Why Does Small Town America Matter?

The flyover States. The Midwest, the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains. We have these large portions of land, water, grain, cattle, manufacturing plants, real home cooking, original buildings that display their character, and a truly visual representation of community.

The drawback for much of these communities is that they have smaller populations, limited resources, and an inability to capture large financial commitments they need to expound on their qualities, and make their respective destinations a draw for outsiders.

And then of course, that limitation goes to an on-going problem that America faces: competition for tourism dollars.

Many small towns across America have jumped onto the concepts taught at the former National Main Street Center were encapsulated by the ability to re-vitalize their downtown cores to eventually attract tourism dollars; the best money any municipality in this country can hope for.

Tourism dollars bring larger tax percentages (think those 20 percent or higher hotel taxes), and spend-happy customers at various retail shops that otherwise wouldn’t see the types of draws that would support their rent and utility payments.

Tourism is great, and getting something in place that is sustainable is certainly a goal worthy to have; but understanding that not every town can expect a major tourism draw is not merely a belief, but a principle that any small town looking to reclaim its luster should abide by.

The real truth is that it takes years of building (and a lot of rebuilding!) in all other directions before those first tourists will ever show up.  Merely propping up a few businesses in your downtown core, slapping an arts festival together and marketing it as the weekend destination is not going to work.

At the same time, people like Richard Florida, author of Cities and the Creative Class, have suggested that creative people, those who add vibrancy and theme to your small towns eventually leave for larger cities; simply because their purpose is better supported.

It’s a reasonable argument, in that we all recognize that larger cities tend to have more robust options and resources to not only support, but even more so, cultivate, the talents of many.  Industry, technology, space, and certainly an audience are all key factors to a creative reaching and achieving their potential; and making their own path.

Small towns by and large have not offered this in some time, and there are exceptions, by this is the going theme among many.

Some towns embrace the change, and want to support.  Others do not.  And still some fight it tooth and nail, not wanting anything “ruining….” Well, who knows what!

But right now, in 2019, small towns do have the ability to add some balance to the value they provide compared to their bigger, devouring brothers.

Much has been said about the internet and it’s democratization of information.  But the true power in internet services is the true exploration of fast telecommunications in the far-flung corners of agri-land.

But even more so than that, proliferating them in such a way that budding entrepreneurs, who are young, bright, and are inevitably part of the community’s growth, will be able to land the tools in small towns, that allow them to branch out the larger world.

One example of what I’m talking about is Ernest Greene Jr, also known as the musical artist Washed Out.  Greene was born in small town Georgia, and after leaving home for an education at a major D-1 school, followed by graduate school, he moved back in with his parents after not being able to find work in his profession. 

That could be the end to a very sad story about wasted youth, but instead, while Greene was searching for work, he start to create synth-pop and chillwave music that he eventually posted on the internet to a profile he named Washed Out.  He has said numerous times that the music was born out of a deep desire to remain happy in the state of life he was in; a lack of a job market during the 2009 recession that kept him unemployed, and living at home.

On the other end of the music, was an audience that discovered him and brought him to his first show, a sold-out showcase.  This led to a music career that is now roughly ten years old, with songs of his reaching the charts, as well as being encompassed into television royalties (he wrote the song used by Portlandia as their theme).

Greene didn’t need to be in New York City to capture his audience, and in fact has stayed in small towns in Georgia for their inspiration on the music he makes.

Greene proves Mr. Florida wrong, and he also proves that small towns have appeal that is routinely untapped.

It’s not necessary for people who want to preserve their small towns, or want to turn them into tourist hot spots to curate the entire town.  In fact, it’s quite possible that doing so will hurt the town’s potential.  But those that want to make their small towns achieve some growth, and have something to offer future generations need to consider supportive infrastructure foremost; buildings, utilities, and use of space.

These three elements are the foundation.  Everything else after is window dressing – and it’s advisable to leave that portion to the creatives you’re wanting to keep around.

I’ll write about this topic more at a later date.  Until then, consider your town, what the intention is, and whether or not that truly lines up with what your community wants to convey.  If there is a disagreement, those things need to be settled before any plan of direction is written or carried out.

