator; regardless of how it is portrayed on screen for storyline entertainment purposes, consent is vital for all parties.

Non-consensual contact is assault. Additionally, most forms of such assault are at best unethical and at worst criminal.

Be better. Teach better. Demand better.

Understanding History is the Key to a Better Future.

I am told that there is a proverbial phrase among the Inuit: ‘A long time ago, in the future.’ Let the children see our history and maybe it will help to shape the future.

~Romeo LeBlanc

If you’ve been following my public social media pages on Facebook or my semi-private companion discussion group, over the last decade or so, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been increasingly sharing more and more information from historians. These range from the profanity laced lessons of James Fell to the almost daily deep dives of Professor Heather Cox Richardson to guide us as we discuss our #Culturalinertia and how to change it where necessary.

It is vital to understand our history to understand what we have experienced, overcome, endured, or accepted in order to get to where we are today.

How else can we recognize whether the problems we are facing now are a new trend, a resurgence of an old problem we believed conquered and forgotten, or something so deeply entrenched in the inertia of our culture that we barely even recognize it as a problem anymore unless it directly affects us or someone we care deeply enough about to wake up and take notice.

Today, on NPR’s Fresh Air, host Terry Gross interviewed the leader of one of the best deep-dive investigative journalism teams of this era, Rachel Maddow.

If you can find the time for nothing else this week, please, I implore you, set aside the 43 minutes to listen to this important interview.

The purpose of the interview is a discussion revolving around Ms. Maddow’s 9 part podcast entitled “Ultra.” It is an Apple podcast available on iTunes. The historical story Ms. Maddow weaves together in the series has already had its movie rights optioned by Steven Spielberg.

In the podcast’s 9 episodes, Ms. Maddow explores a period of American history between World War I and World War II. “The all-but-forgotten true story of good, old-fashioned American extremism getting supercharged by proximity to power. When extremist elected officials get caught plotting against America with the violent ultra right, this is the story of the lengths they will go to… to cover their tracks.” It documents the history of sitting members of Congress conspiring with a known Nazi agent to implement Hitler’s plot to overthrow the American government before we could enter World War II. Insurrectionists criminally charged with plotting to end American democracy for good. Justice Department prosecutors under crushing political pressure. 

If you do find the time to listen to the whole podcast series, when it is over, it will be impossible not to see all the direct links and parallels of the “America First” efforts of those sitting congress members and their most famous spokesman Charles Lindbergh with the modern “America First” movement and its most famous spokesman Donald Trump.

Whether you listen to the whole series or not, after you listen to the interview, please, I implore you, join me in a resolution for the coming year and then forever after.

Let us resolve to stop using words like “unprecedented” and “unbelievable” for things that have already happened, are still happening, and will keep happening until we put an end to them.

Refuse to allow the normalization of things that must be corrected by dismissing them as one-off anomalies that will self-correct if we just have enough patience and blind-faith trust in the centuries old systems that allow them to keep recurring.

Let us fully embrace the most important tool we have for making a better future, a true deep understanding of the history that has lead to our present.

History, in illuminating the past, illuminates the present, and in illuminating the present, illuminates the future.

~Benjamin Cardozo

What’s Changed?

Today I was asked:



Hi Tim, Today is the 10th Anniversary of Sandy Hook. Please address how little has changed since those 20 angels came to be.

It only took me a minute to realize that a proper answer required starting at a different point in history.

Yes, it’s been a decade.

Sadly, little has changed except things have become worse. Uvalde is far more recent.

Yet neither is the starting point of this era of gun violence or school campus shootings that began in April of 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado.

We’re averaging one mass shooting in America every 13 hours this year alone. There have been 628 such events — with at least 4 victims not including the shooter injured or killed by gunfire in a single incident — in the 348 days since January 1, 2022. Thirty-six of those events have been mass murders with at least 4 fatalities not including the shooter.

Guns have taken the lives of 1,584 American kids under the age of 18 so far this year, and injured another 4,293.

Another 17 days remain until the end of the year.

What has changed after each of these events, in the last two decades or so, is that most Republican led states have made guns easier to obtain both legally and illegally while also lowering requirements for licensure and training required for legal ownership; increasing the rates of gun violence at steadily alarming rates.

What has changed is that every damn day is the anniversary of another mass shooting event in this country.

