In November 1989, I asked a remarkable woman to marry me.
That didn’t go well.
So I drank myself into a stupor deepened by self-pity and hacked away all night long at a Macintosh SE (Remember those? Two floppy drives?). In the morning, I had an evil headache, more questions about women than I could ever answer, and a 30-page short story.
Such was the sulking, ignoble, drunken genesis of mapping Utah.
That story lay dormant for half a decade, buried in a chaotic array of papers accumulated during study for my master’s degree. It emerged from hiding in 1994 during research for my doctorate. I’d just finished my course work and was supposed to be working on my dissertation.
As all doc students know, aptly timed and brilliantly executed procrastination is a requirement for a successful dissertation. So I procrastinated. (May my adviser, Trager, forgive me.) The short story beget a longer story, about 100 pages. That, too, slunk into hibernation among copies of mass communication research articles I never wanted to face again.
In 1998, the longer story crept unbidden out of a box I had not unpacked since arriving at St. Bonaventure University in 1996. Hmm, I thought. Beats grading the inept writing of freshmen. So, night after night, I wrote more.
Thus begat Lesson No. 1: Don’t over think it. I had written as far as Kara’s desperate flight on her mountain bike from a rest area just west of Green River. Noah had yet to appear in the sky above her unconscious body in his ultralight aircraft.
But I kept rewriting and editing this first third of the book. My logic: Have to get it just right. It had to be perfect before I could continue. My friend Greg Stene intervened: “Why?” he asked.
Greg knows me well. He pressed me: “Why haven’t you moved on to introducing these two people?” I admitted I didn’t know how. I didn’t know what Noah would or should say to Kara and what Kara would or should say to Noah.
“Denny,” Greg said, “You’ve thought about these people for years. Just put them together and get the hell out of their way.”
He was right. I did not write the last two-thirds of mapping Utah. Kara and Noah did.
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Competition is good. Free markets are good. Give everyone a shot at the brass ring. Get rid of regulations that stifle competition and opportunity.
Thus spake many a Republican (and often a Democratic) politician, saying they only want to hand business interests in America a clear road to economic growth and apparent prosperity for all.
So why do those same politicians, at federal and state levels, balk at attempts to introduce competitiveness in elections?
What, you say? American state and federal elections are not competitive? Senate re-election rates have averaged nearly 90 percent in the past 16 years; House rates are higher still. Two years ago, Congress had an 11 percent approval rating … but a 96 percent re-election rate.
Why is that? Gerrymandering — the manipulation of election districts to afford one political party an advantage over the other. Gerrymandering is the death of routinely competitive elections throughout the nation. Congressional districts are redrawn after the decennial census because of population shifts. That means the next round of political warfare over district boundaries begins in 2021. (Actually, it never ends. Redistricting is complicated and time-consuming, and the process varies from state to state.)
The National Democratic Redistricting Committee wants 2021 to lead to fairer district maps. (Caveat: Democrats are no mere innocents in redrawing districts; Republicans, however, have made advantageous redistricting into an art form.)
An inability to focus on consequences that do not center on him. Check. An absence of empathy for others. Check. A lack of impulse control coupled to a need to lash out at perceived offenses (and offenders). Check. A vainglorious view of himself. Check. An ever-present, almost childlike, need for praise. Check.
President-Elect Donald is a narcissist. That’s the conclusion of Alan J. Lipman, a clinical psychologist, chronicled in a commentary on CNN. But we already know that, don’t we? We’ve seen it repeatedly at his rallies and in his Twitter rants. But so far, he’s insulated himself from the consequences of his narcissism. Even past Republican critics, such as the speaker of the House, and big-money donors who did not support his candidacy are falling in line, creating an imaginary unity.
President-Elect Donald’s egregious behaviors have become acceptable because so many legislators and donors have too much at stake (power, influence, government contracts, etc.) to suggest the emperor-elect is naked.
But there’s one judge of presidential behavior, character, and leadership President-Elect Donald has yet to face — George Gallup’s question:
Do you approve or disapprove of the way ____ is handling his job as president?