It is one of the cruelest jokes we play on ourselves in the United States.

The flyover States. The Midwest, the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains. We have these large portions of land, water, grain, cattle, manufacturing plants, real home cooking, original buildings,

Opinion: Men Should Dress Themselves!

I am not sure when this became a trend, but I have noticed that men, or at least those that appear to be men, are allowing women to dress them.

It is as if men, in general mind you, no longer know how to do anything, most of all prepare thyself for the day laid ahead.

I am baffled at this display of ‘Ineffectualism’ I’ll name it, that men nowadays believe that a woman knows more about men themselves, then the man could ever.

There are three things that have caused the bulk of this, a lack of fathers and fatherhood, the persistent dampening of journey and adventure, which is the nature of men, and the rise of feminist viewpoints that specifically target the evisceration of men.

I’m sure many “feminists” will take issue with summary, but fear not, because I’m not the only one that sees you are not going through a transformation, so much as a brainwashing.  While some thoughts from your movement are useful, many others are not, and whether you understand it or not, they are designed to ruin relations between the sexes, as much, or even more, than the alleged masculine-centric views you oppose.

Be that as it may, a man is nothing if he is not the master of himself, and that does include how he dresses.

As men, whether we are aware of it or not, how you dress says something about you to those you interact with.  You can yell all day long that it’s a social construct that has little meaning now – but the only people I see getting away with not dressing properly are people who already have their fortune, and now people are forced to respect them, come as they are.

Meanwhile, you’re getting mesmerized by their apparent control of the situations they are in, but you’re focusing on the wrong elements of that control.  Many of you seem to think that dressing casual is the only way in life, and that no one cares.  But people do, even those that say they don’t.

If you can’t respect yourself enough to dress appropriately for your own business, how can you ever expect to for others to respect the business that you do?

This is a topic that men need to take serious, if for nothing else reclaiming their own sense of dignity.  How you can look yourself in the mirror while making your significant other into your “mommy” is beyond me.  And if ever there was a setup to that significant other cheating on you, there it is.

I’m not going to insult you all by saying there is one strict formula to follow.  As men, we cover all walks of life, from welders, to writers (dare I say it), to overall breadwinners.  All men should have at least a blue, a black, and a gray suit.  That’s a basic rule.

But even more than that, every man should have an idea of what patterns, what colors, and what styles of shirts, pants, and everything else, accentuate who they are, and what they have to offer the world.

And that is the paradigm every man should operate from, that we have something to offer the world.  Because if she’s no longer interested in that, and is trying to control everything in the house, to include our appearance, she can pack her things, and leave.  Or you can, that choice lies within you.

Take back your dignity, dress yourself.  Do some research on the topic, learn classic attire, and branch out from there.  Stay away from: GQ, Esquire, and jeans with glitter and patterns on them.  Also, despite what The Rolling Stones will have us all believe, holes in clothes are stupid, seriously.

Enjoy your manhood, and quit letting people without a clue tell you how to be.  It’s not their job, and it’s not your role to grant them audience.  They are indeed your enemy.

How ‘Real’ is Story: What Treme Taught Writers

Writers are the greatest of story tellers, if only for the fact that the tools they have at their disposal give them the ability to tell the greatest version of any story.

Especially when writing for a book, writers get use interplay between plot and story, the two main elements that advance a novel, and make it relevant to an audience.

David Simon, the man behind the books Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and The Corner, along with television series’ The Wire, Generation Kill, and adaptation of The Corner, Simon has taken a long time to develop a craft revolving around the story, and is a master of explaining how elements of story affect, and influence the future plot.

It’s now several years later after his last television series, Treme.  And while the series did not hold the attention of a viewing audience very well, there is a lot of hope, and a lot of lessons learned from the series for writers.  This is why I write about it today; it offers a glimmer of hope to writers who want to be at their best.

Treme is a different kind of television series.  Writers of all kinds who have seen it generally come away with a strong appreciation for the show.  The reason for this can be summed up as follows:  it’s not about characters going from one premise to an ultimate truth.  It’s about characters existing in their world, after it’s been flipped upside down.  It’s about the human condition, almost exclusively.

