How Hollywood Can Halt DC

Hollywood writers may have inadvertently stumbled upon a powerful political tool that is in their grasp. The question is, will they really use it?

A handful (or more) shows currently are dealing with a voluntary “walk-out” by their writing teams. The cause is simple enough – the writers are fed up with Trump’s immigration policies. The challenge started with One Day at a Time and Vida, but has been joined by several other shows.

Generally speaking, this isn’t earth-shattering to the entertainment industry, but at least these writers are putting their money where their mouths are. In addition to striking, some are raising money for legal defense funds for the people caught in the middle – the ones who are having their children taken away from them.

The writers are also reminding the public that many of the people being detained at the border are actually asylum seekers.

It’s an issue that is getting lost in the heated rhetoric, but needs to be said. Most Americans should be aware of the fact that the countries of origin for many of these people are dictatorships – officially, or essentially. Yes, the people are fleeing from lives in poverty, but many of them are also seeking asylum because they have been targeted for death.

Because it’s a relatively small number of writers involved at this point, this protest isn’t likely to cause anyone in Washington to do anything. Arguably the conservatives who would need to act won’t, because their base would prefer to see those shows off the air anyway. Sorry, but the radical conservative followers of Trump might actually be rejoicing to see the writers of Handmaid’s Tale on strike.

The history of Hollywood writers’ strikes should be seen as a cautionary tale.

If the people in Hollywood truly are fed up with the bad behavior in Washington, maybe they should be looking back at 2007-2008. From November 2007 through February 2008, the Writers Guild of America went on strike, and Americans saw quite a lot of reruns. It was a relatively short strike, and the hardest hit shows were soap operas. However, there were few people in the country who were completely unaware of it.

The writers, because they were fighting to get higher pay, probably would have had some trouble getting sympathy and support from television show fans if that strike had gone on for a long period of time. But, what would the public response be if there was a strike over a political cause?

It is no secret that the political landscape of America is shaped by a very small percentage of the public. Activists have complained about this fact for years, while political campaign strategists have banked on it to put less-than-savory candidates into office. But, if politics spilled over to the point where even those who are blissfully unaware of the issues of the day were forced to pay attention, that small game could change.

We’ll have to see if Hollywood catches on to this concept. If it does, or if the Writers Guild of America decided to go on strike over this issue, Trump might find out exactly how popular he really is. Then he would have the full attention of the people who haven’t been watching the news.

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How Hollywood Can Halt DC

Regaining the Wave and Writing

“Never write when you can’t set your gaze beyond your navel.”

I’ve probably written and typed those words thousands of times over the years, but not lately. It’s a throwback from when I would spend countless hours reading essays, short stories, and the occasional poem (only when forced) from the slush piles of literary journal submissions. But, I am not a hypocrite, so lately I haven’t been writing.

While I personally abhor reading or writing navel-gazing prose, I know that there is a huge market for introspection on the page. Tempting as it may be for me to get into the pros and cons of “writing to the market” in this particular genre, I will merely point out someone who knew at least a little bit about drawing readers into stories with well-written plots.

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Ironically enough, the man who said that rarely (if ever) sat down at a typewriter, since he was known to work standing up. Ernest Hemingway knew a thing or two about writing, but while his writings were primarily about his exploits, they were not introspective screes. I would tell this to students who interpreted that quote to mean that they should be like cutters, ripping their skin open to bleed the words from within their souls onto the page.

Hemingway probably didn’t mean anything that personal, and was referring to the concept of forcing oneself to write – badly more often than not. It is a good habit to have and keep, but it can be harmful, too.

Practice can make perfect, but it can also make permanent.

Bleeding one’s pain onto the page can be therapeutic or cathartic, but for a writer, it can cause a creative rut. Some have disagreed with me on this, but it is a road I’ve traveled before – one which lead to long spates of only editing because of paralyzing writer’s block. I’m just pushing myself off that road again now.

Now, I’ve been toying with a few literary devices so far here, without mentioning the “wave” at all. It’s a description that stuck with me from one of the many vodka soaked evenings I’d spend with some friends and fellow writers.

You know the iconoclastic surfer and pothead from Bali? He said what every writer should hear and understand. “Writing is like riding the wave. The rush is great, and even the worst run teaches you something.”

I don’t remember which of my fellow travelers told us that in the wee hours of the morning, and honestly suspect that the surfer exists only as a character. But, we can still learn from fiction. I’ve known that rush more than I wanted to admit, and I still know how to let my mind surrender to that ebb and flow which leads to thousands of words on the page in a day. Personally, I don’t let myself do that when my mind is centered on negative things, because it’s not practice with the goal of perfection. It is the road to permanence – the rut.

Now, I know that I am guilty of a fair amount of introspection here, but there is a universal point. Writers are constantly told to “just write” – “write every day, no matter what.” As a general rule, I agree. However, if writing every day is not leading to better writing, stop. Take the time to figure out why, and if you find that it’s because you are in a negative state of mind, do something else.