If you want to help put an end to these injuries and deaths, support background checks even for private transfer of gun ownership, support licensing and proficiency training requirements, support red-flag laws, support mandatory state, local, national, and military law enforcement participation in a national database of domestic violence offenders and violent criminals who should not be permitted to own firearms, support mandatory charges for gun owners whose guns are left unsecured and unattended so others can use them in such attacks, support mandatory charges for gun owners whose firearms are used by children (even if deemed an accidental discharge).

No other course of action is going to alter the inertia of our culture of gun violence.

The #Culturalinertia of Social Media

Title graphic created with DALL-E-2 AI text to image creator

On October 29, 1969, ARPAnet delivered its first message; a “node-to-node” communication from one computer to another, and the internet as we know it was born.

In 1976, Ward Christensen invented the XModem file transfer protocol. It was released to the public in 1977 and the world as we knew it would never be the same again.

Social Media didn’t begin with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or TikTok.

It is not going to end there either, regardless of what happens with those services over the next few months or years.

Long before Facebook and Twitter were created, those of us who pioneered online social media were doing so on CompuServe, GEnie, and then Prodigy, AOL, and Myspace.  Before Spotify and YouTube there was Napster.  Before Napster we had FidoNet and others like it.

Before all of those we had dial-up BBS systems with messages boards, text chat rooms, and slow as hell file sharing.

I have been a part of all of it since I obtained an Apple IIe and 300 baud modem in the late 1970s.

In the mid-to-late-80s, I worked as a customer service and tech support representative, content moderator, content creator, design advisor, and alpha/beta tester for the General Electric Network for Information Exchange (GEnie), which General Electric created in 1985 in partnership with Ameritech.   During my time there, I also served as the Technical Editor and content contributor for John C. Dvorak’s (now out of print) public user’s guide to the service.

I present this information here to show that on the subject of electronic social media, I have been not just a user, but helped build and shape it through its early stages, and have been involved with using it, through all of its iterations and evolutions since the very beginning.

On this subject, I can legitimately claim a bit of expertise.

BBS Systems

CBBS, the first computer- based bulletin board system on record, was established in 1978.

Originally, the service served as a space for scientists and engineers to share and brainstorm ideas and knowledge. 

However, it didn’t take more than about two years for the spin-offs to start; presumably, by many of those same people looking to use them for more leisure based and, in some cases, illegal communications.   ISCABBS, the largest BBS in the world was created by the University of Iowa and was still up and running in 2019.

As computers started allowing other computers to connect to them, online hacking immediately began.  Hackers migrated to services like Demon Roach Underground, OSUNY, and Plover-NET.  What you know now as the “Dark-Web” had its origins here.

The porn industry also found its space on these services in the early days.  First as text stories, then ASCII art, and finally image sharing.  Rusty n Edie’s BBS was raided in 1993 by the FBI and sued by Playboy in 1997.

Terrorist groups and criminal organizations also created and maintained BBS systems to communicate with each other before law enforcement found ways to tap in and decipher the communications.

And yet, while all that was going on, great leaps in both science and engineering began to happen specifically because the people pushing those fields forward now had a way to communicate almost instantaneously across borders, continents, and oceans with a method that was far more substantial and productive than a one-on-one telephone call, or even a conference call.

Hobby and gaming groups formed as well, connecting people with similar personal interests but different national, ethnic, and professional backgrounds, from all over the world in a way we had never seen before.

This interactivity and blind connection fostered two things.

It removed the barriers of race, religion, gender, and political differences from personal interactions.  We had no way of knowing those things about someone unless they told us, and most didn’t bother telling anyone until a strong enough bond had been built that the relationship itself would challenge those innate beliefs about those differences in ways people would never otherwise experience.

I am a firm believer that this ever-burgeoning electronic global community was a massive, but generally unrecognized and/or unacknowledged, part of the fall of the U.S.S.R. and the destruction of the Berlin Wall.  It also provided many with the information they needed to continue anti-war protests because the information being exchanged between individuals was exposing the misinformation and disinformation rhetoric governments were putting forth in the media to justify those war efforts.

However, just like there have always been criminals, there have always been Internet trolls. The Internet also gave some people a shield of anonymity to begin freely putting forth hateful beliefs, rhetoric, and false information without personal recourse or recompense.

Social media, in all its forms, has reshaped every aspect of our lives both online and off.  It has changed how we communicate with family and friends, as well as complete strangers.  It has changed how we do business.  It has changed our global socioeconomics and our geopolitical views and policies.