The show takes place in New Orleans, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  It follows over a dozen characters who come from varying walks of life, and represent different parts of the cultural backbone of New Orleans; music, cuisine, venues, and dance.  From traditional jazz musicians, to New Orleans Indians, to gourmet chefs, and everyone in between, the focus is on the people from the large art scene in New Orleans, as they rebuild their lives in a city set for major changes that ultimately interrupt their usual routines.

In a typical series, one would expect to see growing animosity between the protagonists and antagonists.  One would expect to find a clear bad guy, and a clear good guy.

But what this series showed was that in real life, we have profound effects on one another, without being an antagonist at all.  It should be noted that Simon did go out of his way to make banks, real estate investors, and law enforcement appear as incapable saboteurs, who’s only existence is designed to ruin the world.  Removing this portion from the show, and we would have witnessed the purest form of real-life story ever told in any medium.

With that said, the characters go through challenges, as could be expected.  They all have arcs in fact.  But, whereas most shows would have a grand ending for the varying characters, Treme leaves the characters more or less where they were before, perhaps with more refined direction, some even with what would be considered large life changes, but all in all, they are not “forever changed” as is common practice in works of fiction.  This is where Simon’s version of storytelling really went for something bold.  Taking art and placing it ever so close to life, and then making us watch those lives unfold.

My educated guess is that ten or twenty years from now, we’ll discover that Treme was far enough ahead of it’s time that there will be a renaissance in its honor, leading to a half a dozen shows trying to capture this uber-real feel.

For writers, it’s a vision of hope to tell stories about “real” people going through “real” dilemmas, which may be out of reach for their audience (making them interesting!), but because traditional media leaves us expanding into fantasy, even in “real” settings, we as writers get pushed further and further from being able to tell story in reality.  That is the unfortunate condition we live in, a constant pursuit of fantasy, at every turn.

While general viewing audiences may not be ready to experience this type of storytelling, what likely turned them off completely is an unfortunate sub-narrative that Simon likes to place within his work, and if you’ve heard him speak, you know where it comes from: his latent socialism.

This is why Simon is not a pure storyteller.  He instead will try hard to push a political agenda into his stories, even at risk of killing his project.  This is why The Wire died after five seasons, and why The Corner only got picked up for a brief six episode miniseries, rather than a larger multi-season telling.  Try as Simon might, people generally don’t enjoy his political views as told through character’s story and experiences.  Maybe he should option his work in Russia.

This is also why people involved in storytelling should avoid taking political views to one extreme or another.  You ultimately alienate one half of your potential audience, and then don’t challenge the other half of the audience, leaving both tuning out your screams for whatever.

Simon would have you believe that New Orleans was a political story in post-Katrina life, but as we place distance between that event and the present, we find more and more that politics had less to do with the fall out of New Orleans, and more so to do with individuals and their views of New Orleans being a ‘post-apocalyptic world.’

For writers, the idea of telling a story that focuses on typical people trying to keep their lives together is romantic, if for nothing else, it allows writers to stop trying to re-invent the ‘kill or be killed’ concept of most storytelling.

It’s also a lesson about establishing and maintaining an audience – stay out of politics.  Especially as writers of fiction, it’s not our place to tell people what to think about a given issue.  If they are consuming fiction, they most likely are not looking for that.  And even if they are, they probably need some story elements of fantasy involved, because a story about real people with real problems, over a backdrop of political ideology will undoubtedly wear out the audience.

Treme made that all too clear, despite its major triumphs.

MLB’s (Ice Cold) Hot Stove 2018: Why It’s Happening, and How To Fix It

This year’s off-season of free agency has been stalled to a block of ice in MLB.  And there is a number of working theories concerning what is happening.

However, a few weeks back several MLB execs took some time to explain what was occurring, very publicly, without their names being attached.

Their insight was likely very accurate, because what they pointed out supported many of the working theories dancing in the general public.

However, reading between the lines tells us there’s even more involved, from MLB’s past, and present, than we’re giving credit for.

First, the execs that were surveyed brought up money……A LOT!

They are looking at the history of the big contracts involving players who are at the end of their 20’s, or early 30’s, and that their performance has not measured up to their contract value.