Get yourself out of your personal rut, so that you can then get your writing out of it, too. Wait until you’re ready to ride the wave.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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Regaining the Wave and Writing

Trump, Immigration, and Uniting a Nation

President Trump ran on the idea of building a “Yuge wall” on our southern border, and right now he is making good on that promise in a virtual sense.

The current border detention camps are precisely what he thought his base really wanted, in the absence of a physical wall. Trump probably viewed his “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration as a safe bet, but now it looks like it is building cracks in his previously solid base.

While the “evil media” has been quick to report on the mess that is building on our southern border, general news reports from networks like ABC have avoided saying some important things about Trump’s immigration policy.

They have accurately stated repeatedly that the detention camps are entirely caused by Trump as opposed to any law, and that Congress has nothing to do with this. (The Hill isn’t guiltless, because we wouldn’t be facing this situation in the first place if they had bothered to fix our ailing legal immigration system.)

What is missing is an historical comparison with the World War II era detention of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent. The U.S. isn’t currently at war with Guatemala or any of the other nations of origin of the current detainees, so there isn’t the excuse of national security no matter how many times Trump claims that all of these people are members of dangerous gangs. Another difference is that unlike what the U.S. did to Japanese people during WWII, we are separating children from their families. There was another country that made a practice of doing that during WWII, however – Germany.

So, the mainstream media generally has not opted to make these legitimate historical comparisons in their reports.

I am speaking about “news” as opposed to “opinion” broadcasts. The talking heads on the cable news networks have undoubtedly taken swipes at Trump over this, but they are catering to their partisan viewers. That also means that their viewership is necessarily limited, while broadcast networks still draw from a larger pool of less partisan viewers.

One good thing that seems to be coming out of these atrocities is a much needed reality check – the public is seeing the real people who are directly affected by Trump’s immigration policy.

The inconvenient truth is that Trump is pushing a xenophobic at best – racist at worst – immigration policy which is opposed to the founding principles of the U.S. This shouldn’t be surprising, given Trump’s upbringing by a father who had been known for similar philosophies to the point where it was immortalized in song.

Historically speaking, the irony is that many of the people who are supporting Trump’s immigration policies today wouldn’t be U.S. citizens if earlier generations had adopted similar policies. The fact remains that every European nation had periods of time when citizens migrated to the U.S. to escape financial or political problems. History also tells us that immigrants have built business and industry in the U.S., and continue to do so today.

Trump is facing the unintended consequence of his actions right now. He is uniting the U.S. – against his immigration policy.

When it was hype and rhetoric on the campaign trail, “build the wall” was easy to support without appearing overtly racist. Now that the “zero tolerance” policy is causing detention camps filled with crying children who have been separated from their parents, that’s not so easy. It is further complicated by emerging reports of parents who are deported, while their children remain in the U.S. detention camps. Trump has claimed that “family separation” is meant to be a deterrent against illegal immigration, but he is failing to recognize the fact that these people are attempting to enter the U.S. because they are desperate.

Fallout has hit officials like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been censured by members of his church, and Director of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, who was heckled by protesters in a Mexican restaurant. (Perhaps her choice of cuisine was poorly made.) At least as of this writing, Nielsen is apparently attempting to put a stop to the most egregious portion of the detention program – family separation.

Timing is everything, and when it comes to the Trump administration, it seems to be flawless – not in a good way. Perhaps someone should have told UN Ambassador Nikki Haley to hold off on withdrawing the U.S. from the Human Rights Council at least for a little while. Some nations have no problem sitting on that council while committing human rights atrocities, but the U.S. shouldn’t be one of them. Now we’re seeing that we probably are in Trump’s America.

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Trump, Immigration, and Uniting a Nation

Why Trump Playing Dealmaker on North Korea Could be a Dealbreaker

Trump needs to think before he speaks (or acts) when it comes to North Korea, unless he wants to go down in history as the president who screwed up the potential for peace. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, has apparently settled into a second talk session with China over the possibility of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which is exactly what the US wants.

Talks between North and South Korea went well, at least from outward appearances. While Trump might be tempted to claim that historic move is because of him, that assertion is probably more hubris than truth. These talks were announced shortly after the Olympics were hosted in South Korea, where there had been behind-the-scenes talk between the two nations.

It’s also arrogant for Trump to assume that Kim Jong Un is talking about denuclearization because of fear of the US president. Since a major nuclear testing facility in North Korea has literally collapsed, it’s difficult to say exactly what the nation has left. Outsiders can tell that the mountain fell down, but what was destroyed with it is unknown. For all anyone knows, the best Kim Jong Un had on hand went up in dust with the collapse. He could be talking peace because he no longer has weapons to back up threats.