Anyone telling you not to talk about the things that are important or interesting to you on social media because “No one can change anything by whining online” is full of shit and just trying to get you to stop pushing the boundaries of their own personal comfort zone.

~Tim Shehane

All of this still continues across every social media platform that ever was, or will be, invented.

Generational Differences in Usage

The Baby Boomers created the Internet as a long-distance information sharing tool.  Gen-X created social media as we know it currently as a connectivity method in a quickly expanding world of rapid international business growth and development.  Millennials, or Gen-Y, were the first generation raised with that connectivity being a major part of their personal social, educational, and professional development.  Members of Gen-Z live their lives out loud on social media as it – and its associated technology — serves as an integral part of every aspect of their lives. 

In the early stages, the old principles of public decorum ruled the public spaces on the Internet.  Most people conducted themselves online the same way they did offline, by avoiding the taboo subjects of politics, religion, and personal bigotries and biases except in small groups that had already proved themselves to be like-minded on any particular issue.  The Baby Boomer era mentality of “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” was the primary content moderation guideline.

As Gen-X became more casual with the usage of the Internet for non-job related communication and tasks, the moderation guidelines changed, and the echo chambers we have now began to develop through self-segregation of users with others who shared their beliefs.  But they were still leery of putting too much personal information online for potential employers and business contacts to see if that information could be used against them in any way.

Gen-Y (I am not using the term Millennial here because it is too often used as a derogatory slur) threw caution to the wind and started posting all kinds of personal information and private thoughts online for the world to see.   This gave birth to a new profession:  the Social Media Influencer.  These social media influencers achieved celebrity status as they monetized their audience reach by stealth endorsements of products and services for others to buy.

Gen-Z has been raised almost as much by these influencers as they have been by their friends and families.  Their lives are akin to the Truman Show, lived as much online for the entertainment of others as they are offline for personal growth and satisfaction. Just this week it was reported that a young woman in France is allowing her subscribers on OnlyFans to dictate all of her personal life decisions. As a result, she has quit her internship and ended a toxic relationship, among other things. 

Understanding these generational differences in social media usage helps both businesses and cultural influencers to better serve their audience and also to weaponize the knowledge with their marketing algorithms to better manipulate their targets.

Social Media and Celebrity

Maintaining a celebrity status in our modern culture almost requires a person to become a social media influencer to hype projects and endorsement products. Going viral on social media can make or break a celebrity overnight.

Even those few celebrities who maintain no social media presence cannot avoid the affects on their personal and professional lives due to other members of their industry, allies, rivals, fans, and haters posting about them on social media.

After making a music industry connection at a Holiday Inn party, singer Halsey was able to get access to a studio to record her first song — “Ghost.” She posted it to her SoundCloud account once it was finished. Within an hour, she said she logged onto her Twitter account only to discover her account was blowing up. The next morning she had multiple record labels begging to sign her.

Late-night talk show host James Cordon recently found out just how much damage social media can do to a well curated public persona.

Actors Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, who each have a massive online following, recently had to post pictures of their newborn child to social media so the paparazzi would stop swarming their house and spying on them in an attempt to get the first photos for the public.

Business Use and Misuse

Businesses have entire departments, actually entire industries, dedicated to social media data harvesting and evaluation.  This information is collected at every single level of interaction and collated in every possible way that can be imagined.  Once collated, it is analyzed and sold to anyone that wants to leverage it.  Nearly every business wants to take advantage of collected data, whether to reach and engage their target audience or influence and manipulate each target audience for their own purposes.

Businesses have been monitoring employees’ social media postings for years and will quickly use personal postings made away from work as a reason to fire someone for cause if they post anything negative about the company itself or harmful to the company’s reputation for a known employee to be saying or doing.

Coca-Cola famously fired an employee whose photo was taken while he was drinking a Pepsi while wearing his delivery uniform back in 2003.  This was just the excuse the company needed to fire a pro-union worker.

Today, nearly everyone knows that they can get a person fired from their job by filing complaints with their employers about that person’s misconduct, both online and off, even when away from work if it can be posted to social media.

While this is a valid and powerful way to disempower those racists, bigots, and fascists that shouldn’t have any power or influence over the lives of those they hate and/or fear, it also means that people cannot have a single bad/off day anywhere without fear of long-term repercussions.

