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  1. by Jeff Minick In his classic work Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton penned these profound words about tradition: For those with no interest in tradition, Chesterton’s words may appear meaningless or, worse, ridiculous. After all, these people might say, the dead are dead, and those who are either ignorant of history or who disdain tradition will pay Chesterton little attention. We see these forces of ignorance and contempt at work today regarding our American past. Knowledge of our history among students is abysmal, and even many adults have never read the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights. They’re clueless about the past; for instance, about the accomplishments of men and women like John and Abigail Adams, the events surrounding the Civil War, and the enormous contributions of the United States and capitalism to people around the globe following World War II. Those on the extreme left go even further by attempting to obliterate altogether America’s heroes and past accomplishments. They rewrite history books, tear down statues, and seek to replace merit with equity and liberty with tyranny. If we rid ourselves of the morality and customs of the past, they say, we can step into a shining utopia, a heaven on earth freed from the shackles of old ideas, Judeo-Christian codes of morality, and a baneful, biased tradition. If they are still around to witness the consequences of their actions, these radicals are likely in for a shock. They claim they are on the right side of history by pitching American traditions into a dumpster and replacing them with relativism and collectivism, but the past is rarely kind to tyrants and bullies. They’ve also apparently forgotten that the dead still speak to all who care to listen. All of us alive today, for instance, still benefit from the gifts of wisdom inherited from our immediate ancestors. Born nearly a century ago, my now-deceased parents taught me a work ethic, manners, and morals that I have in turn passed on to my children. Mom and Dad doubtless learned many of these same lessons in their own adolescence, meaning these whispers from the past extend even further back in time. These same voices of the dead speak to us in the laws, documents, and deeds of our more famous ancestors. Revisionists can assault Thomas Jefferson as racist and sexist, but his Declaration of Independence will continue to stand as one of the world’s greatest monuments to liberty. They can attack the writers of our Constitution for the same reasons but again cannot erase the freedoms that that remarkable document brought to a new nation. Hike in a national park and the ghost of Theodore Roosevelt walks at your side. Turn on a light bulb, drive a car, take a prescribed medicine, fly in an airplane, and men like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford deserve at least a tip of the hat. Behind all of these famous figures is that long, winding line of our more anonymous forebears, men and women like my ancestors and yours who built this country, often at the risk of death, and who pursued the American Dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness so that their children’s children could do the same. If we listen closely, these voices of the dead also speak to us through memoirs, movies, novels, poetry, songs, and even tombstones. The fact is the dead only truly die when we living let them die. Whenever we teach our children the truth about America, the good and the bad, we keep the dead alive. When we stand against lies and oppression, whether delivered from the left or the right, we honor and remember the dead. And when we step into a voting booth this November, at our elbow will be a great host of spirits whispering a single word whose magic and beauty so many of us seem to have forgotten: “America!” Jeff Minick lives in Front Royal, Virginia, and may be found online at jeffminick.com. He is the author of two novels, Amanda Bell and Dust on Their Wings, and two works of non-fiction, Learning as I Go and Movies Make the Man. This article appeared on IntellectualTakeout.org and is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
  2. by Jeff Minick In George Orwell’s 1984 are dichotomies now familiar to many Americans: “War Is Peace. Freedom Is Slavery. Ignorance Is Slavery.” Inscribed on the outside of the white, pyramid-shaped Ministry of Truth, this is the motto of Oceania, a nation governed by “The Party.” The Party designed these slogans to obfuscate the meaning of words, thereby shredding absolute truth and reality. They worked some semantical magic, altered the language, and controlled the people. And like the Party in 1984, the media, certain politicians of both political parties, and many academics work diligently to perform these same parlor tricks. These illusionists wave wands over their top hats and out pop not rabbits but words transformed in meaning. Here are a few instances of this linguistic sleight of hand. ‘Racism’ Originally, racism meant a skin-color-based prejudice or bigotry directed by one person or group whose skin was a different shade than the target’s. Today, however, many argue that only white people qualify as racists. White people are demonized as such solely on the basis of their skin color. Without the slightest hint of irony, racist writers and speakers rail incessantly against the evils of “white privilege” and “whiteness.” Thanks in large part to these bigots, hope for a color-blind society seems dead and buried. ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’ (DEI) In a recent interview with The Epoch Times, Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame briefly addresses the effects of DEI on the workplace and on our future: Suppose our collegiate and professional basketball teams applied DEI to their recruiting. Practicing real diversity and equity on starting teams would mean including three white players, one black player, and one player of another race or ethnic background. This doesn’t happen because the sports world rewards skill and competence. At bottom, DEI is simply racism and sexism disguised by language. ‘Extremist’ An extremist according to my online dictionary is “a person who holds extreme or fanatical political or religious views, especially one who resorts to or advocates extreme action.” In his September 1, 2022, speech to the nation, Joe Biden lambastedDonald Trump and MAGA Republicans. He said, “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represented an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.” In other words, a man who had served as president between 2017 and 2021 (without, notably, the republic’s consequence collapse), the millions who voted him into office, and the millions more who voted for him to be president in 2020, are all extremists. Today “extremist” is simply a smear applied with a broad brush and little real meaning. ‘Sex Education’ I remember when sex education was introduced to American schools as a measure to cut teen pregnancy rates and reduce sexually transmitted diseases. Today sex ed goes under the innocuous title “comprehensive sex education,” but the program itself is graphic, radical, and anti-family. Like DEI, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) also sounds bland and innocent, as does the legislation it’s currently pushing, the Real Education and Access for Healthy Youth Act. But as commentator and former educator Kali Fontanilla notes of this legislation: It’s important to remember that for the Left the term ‘sex education’ is just a euphemism for radical gender ideology and a host of other inappropriate perversions pushed on children. It bears little resemblance to the facts and anatomy-based approach to sex ed that you and I remember from our childhood. The words remain the same, but the meaning has been drastically altered. Other Euphemisms Speaking of euphemisms, here are just a few in use today. “Top surgery” in reality means a bilateral mastectomy for females, often teens, as part of their quest to become males. “Termination of pregnancy” is a substitute for abortion. “Undocumented immigrant” has replaced “illegal alien.” Perhaps worst of all is “My truth is not your truth.” It smacks of tolerance, but it erases entirely any concept of truth. Politics breeds euphemisms like the old jingle: “Two bunnies make four bunnies, and four bunnies make more bunnies.” Theodore Roosevelt and many other Republicans, for example, once considered themselves progressives, but today a “progressive” is a code word for socialist. TheInflation Reduction Act of 2022 sounds appealing, but it works as a cover for Green New Deal policies and more government spending. Given that many in our government, universities, corporations, and media are all in on these alterations, the only way left to prevent verbicide and euphemisms is to refuse to participate in the propaganda. When modern-day racists speak of whiteness, call them out. When some describe themselves as progressives, request a definition. When others trot out some euphemism regarding sex and gender, ask questions and force them to speak in straightforward language. Defend the true meaning of words, and you’re defending liberty. Jeff Minick lives in Front Royal, Virginia, and may be found online at jeffminick.com. He is the author of two novels, Amanda Bell and Dust on Their Wings, and two works of non-fiction, Learning as I Go and Movies Make the Man. This article was republished with permission from IntellectualTakeout.com
  3. by Lawana Morse Recently there was a vote for the legislature regarding giving the arena $500,000 of ARP funds. Back in December 2022, this line item was already voted on by the then legislature. The latest vote was to release the funds after the conditions of how the money was to be used were ironed out. There was some surprise by my ‘yes’ vote, which I knew there would be. I had been approached earlier in the year and was asked my feelings of the County taking on the arena as a county facility. I emphatically said no. I would not vote for such an acquisition. I strongly believe the arena needs to be a privately owned building. At current, the arena is owned by the IDA (not the county) and the hope is (and has been for quite a while) to find a private company to buy the arena and take over the management. There are talks in the works – as there have been in the past – so, we’ll see. In the meantime, one of the purposes of ARP funds has been to put money back into the businesses and tourism of the county to “recover” after the Covid shutdowns. I recognize that this is taxpayer funds that have been provided from the very broke Federal coffers. I also know, if we don’t use the money in our county, it will go back to the Federal coffers to be given to some other areas that our hard-earned money keeps getting thrown at, some good-some bad. I would rather see the funds put into something in the community that has the potential of increasing the value of life here. For so long the focus of the arena has been primarily on hockey. This town is not a hockey town from what I have seen. When the focus of a huge facility is solely on one revenue stream and the fan base just is not there to support it, the facility can’t operate. When the management is concerned with putting funds into their pockets because they have no incentive to maintain structure, the facility can’t succeed. Moving the focus from a hockey facility managed by a hockey team to a community center with multiple revenue streams being managed by a board of directors that has a desire to see the facility succeed gives me hope. I don’t want to see the arena fail. I have had conversations with many in the community and while it is frustrating to see time after time “under new management” and the seemingly failing of the building, I see some light currently. There is vision. I’ve seen ideas thrown out of how to utilize the facility. I have seen those ideas coming to light. I have heard of the conversations being had by organizations looking for a place to call home for their events. I have heard the collaboration of area businesses looking to come together and give life to the facility. I want to have hope that something good can happen by shifting the focus to a more usable