In addition to just talking, South Korea offered Kim Jong Un some help on infrastructure planning once peace is achieved. No matter what, when North Koreans are no longer isolated from the rest of the world, it’s going to be difficult for Kim Jong Un to maintain power. He probably knows this, so it’s not unreasonable to suspect that North Koreans are already getting restless for freedom. Remember, at least some of them got a taste of what South Korea has to offer when they attended the Olympics. Kim Jong Un wasn’t able to isolate them from everyone and everything while they participated in the games.

The point is that there are many moving parts in the peace negotiations on the Korean Peninsula, and while the US is technically still involved, it probably is best to take a step back right now. Let North and South Korea hammer out some kind of deal on their own, before going in heavy-handed. Trump should do just that, but given his ego, that’s not likely. We can cross our fingers, and hope that the Koreans figure out how to reunite peacefully, in spite of Trump.

Image: Blue House (Republic of Korea) [Public domain or KOGL], via Wikimedia Commons

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Why Trump Playing Dealmaker on North Korea Could be a Dealbreaker

3 Problems Americans Are Ignoring in Politics

Americans have become very adept at ignoring problems, particularly when it comes to politics. Lately, the excuse du jour is the unending partisan spats that must be addressed by the denizens of the opposing political positions – blue versus red. But, if they would take a step back, set aside the partisanship for just a moment, there’s a chance that they might recognize the following three problems that are plaguing both sides of the aisle.

1. Lowering the bar doesn’t lead to greatness – Whether you’re talking about lowering standards to allow for “equality” or turning a blind eye on bad behavior, letting things slide because it makes you feel better doesn’t help anyone. Both sides of the aisle are guilty of this, so no finger-pointing allowed. It is wrong to suggest that schools or the military or anything else should reduce their standards to let in people who simply don’t have the ability to do what is required. On the other hand, it’s also wrong to keep electing people whose behavior is worse than our own.

We keep thinking that we’re helping “marginalized groups” when we give them a pass to get into programs or careers that they really aren’t equipped to do. How helpful is it to reduce standards and end up with less competent people in those positions? The hard truth is that not everyone is meant to be exactly what they want in society, and the best we can do is to prevent government from getting in the way of people doing the best that they can. That doesn’t mean make it easier to do anything – it just means remove unnecessary hurdles and road blocks.

As for our slippery slope with politicians, that has been happening since the beginning of our nation, not just during the past few decades. However, once we started talking about wanting a president who we could picture ourselves sharing a beer with on the porch, our standards did start dropping severely. Before anyone gets offended or starts saying that the president deserves respect, think about the characteristics of the current one. If your next door neighbor had a history of cheating on his wife, would you assume that he quit just because he hadn’t been caught recently? How long would a dinner guest last at your table if he monopolized the table discussion with talk about how he is an expert at everything? Finally, if you wouldn’t put up with that kind of behavior from someone you interact with as a friend, why would you defend it when you see it done by the president? If that is what “respecting the president” really has become, the bar is extremely low.

2. Minors and media aren’t good policy-makers – After the shooting in Parkland, the children have taken to the streets to demand changes in policy, and the media has been feeding their fervor. Unfortunately, too many people who should be acting as the adults in the room have been swept up by this. Particularly in this case, it is a terrible idea.

Any reliable source on dealing with loss and grief – from pamphlets to psychological professionals – will tell people that it is a terrible idea to make any major life decisions immediately after a loved one has died. This is why people are constantly encouraged to make wills, living wills, pre-plan funerals, etc. In all of those plans, people are always told to name responsible adults to carry out their wishes – not children.

If we can understand why children shouldn’t be involved in carrying out anything important in our personal lives when someone dies, why are we thinking that they should be highly involved in major decisions for our nation when they are dealing with losses themselves? The media is telling us that we should listen to them, because it fits their agenda. Depending on how cynical someone is, that agenda either just involves making money or goes far deeper. Either way, the public isn’t turning off the television, and they are showing up in droves at these protests that are driven by uncontrolled emotion. Following that to the logical conclusion, does that mean that we have reached the point where we think it’s a great idea to make governmental policies and laws based solely on uncontrolled emotions? Let’s hope not.

3. Apathy – It would be nice to be able to point back at a specific time in our history as a nation and say “that was when our populace as a whole really did care.” Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Early on, it is true that just about everyone who was granted the right to vote actually did cast a ballot regularly. During those times, there were many people excluded, notably blacks and women. Now, nowhere near the number of people who are eligible to vote actually register and vote. It’s true that the children who want to run our government lately are trying to get more people registered to vote, but even that effort won’t make a real dent in the number of people who simply choose not to involve themselves in their own governance.

True, in the worst cases those same people who don’t vote will be the first to complain, but it never seems to occur to them that they should make use of their right to vote. It’s taken for granted. People from other nations around the world look at us and cannot understand why so many of our citizens simply don’t vote.