Government Use and Misuse

Obviously, governments – and those that want to control them – could not overlook the power and influence of the growing Internet, but it was growing faster than they could regulate or restrict its usage and availability.  By the time they could pass any laws to do so, the World Wide Web interface was developed making it and all its information more available to nearly everyone with access to electricity, a computer, and a phone line.  Just as they started to get a handle on that, the social media platforms and their BBS message boards, chatrooms, and encrypted file exchanges changed it all again.   Then smartphones came along and disconnected many of the users from the traceable landlines law enforcement could easily monitor.   With few exceptions, the changes and advancements in how we use technology are nearly always at least a decade ahead of the governments’ ability to regulate and monitor that technology.

Not surprisingly, those in government, or those that wanted to seize governmental power, quickly become adept at using that technology as well for propaganda distribution, misinformation and disinformation campaigns, and illicit surveillance to their advantage.

We have seen firsthand in recent years how social media can be used to plan and coordinate a massive non-violent political protest to affect change as well as coordinate and plan an armed and murderous insurrection siege attempt upon the United States capital during a joint session of the full Congress.

We have seen firsthand how one state or national government can use social media to socially engineer influence over the international and domestic governmental policies and procedures of other states or nations.   We have also seen how they can create public animosity or distress for each other.

Donald Trump would have never been able to successfully become President without social media. The vast majority of the damage he created while President may not have ever been fully known or understood without social media cutting through the official press narratives.

We have seen firsthand how social media can be used to spread the truth about important events to those that might not otherwise ever hear it and how it can be used to convince others that those events either never happened or were something else entirely.

Where Do We Go from Here?

The Internet, especially social media, is the most powerful and influential tool of cultural change ever put into the hands of the general populace, and with the invention of smartphones, it is literally in our hands all the time.

How we use that power, and allow it to be misused, is entirely up to us.

I am doing my best to weaponize it in my ongoing lifelong battle against willful ignorance, racism, religious bigotry, toxic misogyny, fascism, and the gradual slide toward Corporate Feudalism that seems to be driving our economic policies.

What Will You Do with It?

It is up to you what kind of influence you will let the Internet, social media, and those adept at wielding them as weapons, have over your life.

It is also up to you how you will use them as vital tools in making your life, and the lives of others, better.

What kind of citizen will you choose to be?

What kind of person will you choose to be?

Whatever choice you make; social media is creating a real time record of your involvement in our society and culture through this period of time for future historians.

How will you choose to be remembered?

Coming Out

Let’s start the upcoming weekend off with a #culturalinertia article by Jessi Hempel for Time Magazine about “coming out” that reminds us of a few important things.

The first is that while we normally, and rightly, use the term in reference to people who are not cisgender “coming out of the closet” it can be much more than that. It can be no longer keeping any important aspect of your identity secret; whether you are hiding it from your family, friends, social groups, coworkers, employers, neighbors, the public in general, or even yourself.

Generally, people keep these aspects secret to prevent ridicule and rejection, whether the secret is innocent and harmless to others or not. Sometimes it is done out of a concern for self preservation. Those who disapprove of the secret aspect of your true identity might react violently. Many parents have been known to kick their own kids out of their homes or worse, drive them to either runaway or commit suicide to escape. Violent hate crimes are committed all the time for people who openly display their non-traditional gender identities, sexual identities, or religions.

But these aren’t the only aspects we hide.

We may hide some talents or skillsets, we may pretend to be smarter or less intelligent in order to fit in or not be intimidating, we may be afraid to talk about the hobbies we enjoy or the genres of entertainment we prefer. It could be we are hiding a polyamorous relationship, or a romantic couple could hide their own mutually chosen power dynamic from others.

The advent of social media has made it easier for adults and even some teens to at least partially come out with their secrets. And for the most part that can be a good thing. Suppressing a key aspect of your identity is often toxic for our mental health.

However, it has also opened the way for many to come out with the toxic and harmful aspects of themselves. I contend that this is also good from a #Culturalinertia aspect.

When these people self-identify and begin to live their own lives out loud it shows us who needs to be disempowered, and which people and businesses to avoid or cut loose from our own lives.

Ultimately, coming out is about choosing to accept whatever personal consequences there may be for freely being your authentic self in all situations.

When doing so causes no personal harm to any other person, there should be no consequences.