Secondly, they brought up the fact that franchise price tags are expensive, and the Miami Marlins recent valuation, acquisition, and subsequent cast-off of every talented player they had spoke volumes of what ALL MLB owners now feel, in terms of balance sheets.  The old school multi-millionaires that would hedge money from their productive business holdings into their player payroll are now gone.

And third among the financial belly-aching, they cited that MLB across all it’s affiliates has a ton of debt that needs to be off-set, and it may as well be now that they start.

That’s all well and good, I think being fiscally responsible is everyone’s responsibility.

The problem is that everyone seems to be forgetting that the MLB, in their long-standing financial feuds with the MLBPA negotiated this thing called an MLB Rookie Contract.

It creates a situation where a player is indebted, on paper at least, to an MLB team for seven years.  In these contracts, players have fewer rights, and the first four seasons, they have no rights, such as arbitration, to command higher salaries.  What this means is, MLB teams are empowered to pay players who are on their rosters league minimum salaries, during the time that they are, according the logic of these MLB execs, their “most productive.”

As an example, let’s say a Right Fielder, Johnny Longball, comes out of high school, and is highly touted, and he ends up getting drafted in the early portion of the 2nd Round in the MLB Amateur Draft.  At 20, Longball has reached the Double AA level of the Avarus Sues farm system, and is dominating the game.  This means he’s had two years in the minors, likely playing mostly for performance bonuses, that are directly tied to his promotions, not his actual performance, and then his team decides he needs to come up to the big league for a stint in Mid-May, to give their outfield a break.  Longball comes up, he plays 15 games, hits .224, hits three home runs (very hard on analysis!), and drives in 12 runs, will having an overall outfield efficiency of .994.  Obviously, the most basic analysis is that he’s not hitting for average, and that would be typical of nearly any prospect’s first run in the majors.

Since MLB execs and owners want to look at history, let’s point out something very steadfast, historically at least, about the majors:  While many teams have touted having excellent five-tool prospects, their collective training staffs have managed to convert these claims a whooping four percent of the time, every ten years.

Longball’s rookie contract years gets extended because his 15 games doesn’t qualify as significant playing time in the majors, and thus, he heads back to AA for re-tooling, blasts through to AAA, where he finishes 80 games as a starter, going .297, hitting 22 home runs, knocking in 71 runs, and his outfield efficiency jumps to .996—for the casual reader, a defensive efficiency improvement of .002, comparatively speaking, is the difference between catching a routine fly ball 10 times out of 12, rather than 8 out of 12, and that can make a HUGE difference game to game.

They claim these players don’t pan out all the time.  I would argue, these training, scouting, and development staffs don’t know what they’re talking about, and certainly their historical track record suggests they don’t have a complete grasp on what each individual player needs to succeed at the next level.

Oh sure, they’ve gotten things right before:  A broken clock is right at least twice a day.  Is that the kind of odds you want to put your millions of dollars in payroll on?  But I’m a little from the topic at hand: finances.

Longball finally makes it through spring training, at age 21 (now three years of his rookie contract have been extended….), and he’s on the opening day roster.  He’s not a true starter, he’s platooning (meaning he swaps starts, and subs heavily at specific position, in this case right field), with an ‘aging’ right fielder who is being publicly mentioned as the next person to get cut from the Avarus Sues roster, because his numbers have slumped (a career BA of .284, but his last two seasons average .271).  Longball rises to occasion, and over the course 124 appearances, with 319 At-Bats, he goes .267, hits 19 home runs, drives in 58, and his defensive efficiency is at .997.  His stats make the case that he’s ready to stay on the team’s 25 man roster, the Avarus Sues get to drop the other guy, and his now ‘inflated’ contract, and Longball his the talk of his hometown, Sunny Cornfield, Iowa, where the community has been decimated by every young, able-bodied person leaving for work in places like St. Louis, because farming is inconvenient.  And everyone thinks Longball is living the dream.  The problem is, Longball is now stuck in a contract that ensures he’s stuck on the Avarus Sues roster until he’s 28, and he won’t get any rights to negotiate pay raises for his performance until he’s 25……Longball goes on to dominate every pitcher in his division for the next four years, before having shoulder surgery, because he’s swung so hard, on so many hard pitches, that his body, specifically his joints, are starting to deteriorate at a rate most of us won’t be able to understand.  Meanwhile, he’s only making the league minimum of $507,500, which is certainly a nice sum.  When you take out the taxes ($120,529.75 off the top, plus 39.6 percent of everything ABOVE $415,051.00 ($36,609.80 for this salary) equals $157,139.55), then factor in that these players have to find a place to live in the city they play in, and will likely pay a hefty sum for “transitional housing” since they won’t stay there year round, rookies are getting ripped off by MLB, and the IRS, period.