President Donald wants to revive America’s coal industry. He says regulations, most notably from the Environmental Protection Agency, have forced coal plants to close. So he wants to do away with those damn unfriendly regulations (such as the mercury and air toxics standards, the proposed cross-state pollution standard and the proposed limitations of carbon dioxide emissions). After that, Appalachian coal will again be riven from the earth, reviving the industry.
Nope. Won’t happen. Coal lost. Natural gas, thanks to fracking, won.
Coal plants are old; their median age is 44 years old. More than 90 percent of coal plants were built in the 1980s or earlier. Those comprise 697 of the total 765 utility-level coal plants. In 2015, utilities closed 94 coal-fired generating plants with a capacity of more than 13,000 megawatts. Their average age at retirement was 58 years old. 2016 will see more than 5,000 megawatts of capacity closed at 41 coal plants.
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On January 1, 2019, as President Trump approaches his third state of the union address, people in America should pop the Reagan question: Are you better off than you were four years ago?
Those in the United States should ask, for example:
“Is my health insurance costing me more out of pocket than under Obama? Am I getting better, more affordable benefits?”
“Can I still get health insurance?”
“Have work restrictions been placed on my Medicare benefits? Has my state limited Medicare benefits?”
“Has my property tax bill gone up or down?”
“Has the rusty bridge carrying my daughter’s school bus been fixed?”
“I live in a city. Has my child developed asthma in the past year?”
“What’s the interest rate on a new car now?”
“Do I have to pay more for my prescription medications?”
“Am I on a different side of The Wall now?”
Ten years has seen the evisceration of newsrooms; the alteration of form, function, and distribution of information; and the emergence of a distorted public discourse. Oh, joy.
Since 2007, I’ve written about the stark reductions in numbers of reporters and editors in America’s daily print newsrooms. During that time, I’ve witnessed more than 20,000 newsroom jobs vanish. Now, it seems, only about 30,000 men and women toil in those newsrooms.
I chose toiled deliberately. First, those who remain have had to meet the continued and unchanged corporate demand for product or content once produced by twice their number. Second, the job has changed: In addition to the still-present demand for print content, those 20,000 face the imposition of onerous digital deadlines and unbelievable expectations of quantity. Post so many stories a day, or an hour, they’re told. That, of course, has impacts on the quality of those stories.
For many, those who remain even have different titles — they are no longer reporters or editors. They have become “community content editors,” “content coaches,” “presentation team members,” “engagement editors,” “headline optimizers,” “story scientists,” or “curators in chief.”
Yes, the operations of those places once known as “newsrooms” are rapidly and radically changing. But that obvious observation obscures a few emerging realities about how information (once known as “news”) is crafted and distributed.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, says she wants to spend $275 billion over five years to rebuild American roads and bridges. As noted here last year, that’s nowhere near enough money. Donald “I am your voice” Trump, the GOP nominee, says he’ll spend twice as much.
Neither candidate is overly specific on the details of how to fund those repairs.
But the amounts suggested are piddling. Take Clinton’s $275 billion, for example. What will that buy?
According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, the United States has “4.12 million miles of road in the United States, according to the Federal Highway Administration, including Alaska and Hawaii. The core of the nation’s highway system is the 47,575 miles of Interstate Highways, which comprise just over 1 percent of highway mileage but carry one-quarter of all highway traffic.” [emphasis added]
The association provides a variety of estimates for road construction and reconstruction, varying by number of lanes, urban vs. rural, rebuilding vs. milling and repaving, and so on.
Using a middle-of-the-road (an appropriate cliché here, I suppose) figure of $5 million per mile, Clinton’s proposed spending would buy reconstruction of about 45,000 miles of highways — only 1 percent of America’s traffic-bearing byways.
Is hope a descendant of honor?
If if is, perhaps a little hope can be derived from recent statements of members of Congress in response to the lunacy of the GOP candidate for president. Donald “I am your voice” Trump has rashly criticized two Americans who lost their son to combat in a foreign land. Trump did this, apparently, because Khizr and Ghazala Khan are Muslim Americans from Pakistan.
Some Republican members of Congress have repudiated Trump’s remarks.
From Sen. John McCain of Arizona: “While our party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”
From Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who is seeking re-election: “I am appalled that Donald Trump would disparage [the Khans] and that he had the gall to compare his own sacrifices to those of a Gold Star family.”