Inflation: Moral Dilemma or Fiscal Inevitability?

“Putting People First, It’s The Economy, Stupid!”

~James Carville and Bill Clinton

The Old Thinking

The U.S. Federal Reserve  announced on Wednesday Sept 21, 2022, its third consecutive 0.75 percentage point rate increase for money lenders.  Then the Chairman, Jay Powell, warned that at least one more such increase would be coming later this year, with the likelihood of more necessary next year to bring inflationary rates back under control.

Despite those announcements, he could not rule out that these rates would be high enough to prevent a full economic recession.

A September 13, 2022, article from Investopedia defines inflation:

“Inflation is a rise in prices, which can be translated as the decline of purchasing power over time. The rate at which purchasing power drops can be reflected in the average price increase of a basket of selected goods and services over some period of time. The rise in prices, which is often expressed as a percentage, means that a unit of currency effectively buys less than it did in prior periods. Inflation can be contrasted with deflation, which occurs when prices decline and purchasing power increases.”

They also explain that basic measure of selected goods is referred to as the Consumer Price Index.

“In the U.S., the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) monthly collects the prices of some 94,000 items from a scientifically selected sample of goods and services to assemble its representative basket.2 The numbers are then adjusted to ensure price changes don’t reflect improvements in product quality, and weighted in proportion with consumer spending patterns derived from a separate survey of about 36,000 consumers in a given year.

The reason for the increase then, is that the government, and economic analysts, have historically believed that the most effective way the government has to curb out-of-control inflation in a supply and demand capitalist economy is to make it more difficult and expensive for people and businesses to borrow money.

This, in turn, is expected to lead businesses to cut back on potential raises and hiring, and ultimately force layoffs that will increase unemployment.

The higher interest rates on credit lines and borrowed money, as well as the diminished income and loss of employment, will force most consumers to cut back on their expenditures, especially their discretionary spending.

The driving force of this thinking is that we need lower wages and higher unemployment to reduce the demand creating a surplus in supply which will force goods and service providers to drop their prices. 

The always present inherent danger is that it is an extremely fine line to walk before it becomes a full-blown devastating economic recession or even worse, another Great Depression.

It isn’t just the United States that operates this way, Central Banks around the world are making similar decisions using the same reasoning.

Historically, these methods have been mostly successful, even though those hovering at the poverty lines would argue otherwise.  The difference in a single percentage point can be the difference for many families between poverty, and lower middle class.   For others, it can mean the difference between being able to afford their place to live and the food and medicines that keep them alive or having to choose between them.

This leads us to the issue that economists, and governments, seem to be finding that these same old “tried and true” methods aren’t working as well as they should be expected to in our current situation.

To understand that we must first expose the flaws in the old thinking.  Then we must examine what is different about our current situation than in previous times.  Only then can we begin to identify and implement real, lasting solutions.

The Flaws

Checking back in with Investopdia, we learn that:

“An economy is a complex system of interrelated production, consumption, and exchange activities that ultimately determines how resources are allocated among all the participants. The production, consumption, and distribution of goods and services combine to fulfill the needs of those living and operating within the economy.”

However, far too often in modern times, we conflate the strength of the economy with the strength of the stock market.   As noted above, for the companies to maintain record profits, they need to be able to price gouge while still meeting the demand those prices dictate.  So, a strong stock market needs the income disparity that creates a massive gap between an impoverished populace and a much smaller group of wealthy consumers willing to pay much more for most items.

For example, consider Disney’s recent open admission that they want fewer attendees at their parks than they were hosting prior to the temporary pandemic guest restrictions, all paying much more to be there.  They are intentionally pricing themselves out of being an achievable destination dream for an even larger segment of the populace than before.  They are depending on income disparity to protect their new post-pandemic record-breaking profits.

The only way to truly measure the strength of an economy is to measure the ability of it is poorest members to obtain a sustainable quality of life.  Instead, we tend to measure it by the strength of corporate profitability and stock market value.  This is a #Culturalinertia issue that must be changed.

The next flaw in the old thinking is the pool of people we base this measurement upon.  

The voluntary monthly survey of buying habits is filled out by roughly 36,000 people.  But only people who have the time to fill it out, the means of submitting it properly every month and are willing to share their buying habits with the government.  36,000 such people from a population of 330,000,000.  

That’s a sample size of 0.001%.