community center. Opening the doors to a wider variety of events will bring a wider demographic of the surrounding area to the arena. That hope of success, that optimism, is why I voted to release the funds to the arena for much needed infrastructure repairs. The facility can’t succeed if it is falling apart. That hope of bettering the community through tourism is at the heart of why most of us have voted to give ARP funds to the different organizations that have presented a strong case and solid plans for their projects. But rest assured, the realist side of me was at work too. With every purchase, there must be accountability. If accountability is not forthcoming, I will be at the head of the line demanding the transparency of what progress is being made and how the funds are being spent. I will be asking for updates continually. I fully recognize that there are members of the community that are simply against putting any funds into a building that wasn’t wanted from the beginning. I get it. I truly do. If there had not been a strong case made for potential success and a vision given that I can support, I would be right there too. I was willing – this one time on my watch – to vote yes. I would rather see this effort made now, than to either see the building fall to ruin becoming a bigger blight in the city or have to put much more into seeing it torn down with no real plan for the area. Lawana Morse represents Chemung County’s First Legislative District. “Guest View” is a column written by readers from the Southern Tier. For information on how to submit something for a Guest View column, email us at elmiratelegram@gmail.com
  4. by Andy Patros There is always great interest in the history of our community and area. Mark Twain, Elmira College, American Lafrance, to name just a few historical items. But one piece of history that will always be viewed as a stain on our community, is the toxic history of the Southside/Elmira High School building, an item that had plagued our community for decades. The high school at 777. S. Main in Elmira, NY, opened in 1979 on property that operated for many years, 1887-1972, as a variety of industrial manufacturing businesses. Multiple materials were used in those manufacturing operations, and many ultimately were determined to be toxic chemicals. One significant toxic chemical that was found in the sub soil beneath the school was TCE, (trichloroethene). An air quality analysis performed in the summer of 2014 at the high school building, showed TCE to be present across many locations of the building. The footprint map that is part of this report, also pinpoints those locations.It is also important to note, that for a period of over 30 years, from 1979-2009, no mitigation measures were put in place to address the sub soil vapor intrusion that contained TCE. Therefore people that occupied the building were exposed. Exposure to TCE can cause birth defects in fetuses, cancer, immune system abnormalities, kidney & liver damage, and nervous system damage to name only a few. After many decades of debate regarding the exposure risks to TCE, the Biden administration through the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is on the verge of banning TCE and is taking public comments as well. As EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe stated on October 23rd, 2023 when the proposed action was announced, “The science is loud and clear on TCE. It is a dangerous toxic chemical and proposing to ban it will protect families, workers, and communities.” In order to help people to provide public comments on how TCE exposure affected their lives and the lives of others, I have created a website, toxichighschoolelmira.weebly.com, that has a link to the EPA’s TCE public comments website. A few tips for submitting your public comment to the EPA include: Click the blue COMMENT button in the upper left; it will take you to the comment page Type (or paste) a comment of up to 5000 characters and spaces (about 500-750 words) Optional- attach (up to 20) additional documents Enter your email address and click the box if you’d like to receive confirmation of your submission Identify yourself as individual, organization or anonymous Click the button to “submit comment” Also, on my website, I’ve included the 2014 indoor and sub slab air quality analysis report for Southside/Elmira High school. It is in a pdf file format so it will open easily, for viewing and downloading. While the injustices placed upon the many injured from the past have not been remedied, I hope that people still consider submitting their public comments from their experiences, to the record. Keep the historical record correct! Andy Patros is a resident of the town of Southport. “Guest View” is a column written by readers from the Southern Tier. For information on how to submit something for a Guest View column, email us at elmiratelegram@gmail.com
  5. by Annie Holmquist A few weeks ago, I came across a story in The Washington Post about a young woman, Rosie Grant, who scours graveyards across the country looking for recipes to make. Recipes in a graveyard? Yes, it does sound weird, but Grant was intrigued upon hearing the concept. The first gravestone recipe she came across was featured on Naomi Odessa Miller-Dawson’s grave and was for Spritz cookies. Grant whipped up a batch and shared the results on her TikTok account. Its success encouraged her to hunt down other gravestone recipes and try them as well. When I first read about Grant’s graveyard cooking ventures, I must admit that I thought it was a little sad. Making the recipe wasn’t sad—that was a very touching and honoring thing for Grant to do. What was sad, however, was the fact that some people seemed to think that a single recipe was the most important legacy they had to leave behind. Such a thought made me stop and ask myself what kind of legacy I will leave behind one day when I am dead and buried. Do I want my legacy to be as simple and small as a recipe on a gravestone, or do I want it to be much bigger—a legacy that touches people personally, makes them better individuals, and even encourages some to go on and impact the