Of course, the radicals on either side of the aisle are probably hoping that those masses don’t step up. Why? Because they know that the apathetic people are mostly sitting in the middle. There are some radicals among them, but most of them are just sitting in the middle. Maybe those vocal radicals wouldn’t have so much power if the apathetic moderates started caring – and voting.

Image: Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

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3 Problems Americans Are Ignoring in Politics

Did Twitter Just Devalue Itself with Its New Policy?

Twitter has banned bulk tweeting, re-tweeting, and liking of tweets, which has left many third-party developers of social media management tools scrambling. This move was ostensibly to cut back on bots spreading hate speech and Russian propaganda, but like any other new rule it is likely to have at least one unintended consequence.

This new rule may reduce the value of Twitter as a marketing tool for many businesses and creative types.

To illustrate the potential problem, consider a large company like Coca-Cola, or a large traditional publishing house like Penguin Books. In both cases, the companies maintain multiple twitter accounts, and while they have staff members who are responsible for creating social content on Twitter for them, that probably isn’t the extent of their job descriptions. They make use of some level of automation, and for the sake of promoting their products across their various audiences on Twitter, they probably do end up with a fair number of bulk tweets across multiple accounts. They also may repeat tweets over time, which may or may not land an account in trouble.

True, it’s unlikely that Twitter will end up shutting down any large corporate accounts with this new policy, but scale things back in your mind now. Consider writers who may promote their work through multiple accounts, or people who work in website design, SEO, social media management, etc. Part of their job description is to promote the work and information of their clients, which can easily lead to violations of the Twitter policy against bulk tweets from multiple accounts.

While there is a fair degree of specialization in technology work these days, there are still many workers who wear many hats on a daily basis. If this Twitter policy is going to be automated (which one is safe to assume it must be), it’s fair to guess that there will be many accounts suspended for violations, meanwhile all they would be guilty of is promoting multiple clients or brands across multiple accounts – for work.

I admit that I am assuming sooner or later, my own accounts on Twitter will fall as a result of this policy. I’m guilty of making use of automation, repeat tweets, and arguably my Twitter account is mostly a bot. It’s not that I avoid interacting with people entirely. I just view Twitter as a time-sucking necessary evil most of the time. If I don’t spend time on social media, I can spend more time writing, editing, coding, increasing my skill set, and maintaining a work/life balance that keeps me sane.

Somehow I suspect that I’m not alone in thinking that Twitter is a tool for work that is best left to someone else or a reasonably priced automation client. Even though Twitter doubled its character limit, the platform still isn’t conducive to intelligent debate. (Ironically enough, some of the accounts that Twitter is trying to purge with this new rule are part of the reason why businesses and creators may list as other reasons for abandoning the platform.) I have no illusions about ROI of my time on Twitter – it’s near nil. Yes, I do get some clicks on links offered there, but I don’t have time to experiment with posts for most of my own content. When speaking with clients, I still say that social media driven traffic is “nice”, but search engine traffic is always better. It’s more reliable.

So, time will tell how this latest brain child will play out for Twitter. Personally, I doubt that I will bother leaping through any major hoops to restore an account on it if I lose the ability to use it over the fact that my accounts are largely automated and re-post old tweets regularly. Again, I suspect I’m not alone in that assertion.

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Did Twitter Just Devalue Itself with Its New Policy?

Presidential Pro-Tip – Do Not Lie to Allies

It’s no secret that Trump has a tendency of making things up as he goes along, so no one is surprised when he lies. However, when it gets beyond the typical lies to his base to keep them happy and lies to the rest of us to make our heads implode, there’s a problem.

It all started in a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and it was all about Trump’s favorite topic these days – trade inequity. Trump’s claim to Trudeau was that the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada, which is untrue when one considers the sum total of trade between the two nations. Technically, the U.S. does import more raw materials from Canada, but we more than make up for it in consumer goods and services. (Yes, we do buy a lot of building materials from Canada, but without them we wouldn’t be enjoying one of the best years in construction in at least a decade. Albeit, that’s according to my husband who sells those materials in the U.S., and our household bank accounts.)

Trump claimed that he corrected himself privately with Trudeau, but then there was this:

So, the lie continues on Twitter. But, that’s not enough to cover this one. The unusual circumstances surrounding what probably could have been written off as yet another Trump lie is the fact that Trump got caught on an audio recording saying that he knew he was lying. Yes, that was uncovered by the Washington Post and Politico, but to understand how bad this situation is, the story was even picked up by the online tabloid, Hello Giggles.

Yes, that means that Trump is making headlines as a liar to heads of state on a website that classifies a story about some Miley Cyrus song lyrics “News.” Talk about lowering the bar?