The margin of error on any analysis of such an insignificant sample, especially one already distorted by the issues mentioned above, is so substantial as to render any predictive assessments impossible to make accurately.  It is all just guesswork based on anecdotal evidence and invalid historical comparisons.

This brings us to an evaluation of what is different about the current inflationary issues than those previous instances we are comparing it to.

The Current Situation

The current inflation the government is attempting to curb is not simply one of just supply and demand market fluctuation.

During the pandemic, demand for fuel dropped considerably as much of the world went into mandatory lockdown, work from home, and social distancing protocols.  This did not stop fuel companies from raking in massive record-breaking profits.   They did this by manufacturing a supply shortage.  Knowing the pandemic would eventually end or be brought under control, they still choose to decrease their production instead of building a surplus for the eventual demand surge as everything returned to normal demand levels.

Then as demand did begin to normalize Russia invaded Ukraine and government sanctions from the U.S. and European Union on Russia created an additional slowdown in predictably available global supply.  This fabricated supply shortage allowed them to again raise rates far beyond what the market would normally bear without the war to blame it upon.

In turn, the additional increase in fuel prices drove up the cost of transport cost of all goods and services across all markets.  However, despite the last 20 weeks of falling fuel prices, the cost of those goods and services has not been readjusted accordingly.

This indicates that the inflation we are seeing across the board is not a true result of supply and demand fluctuation nor is it a result of changing fuel costs.

It is simply that corporations are seeing an opportunity to drive up prices while scapegoating the public into accepting the blame for the price increases.

Other companies, also looking to rein in their own costs without losing profits, are engaging in “Shrinkflation” practices.   Instead of raising their prices, they are downsizing their products without lowering their prices.  This means consumers are still absorbing the inflation rates, they are just getting less in exchange for doing so.

On the labor front, employers complain that no one wants to work, while unemployment is at record lows.  The problem is really that they don’t want to give up shareholder profit margins, lower executive pay, and lessen executive benefits in order to be more competitive in courting workers with better starting salaries and better entry-level benefits. 

They want to maintain that wage gap, because as we learned at the start of all this, it is deemed necessary to keep inflation down.   The main workforce can’t have too much buying power for our economy to work the way we have established with our #Culturalinertia.

The Short Term Fix

The most obvious short term quick fixes to all of this are simple:

Instead of punishing consumers for business practices that drive up inflation, focus on regulating the business.  Set price caps on products and services at no more than a specific percentage above the cost of making and providing them.  Pass laws to prevent ridiculous wage and benefit disparity between entry level workers and executives within the same company.

The Long Term Solutions

I’ve already outlined a good bit of the long-term solution in an article I posted here on April 2, 2021, as the COVID vaccines were starting to open the world back up.  That article was called “Creating A Better Normal” and you can read the entirety of it here.  

It is interesting to note in hindsight that at least part of what was proposed there was included in Biden’s pandemic relief and recovery, and it proved successful.  Most of our current economic problems began when those relief efforts were discontinued and before those recovery efforts could reach full effect. 

It is also interesting to note with that same hindsight that Trump’s attempt to solve the problem from a corporate standpoint instead of a general populace approach greatly exacerbated all of the problems raised in both this article and my 2021 article, as well as opening up a huge opportunity for corruption that is only now being fully exposed.   

Below is a slightly updated version of the solution I proposed:

So, what might a new normal look like?

Let’s look at a few things.

Imagine the true freedom created for the people of “The Land Of The Free” if we could make this thought exercise a reality.

Embrace work automation. Allow and encourage every single job that can be automated to be.

End all corporate tax avoidance loopholes and increase the tax rate for businesses that draw over a few million net profit per year.

Create a single payer universal health care program that separates health care from employment, freeing corporations from having to provide and fund health insurance packages for their employees as well as eliminating the insurance premiums that consumers pay just to be insured, the vast majority of which fund the insurance companies’ business model, not the actual health care.

The health insurance industry could still thrive as a supplemental insurance covering voluntary procedures outside the scope of the government subsidized care.

Establish an income tax free, minimum living wage, universal income for all adults.

All people would then be free to pursue their own interests with their time and money. The vast majority would seek out training and work in the fields that actually interested them to supplement their income, instead of just choosing to work anywhere that would give them the paycheck and health care to survive long enough to work more.

Any income above and beyond the universal minimum living wage would be taxable.