This rookie rip-off, errr, contract that the MLB instilled was promoted as a fair way for MLB teams to be able to “evaluate” guys like Longball, before they commit to paying them gobs of money, and then they don’t perform, and then the team is locked into paying someone who doesn’t advance their team.  It’s a fair point being made in this context.  However, the back end of a seven year contract, for a 20 year old who’s making the cut, is just as unfair for him, as it is for the team.

Looking at this logically, and from a historical standpoint, do MLB teams REALLY need seven years to ‘evaluate someone’s talent?’  Or was this just an attempt to control the market, from a labor perspective, for as long as possible?

Here’s something about capitalism that a lot of people don’t understand, no matter what side of it you’re own:  capitalism is not about the control of labor.  It is about being able to control FIXED costs.  Labor is never fixed.  In fact, if labor is fixed, it’s because of a monopoly, which is illegal.  Adam Smith, the godfather of free capitalism, spoke of the unethical pursuit of controlling labor, and said that businesses were far better off controlling their capital (i.e. goods), rather than trying to control labor.

Players are the labor.  And players deserve appropriately set contracts.  The reason MLBPA agreed to these seven-year long, subject to change, rookie rip-offs, is because the agreement was that players who performed beyond the constraints of these contracts, were likely impact players, who deserve appropriate compensation for their performance, and that while their originating team may not value them the same as other teams, the competition of other teams knocking, allow for that player to finally be compensated properly, for all the years they have performed.

Now MLB execs want to cry foul, about money.  It’s laughable.  Maybe their spending habits do need to change.  Maybe MLB owners want to see a better bottom line on their team’s balance sheets.  These concerns are valid, and should be addressed.

But trying to corner labor to do it is immoral, unethical, and if our government would do the right thing, see that what is happening is illegal.

Players deserve to be paid for their performance, irregardless.  Rookie contracts should not last seven years, and they certainly should not have caveats on time.  MLB owners and execs are simply trying to use the current system to corner labor, and it’s completely stupid.  One that quoted these execs said they were getting smarter.  No, they’re getting unethical, and it needs to be addressed.

The solution to this is quite simple: rookie contracts reduce to three years in length. Players don’t get arbitration, but the teams don’t get to extend years either.  Teams have to commit to providing appropriate living quarters for players, without including it as compensation, and any promotional material that players participate in is not mandatory, and is covered in separate compensation from any playing contract.

If MLB teams want to cry foul over player contracts, so be it, some of these contracts for older free agents do tend to be exorbitant.  However, they are based on this concept of compensation for the ‘whole player’ and what they’ve done, that they weren’t compensated for in the past.  MLB needs to be honest about the broken contract system, not just pick at the parts that they find troublesome.

While everyone is fixated on the fact that teams aren’t signing free agents like they used to, what this contract and financial griping is doing is leading to another player strike.  My only hope is that everyone see’s what is happening, and start holding MLB teams accountable.  Sure, we can agree that 22 million a year for some players is ridiculous, and that perhaps there should be some stipulations concerning performance.

But the rookie contract system in place is a farce, and prevents players from ever receiving true compensation for their efforts, if this off-season is an indication of what’s to come.

 

Update: Hope in Varnell, Georgia

In a very strong showing,  in the small town of Northern Georgia we discussed a few weeks ago, Varnell, citizens showed they were done fooling around with the city council nonsense, and told their sitting council that it’s time for them to resign.

To recap, Varnell Police responded back in June to an incident at Sheldon Fowler’s residence, who was then a city council member.  It turns out that Fowler is sexually aggressive with his daugthers, and also makes fun of one for having learning disabilities.  I don’t want to review the whole situation, but for your own benefit, here’s where you can read about Dad of the Year.