So, here it is:

Pro-tip for the President: Lying to world leaders is bad. It makes you look like a complete idiot, since most of the time, when you lie to leaders you are probably lying about something that you should know because you are the President. When in doubt, smile, shake hands with the leader, and talk about how much you like being friends with the other person in the room who undoubtedly knows more about being a world leader than you do. (Just skip that “friend” talk when you inevitably follow through with your stupid idea of meeting with Kim Jong Un.
He’s not your friend.)

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Presidential Pro-Tip – Do Not Lie to Allies

5 Issues Students Are Ignoring While Protesting Guns

Students across the country are taking their First Amendment rights out for a walk today, and are protesting against school violence – or guns. While it is a good thing to see them speaking out in general, the problem is that they are taking a media and politician provided shortcut on the issue. Instead of honestly exploring and discussing the problem of school violence in the classroom (or among themselves), they are choosing to blame guns. That is approximately the same as blaming cars for car accidents, as opposed to blaming the drivers. More importantly, it is ignoring an honest exploration of the real causes of school violence. They are students, so they may not be prepared to deal with the uncomfortable possibility that they bear some of the responsibility for the problem. Following are a handful of issues that are being ignored today, because it’s easier to just blame some inanimate objects.

1. Bullying – Like it or not, one common trait among the majority of people who commit mass attacks (with guns or other weapons) in schools is a history of being bullied. This is an age-old problem, and it’s unlikely that anyone will find a solution for it until human beings cease to have feelings of envy and hatred. We would also need to reach the point of living in a society that no longer has any kind of social classes. Since we can’t change nature, the best that we can do is to mitigate the problem.

Students should be demanding local laws that levy fines against the parents of bullies. They also should be demanding that schools be held harmless in court for acting in good faith to prevent bullying – or in common speak, they should request laws that prevent parents from being able to sue schools for reasonable disciplinary actions against their children when they are bullies. For those who would be concerned about how the schools would use the money from fines, demand that the funds be used for school programs and activities that have been suffering from budget cuts.

2. Zero Tolerance Policies – Most schools have zero tolerance policies on violence in schools, and on a very simplistic level that seems like a good idea. However, most schools also have security cameras just about everywhere, so the reason for having those policies no longer exists. The policies theoretically were adopted because teachers and administrators can’t be everywhere, so they can’t always tell who started a fight in school. In reality, the typical reason why these policies are adopted is to avoid litigation. Schools don’t want to be sued (usually by the parents of the aggressor in these fights), so it’s easier if everyone involved in a fight gets punished.

Students should demand the right to defend themselves in school. This issue is related to bullying, and it is no secret that many bullies tend to back down when they realize that their targets aren’t going to take a beating without fighting back. Obviously this issue becomes far more complex in many urban schools with gang problems, but punishing both aggressors and victims does not help students. It definitely doesn’t lead to safer schools either.

3. The Media Spotlight – The students from Parkland, Fla. have become the media darlings since tragedy hit their school, and eventually there will need to be a debate over how the spotlight affected their behavior. For now, it’s just necessary to point out that the media doubled-down on its negative role in mass attacks on schools by putting the spotlight on students who decided to speak up before they had time to process what had happened and grieve.

Part of the allure for people who end up engaging in this kind of violence is the desire for the spotlight, so students need to think about ways to remove the “instant celebrity” factor. The adults certainly are failing miserably in this area, since the media and politicians have been quite happy to use children for their own agendas lately.

Perhaps students should demand that their schools adopt “media blackout policies” particularly when any acts of violence occur on campus. Maybe state that the media can know that there has been an incident, but may not know the identity of the suspect. Law enforcement agencies should also be encouraged to adopt similar policies. Press freedom is involved in this, but because there is no shortage of experts in psychology and criminology who would freely state that media attention is often part of the motivation for these attackers, a case definitely can be made for preserving public safety.

While not quite to the level of shouting fire in a crowded theater, the media definitely has been glorifying mass attackers simply by putting their photos out as quickly as possible. The public is curious, but that doesn’t mean that the public is entitled to know the identity of these people, particularly when they are minors. Unfortunately, many of these attackers end up dead, so we can’t question them to find out exactly how important media attention is, but based on writings they’ve left behind, it’s not unreasonable to think that many of them wanted that moment of fame when they died.

4. There’s (Almost) No App for That – Some regions and schools in the country have smartphone apps for students to report questionable behavior of classmates. There are also some programs that teach students how to recognize risk factors for suicide and violent behavior in their peers. Schools that have continual and comprehensive education about safe and respectful social interaction are a rarity, since this kind of education typically falls under the umbrella of sexual education.

Students should be demanding local apps that they can use on their devices to report questionable behavior before it reaches the boiling point. Of course, that means they’ll also need to demand comprehensive education on psycho-social skills and best habits, which probably will open debates on sex education, since that’s where that kind of curriculum currently exists. If parents don’t like that, the schools might want to consider online courses, so students can “home-school” those classes. But, the fact that many schools do not offer this kind of education from day one of kindergarten or preschool through high school graduation contributes to the problem of all kinds of school violence – not just mass attacks.