Primary education could return to a focus on developing critical thinking and life skills, rather than churning out an economic workforce. A renewed focus on STEAM education; Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math; instead of the artless approach of STEM, thus renewing the nurturing of creativity across all fields of study. It could even proceed at an individualized pace instead of a uniform pace measured by one size fits all testing.

Make state funded colleges tuition free for those who want to pursue a higher education. Private colleges could still charge whatever they wanted but would need to find ways to further enhance their curriculum and experience to entice students from the state colleges to give those students a higher return on their investment.

Companies would have to compete for quality employees in those positions that could not effectively be automating, providing opportunities for those with a focused interest and ability in such fields to advance both themselves and their employers while increasing their available income for their families.

Imagine the productivity and creative advancement of such a society.

One where everyone who was working wanted to be there and was appreciated and rewarded well for being there.

One where the arts and entertainment were advanced by nurturing the creativity of those drawn to them and they had the time and ability to seek the training to enhance their skillsets.

One where people were freed to focus on raising their kids instead of depending on schools to do so while they toil away at seemingly meaningless and thankless work just to survive.

One where the impoverished were not forced to choose which necessities of life to live without each month, or turning to crimes of necessity, just to survive.

Every individual that wanted to could become a sole proprietor of a small business for others interested in the goods or services they were interested in creating to purchase. If successful they’d supplement their income, if not, there would be no harm done to anyone and they’d still survive to pursue their other interests if they failed.

One where a representative government of the people, empowered by the people, would focus on being for the people that empowered it.

We could once again establish a socially democratic republic based on regulated capitalism with a conscience, protecting consumers, the environment, and the volunteer workforce needed to keep it all running smoothly.

Of course, there would be people content to live upon the minimum universal income, but they would be doing so by choice, not necessity, and they would still be contributors to the national economy as consumers of the goods and services created by those choosing to do so.

Programs like SNaP, CHiP, and other social safety net services would become obsolete because those needs would be taken care of other ways.

All other programs subsidizing shortcomings in corporate wages could be eliminated.

At this point, we truly would be the land of the free.

Nobody would owe their soul to the company store.

The poorest among us would have a sustainable quality of life lacking none of the necessities to survive.

Imagine the wonders that such a society could create where everyone was free to pursue their interests and achieve their full potential.

Imagine how we would advance the culture of not just our nation, but the world, with the work product of people in such an unburdened society.

50 Days

In 50 days the members of the 2022 to 2024 congress will be determined.

As a result of Trump’s efforts with the 2020 census to undercount minority and immigrant communities, Republican states have greatly increased their gerrymandering efforts, and the Trump tainted Supreme Court bench has allowed those efforts to remain in place for this midterm election cycle, even while declaring many of them unconstitutional.

This means the House is likely to flip back to a Republican majority led by Kevin McCarthy as speaker, if the Republicans don’t go completely nuts and give it to someone like Marjorie Taylor Green or Matt Gaetz.

The Senate is a different story.

Democrats currently hold a tie breaking majority, on paper. But that majority is greatly hindered by Senators Manchin and Sinema. Both of whom will remain in place until after the 2024 elections.

This means they actually need to win at least 2 seats to hold a real, effective majority.

Meanwhile, the Republicans only need to gain a single seat to reinstate Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority Leader. I guarantee that one of his first steps as leader will be to eliminate the ability for Democrats to filibuster any bill he wants to pass.

If Republicans, due to that gerrymandering that will likely secure the House for them, also gain a supermajority then they will be able to override any veto Biden attempts

There are also more than 35 gubernatorial seats up for election this cycle, along with an equally staggering number of Lt. Governorship, states’ Attorneys General, and Secretaries of State, and school board seats.  The importance of these offices cannot be overstated with the recent Supreme Court rulings on “States’ Rights” to religious oppression, election gerrymandering, denial of womens’ rights, and limiting/restricting health care access.

Do not let any of the hype about a “Blue Wave,” or “Roevember,” or insurrection backlash creating an enhanced turnout lull you into a sense of overconfident complacency.

Make a plan now.

Make sure you are registered. Make sure you cast and submit your ballot properly, whether in person or absentee. Make sure to help at least one other person do the same.

The Republicans have made it clear that the future of our democracy, all of our rights, all of our health, all of our education, many of our marriages, and quite a few of our lives are actually on the ballot this year.

Act accordingly.

You have 50 days.