He refused to resign in lieu of the arrest, but then eventually did.  The city council, in response to “one of their own” getting held accountable, decided that disbanding the police department was the correct action.  The citizens had one word for it: wrong.

Not only was this not a popular move by city council, they also violated sunshine law requirements, because they misadvertised the special meeting where they took action.  For one, the City of Varnell prior to this had a rare distinction for being a open, transparent city government, achieving the highest award given with the State of Georgia for the effort to be transparent.

This whole episode places that entire reputation in jeopardy, which was likely built by many council members and mayors prior to those currently serving.  What a bad move by the current council.

At a special meeting called on July 25, 2017, the council could not achieve quorum, because as it turns out, one of the currently sitting council members who voted to disband the police department, doesn’t even live in the city limits, which is required.

Funny how following the rules seems to be so hard for this crop of city council members.

The person resigned prior to the meeting, because it’s been documented that they’ve lived outside of city limits since last year, and they cite being threatened, but it’s more likely they don’t want to face an ethics investigation that would have been carried out.

As far as the special meeting, the only council member in support of the police department was gone on a family emergency, so because there is no quorum, they had to postpone the meeting.

The two remaining council members left in shame, and rightfully so.  They’ve tried to grind a political axe that no city council members are supposed to have, but sometimes are given for very stupid reasons.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it is that this has played out this way.  My theory is that the two council members in favor of disbanding will eventually resign.  There’s no way they’ll be voted back in, and there’s no reason for them to stay in office now, since it is clear the citizens are going to take action to keep them from conducting any business.  The citizens don’t trust these people.  Nor should they.  They want a police department they can trust, and they want to feel safe.

And they should have that piece of mind.

What Modern College Life is Teaching

Watching the news can be a very hostile time in a person’s life.

I am still amazed at how much information is stated in any one news story, without really saying much about the story, but more about one person or group did, and what they blurted out about afterwards.

It’s not really news anymore, rather it’s coverage of singular events in immense detail, with no real background.  It’s funny to think that the media was so effective at stating truth at one point, but in that pursuit have allowed themselves to be held hostage by the apparent “news makers.”

One of the latest targets of such media bombardments is US college campuses, where any and all grievances students have are being taken more seriously than the civil rights movement.

Students who have a problem being labeled male or female.  Students who have a problem being pigeon-holed to a standardized grading system.  Students who don’t like that organizations on campus provided support to everyone’s interests, not just their own, seem to be not holding the media hostage, but also their school administrations.

We’ve seen a number of these scenarios play out, only ever for the worst, and in the end it’s found that the schools have handling situations right all along, but in an effort to appease these juvenile-like extortioners, members of the administration resign.

I think that smells foul.  When those in charge are exonerated, resignations are not only unnecessary, but they set a precedent.  They tell college students that even when someone is vindicated, there are penalties to pay for being vindicated.

The US is a land of civility and law.  I should say, that’s what we’ve always been.  It seems that these student groups are either missing the most important of civics lessons in their studies, or they are purposefully trying to ruin the stability of civility and laws afforded man and woman in the US.

I can appreciate that certain things seem unfair in the US.  Even some things are unfair on college campuses.  Those things that are unfair deserve a hearing, deserve reasonable debate, and deserve real strategies to deal with them.

Violent riots, and exclusion of people doesn’t help.  It alienates any cause.  And more to the point, it divides groups of people in a way that create disillusionment with our country.  We work better together because this country was founded, together.

Was it always just?  No.  Was exploitation once accepted?  Yes.  That doesn’t mean to give up.  That doesn’t mean that people are not being actively considered now.

When I hear the complaints being lodged, even if substantiated, are mostly minor situations, where confusion over words in policy seem to be the issue at hand.  I have my own view on policy, and how abused it is.  Perhaps I’ll write about that one day.

I do have hope that this ‘campus storm’ will end one day, but I’m certain it won’t end until something very bad happens.  Because that’s what it takes when something so egregious comes about.  Especially, when we don’t want it.

Here’s to hoping that this ends soon, and cooler heads prevail.