5. Social Media Mayhem – Social media is a cesspool, and there is no shortage of violent content there in spite of the attempts of the platform developers to prevent it. It’s also the place where students put up photos and writing that can be highly disturbing. They do it there because it tends to fall under the radar of parents and teachers.

Students should be learning to police themselves, and report content to school officials when they see it. They shouldn’t stop there. Their parents should know about it. Their local police department should get a report. When students see their peers post content on social media that implies that the peers in question intend to harm themselves or others, students should report it to every adult they can think of until someone actually does something about it. They should report it repeatedly, if necessary. This is not being a tattle-tale or a “narc”, or whatever other negative term a student wants to call it. It is the responsible act that must be done, period.

Note that there is no talk about guns in any of this, and there is a very good reason for that. Once someone reaches the point where he has decided to commit a mass attack in school, acquiring the weapon is the last act. If we are going to be serious about stopping this kind of violence in schools, we need to intercede long before someone reaches that point. If we don’t, then we will never see an end to these attacks. At best, we will see fewer attacks with guns, but more attacks with knives, bombs, or any other weapons that are easier to acquire. Everything we do will be useless until we recognize that fact, and act on it.

Image: Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

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5 Issues Students Are Ignoring While Protesting Guns

Monuments of an Early March Trip

With Spring slowly starting to creep its way back into our lives, we had a few sunny but slightly chilly days in March to tease us. Well, tease all you want mother nature! I was off and took advantage of it (she reminded us its still winter later in the week). Day one was spent with friends Bryan and Dave, our main goal was to photograph trains. However, the railroad was not agreeing with us and it turned more into a day of good food and laughs with a couple trains and a few side stops. Day two was spent with one of my favorite road trip partners, Ilona. Almost every time we are out something memorable happens. This includes anything from having the crap scared out of us to uncontrollable laughing. Needless to say, any trip with her is an absolute adventure! A few of the photos were taken on March 3 with a majority being taken on March 6.

The trip with Ilona on March 6 was made up of stops at various places and sites to see. This blog will be focused mainly on memorials we visited on this trip, in the near future I will write about additional places we visited. The trip started with my 40 minute drive to her home to pick her up. Since I got a slightly later start than I wanted I decided a gas station visit would occur later and sooner (trust me you will hear more on this later). After picking up my side kick for the trip we headed off to the first stop, located about 10 minutes from her home that she did not know about.

Mammoth Mine Memorial

The Mammoth mines were made up of two mines. Mammoth #1 Mine was a mine shaft and Mammoth #2 was a slope mine. Mammoth #1 was owned by Colonel J.W. Moore Coke Company in Greensburg, PA. In 1889 the mine was sold to The H. C. Frick Coke Company.

Located off a country road, hidden behind the Mt. Pleasant Township Road Department remaining out of site, out of mind is the only reminder of this disaster. Here the sealed shaft of Mammoth #1 Mine remains with an old coal cart and a memorial stone with the names of those 109 men and boys forever lost.

On January 27, 1891 one of the most deadly mine disasters in Pennsylvania and the United States occurred here, the Mammoth Mine Disaster. Also known as the Frick Mine Explosion occurred just after 9:00 AM. It is believed the explosion was caused by firedamp being ignited by a miners oil lamp. Most of the miners are believed to have survived the explosion however they suffocated by the effects of the afterdamp. 79 of the 109 are buried in a mass grave at a local cemetery.

Names of the Lost

Just to give you an understanding, firedamp is a flammable gas found in coal mines. It is the name given to a number of flammable gases, especially methane. It is particularly found in areas where the coal is bituminous. The gas accumulates in pockets in the coal and adjacent strata, and when they are penetrated, the release can trigger explosions. Historically, if such a pocket was highly pressurized, it was termed a “bag of foulness”. Afterdamp, is the toxic mixture of gases left in a mine following an explosion caused by firedamp, which itself can initiate a much larger explosion of coal dust. It consists of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, another highly toxic gas, may also be present. However, it is the high content of carbon monoxide which kills by depriving victims of oxygen by combining preferentially with hemoglobin in the blood.

Mammoth Mine #1

The incident at Mammoth prompted Pennsylvania state legislation to strengthen mine safety inspections. The President of H.C. Coke Company, Thomas Lynch introduced the phrase, “Safety is the first consideration” and it appeared on every company circular. Soon after the expressions was shortened to a very common phrase we see everyday at nearly every workplace, “Safety First”. Soon after this disaster, the company published 25 mine safety rules. As the number of accidents increased, the rules increased. These rules were later adopted by other mining companies throughout the region. Most of the rules were listed in the 1916 edition of the Coal Miner’s Pocketbook.

While this was a very tragic accident to occur in Southwestern Pennsylvania, this event not only changed the industry but also gave us a simple saying that our lives depend upon, “Safety First”.

The next memorial stop on this trip is located in a much busier location but still surely goes highly unnoticed by the hundreds maybe thousands that pass by it daily. Located on the side of Route 30 East (Lincoln Highway) in Ligonier Township at the intersection of St. Clair Hollow Road stands a marker and stone monument to a man many never heard of.

General St Clair
Marker Along Lincoln Highway

Arthur St. Clair was born March 23, 1737 in Thurs, Scotland. In 1757, St. Clair purchased a commission in the British Army, Royal American Regiment, and came to America with Admiral Edward Boscawen’s fleet for the French and Indian War. On April 16, 1762, he resigned his commission, and, in 1764, he settled in Ligonier Valley, Pennsylvania, where he purchased land and erected mills. He was the largest landowner in Western Pennsylvania. In 1770, St. Clair became a justice of the court, of quarter sessions and of common pleas, a member of the proprietary council, a justice, recorder, and clerk of the orphans’ court, and prothonotary of Bedford and Westmoreland counties.

Monument to St Clair
Monument to St Clair

By the 1770’s Arthur St. Clair seen himself as more of an American than British. During the Revolutionary War, he rose to the rank of Major General in the Continental Army, however after a controversial retreat from Fort Ticonderoga he lost his command. After the war, he served as the 15th President of the Continental Congress. During his term he passed the Northwest Ordinance. He then became governor of the Northwest Territory in 1788. In 1791, St. Clair commanded the American forces in what was the United States’s worst ever defeat against the American Indians. Politically out-of-step with the Jefferson administration, he was replaced as governor in 1802.

Major General Arthur St. Clair died in poverty on August 31, 1818 in Greensburg, PA. He was buried under a Masonic monument in St. Clair Park in Greensburg. Arthur St. Clair has had many places named after him in seven states as well as in Scotland. The American Civil War steamer U.S.S. St. Clair was also named after him.

After departing the St. Clair Monument, we were also done with Westmoreland County for now and headed for Johnstown in Cambria County, PA. Here we visited the Grandview Cemetery. Good reason for this cemetery be to named Grandview, the view is just that. However, if you plan on visiting wait until spring. We hoped to ride the incline while there however it was closed for the season. The cemetery is one of the largest in the state, over 235 acres.

Johnstown has had a pretty rough history. Besides for being an industrial powerhouse at one time, the city was nearly wiped off the face of the earth. After several days of heavy rain the South Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River gave way releasing 14.55 million cubic meters of water. The wave of the flood waters reached as high as 75 feet and speeds of 40 mph, it took 65 minutes for the lake to drain. When it crashed into the city of Johnstown the wave was 36 feet high. When it was all over most of Johnstown was destroyed and 2,208 people per killed, 777 of those bodies were never identified. Those 777 souls were laid to rest at the Grandview Cemetery in an area known as the, “Plot of the Unknown”.

Plot of the Unknown
Plot of the Unknown

A simple sign marks the location of the unidentified remains of those killed on May 31, 1889. Here in the Plot of the Unknown stands 777 identical unmarked headstones, one for each of the unidentified. While they may never be known, these headstones ensure they will never be forgotten. On the backside of this section stands a large monument to honor those lost.

Plot of the Unknown
Plot of the Unknown

A short walk from the Plot of the Unknown stands the tallest monument in the cemetery. Paid for by the public, this monument was placed here to honor those who served in the American Civil War. The monument is surrounded by the Circle of Soldiers who served in the Grand Army of the Republic.

Soldier's Circle
Soldier’s Circle

On the other side of the cemetery at one of its highest points stands this large memorial. Originally placed in the Union Cemetery in 1898. This monument honors the graves of those that were washed away in the flood on May 31, 1889. In 1949, this monument was moved here, possibly to protect it from any future floods.

Lost Remains
Lost Remains

After departing Grandview Cemetery we continued our journey for the day. There were other stops in between the monuments we already talked about and the final monument of the stop. Since this blog is only focused on the monuments and memorials we will discuss the other stops in future blogs.

As I said before, trips with Ilona are always entertaining. This time, it was my own fault. At the beginning I told you I skipped the gas station stop to make up time for me getting a late start………. As a divorced male, I should have known better, but typical man moment, I did it anyhow. When we left Johnstown I knew fuel was getting low but I did not want to go into downtown to get gas. We left the city and most of Cambria is pretty rural. I knew we would be okay, however a woman is a woman. The discussion for this part of the trip was mainly focused on the fuel situation. Against her better judgement we continued on making stops, none of which included a gas station as none were nearby along the way. My goal, make it to Sheetz gas station in Portage, and we did. Here we got lunch and gas, she was happy once again. However I did hear about it the whole trip…… lesson learned here fellas, start with a full tank of fuel.

The final  stop as far as monuments and memorials go on this trip was a very interesting place that is probably little known outside the local community. I first stopped here on March 3rd with my friend Bryan but knew this was a place Ilona would really enjoy. She is that dark morbid friend of mine that we all have…….now that I think of it I have a lot of those but she is the darkest. Take my word on this when I tell you…….she has an antique casket in her home.

Located at St. Michael’s Basilica in Loretto, PA is the tomb of Prince Demetrius Gallitzin. The tomb sits in front of St. Michael’s under a statue of the prince. The tomb is vary narrow with not a lot of space but it is open to the public.

St Michael's Basilica
St Michael’s Basilica

Prince Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin (December 22, 1770 – May 6, 1840) was an emigre Russian aristocrat and Roman Catholic priest known as The Apostle of the Alleghenies. Since 2005, he has been under consideration for possible canonization by the Catholic Church. His current title is Servant of God. The Prince was born into inherited privilege. His father was the Russian ambassador to the Netherlands and his mother was a Prussian Countess.

Prince Gallitzin
Prince Gallitzin

The Prince arrived in the United States on October 28, 1792 and quickly became interested in the needs of The Church in the United States. He chose to give up his inheritance and become a priest.  He attended the newly formed Seminary of St. Sulpice in Baltimore on November 5, 1792 and Father Gallitzin was ordained on March 18, 1795. In 1799, Gallitzin founded the settlement of Loretto, PA and it became the first English-speaking Catholic settlement in the United States west of the Allegheny Front.

Prince Gallitzin Tomb
Prince Gallitzin Tomb

The Prince would go broke at one point in an attempt to build the community of Loretto. Even through the toughest of times he never forgot where he planted his roots in Pennsylvania. He turned down numerous positions within the Roman Catholic Church to remain in Loretto. He was considered for positions in Philadelphia, Kentucky, Pittsburgh, and was also nominated to be the first bishop of Cincinnati and Detroit, all positions that would require him to leave Loretto. Finally, he did accept appointment as Vicar-General for Western Pennsylvania.

St. Michael's/Prince Gallitzen
St. Michael’s/Prince Gallitzen

By the end of his life he paid back all of the loans he incurred to create the town of Loretto. It is believed that he spent nearly $150,000 of his own money to create a community for Roman Catholics. For 41 years, Price Gallitzin traveled the Allegheny Mountains in all types of health and weather conditions. After a fall that severely injured him preventing him from riding a horse, he continued to travel by sleigh. His travels consisted of preaching, teaching, serving, praying and offering the sacraments. A doctor had recommended bed rest and warmth for the exhausted priest, but he was reluctant to curtail any of the Lenten or Holy Week services. Father Gallitzin ministered faithfully until the very end of his life, and after a brief illness, died at the age of 69 in Loretto on May 6, 1840, shortly after Easter.

For more photographs of these places and many more places, click over to my Facebook Page, Neat Road Trips. Be sure to watch for additional blogs coming out soon on other places I visited on this most recent trip. Please share this page and be sure to “Like” Neat Road Trips on Facebook and invite your friends.

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Monuments of an Early March Trip

Texas School Administrator Proves Why We Need Civics Classes

A Texas School Administrator sent a message to students on social media informing them that they would be suspended from school if they chose to engage in on-campus protests of any kind in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Needville Independent School District Superintendent Curtis Rhodes stated that his reasoning for this decision is to maintain order and discipline in the classroom. As laudable as this may be, Rhodes is also sending another message to students: our school district does not approve of or encourage political literacy or peaceful activism.

Rhodes stated that school is a place to learn and grow “educationally, emotionally, and morally,” so apparently he is of the belief that school is not a place to be educated about becoming politically literate adults. Any protests were described as “disruptions” which is generally true, but if Needville students would be like others across the nation, a protest probably would have been peaceful.

Beyond purely political motives, students across the nation probably are participating in these protests out of fear that their own schools may be next. Because most of the students are too young to vote, they undoubtedly feel that their voices haven’t been heard by adultsin office. Even if the adults disagree with the solutions students are saying they want, this is not the time to silence them.

Young people have long been accused of being uninterested in civic affairs and politics, and now that there are many students showing an interest, there are school administrators telling them that they will be punished for it? There is nothing wrong with wanting school to remain calm without disruptions, but instead of threatening suspensions if students chose to participate in a peaceful demonstration, perhaps the better option would have been to provide the students with a specific time to demonstrate. There is plenty of research that suggests short breaks for physical activity to enhance academic performance. A short walk out the doors of the school to the parking lot, and maybe a short period of quiet time outdoors wouldn’t have been a huge disruption for Needville students. It certainly would make their Civics teachers happy – if they have them.

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Texas School Administrator Proves Why We Need Civics Classes