world at large? I think most of us would automatically choose the latter. Who doesn’t want his life to count and make a difference? “Forget that recipe on the gravestone, we’re setting our sights on something higher and more worthy!” we all say to ourselves. But then I read further in the article and my perspective began to change, for in some cases, there was more behind these recipes than meets the eye viewing the gravestone. Take Kay Andrews, for example, whose gravestone recipe for fudge was another one that Grant made for her TikTok account. Kay’s family described her as “the most joyful, loving person” who was always baking treats to give to others. Such food gifts, Kay’s granddaughter noted, were “really how she showed her love.” The fudge recipe gracing her gravestone may look like the only legacy Kay leaves behind, but in reality, her legacy was what she did with that fudge. She poured her time and energy into making something enjoyable, and then gave it away with her love. She made others feel special and wanted through simple actions and simple gifts. We only have her fudge recipe to look at on this side of eternity, but who knows what we will find on the other side? The fact is, those simple actions that she faithfully did may have made an enormous impact for good. Nineteenth century writer Elizabeth Rundle Charles captured how small, faithful actions can make a huge impact for good in her poem, “The Child on the Judgment Seat.” Go back to thy garden-plot, sweetheart! Go back till the evening falls, And bind thy lilies and train thy vines, Till for thee the Master calls. Go make thy garden fair as thou canst, Thou workest never alone; Perhaps he whose plot is next to thine Will see it and mend his own. And the next may copy his, sweetheart, Till all grows fair and sweet; And, when the Master comes at eve, Happy faces his coming will greet. Many of us look at our world today, sighing in discouragement and wondering what on earth we, the simple, average Americans can do to change the seemingly unstoppable train wreck that our country is headed for. We’re too ordinary to make a big difference, we murmur to ourselves. What we forget is that it is the simple, faithful, heartfelt acts of love and kindness that truly make a difference in this world. When we work and do our best in the areas in which we have been planted—our homes, our workplaces, our neighborhoods—being faithful in even the daily, mundane tasks we’ve been given, but taking time to be the listening ear, the helping hand, the caring friend, and the kind neighbor, then our legacy will be nothing to sneeze at once we’re dead and buried. Instead, it will grow and spread, from one little garden plot to another, fed by the love and care and faithfulness we bring to our everyday tasks. — Annie Holmquist served as the editor of Intellectual Takeout from 2018 to 2022. When not writing or editing, she enjoys reading, gardening, and time with family and friends. This article was originally published on Annie’s Substack. You can subscribe to it here.
  6. First it was the “Great Resignation.” Then it was “nobody wants to work anymore.” Now it’s “quiet quitting.” Yet it seems like no one wants to talk about what I see as the root cause of America’s economic malaise – work under contemporary capitalism is fundamentally flawed. As a political philosopher studying the effects of contemporary capitalism on the future of work, I believe that the inability to dictate and meaningfully control one’s own working life is the problem. Democratizing work is the solution. The problem of work What can be said about the malaise surrounding work under capitalism today? There are at least four major problems: First, work can be alienating. Workers are often not in control of how they work, when they work, what is done with the goods and services they produce, and what is done with the profits made from their work. This is particularly evident in the rise of precarious forms of work, like those that are found in the gig economy. According to the Pew Research Center, there’s been a decline in people finding meaning in their work. Nearly half of front-line managers and employees do not think that they can “live their purpose” through their jobs. Second, workers are not paid the full value of their labor. Real wages have not kept pace with productivity, driving economic inequality and a decline in labor’s share of income. Third, people are time poor. In the U.S., full-time employed workers work an average of 8.72 hours per day despite productivity increases. Long working hours, along with a number of other factors, contribute to the feeling of “time poverty,” which has a negative impact on psychological well-being. Constrained by the demands of work, many people find they have little time to pursue their own interests. z_wei/iStock via Getty Images Fourth, automation puts jobs and wages at risk. While technological innovation could in theory liberate people from the 40-hour workweek, as long as changes aren’t made to the structure of work, automation will simply continue to exert downward pressure on wages and contribute to increases in precarious employment. Ultimately, the potential of automation to reduce working hours is inconsistent with the profit motives of capitalist companies. Humanize work or reduce it? On the one hand, many people lack work that is personally meaningful. On the other hand, many are also desperate for a more complete life – one that allows for creative self-expression and community-building outside of work. So, what is to be done with the problem of work? There are two competing visions of the best way to arrive at a solution. The first is what Kathi Weeks, author of “The Problem with Work,” calls the “socialist humanist” position. According to socialist humanists, work “is understood as an individual creative capacity, a human essence, from which we are now estranged and to which we should be restored.” In other words, jobs often make workers feel less human. The way to remedy this problem is by re-imagining work so that it is self-determined and people are better compensated for the work they do. The second is what’s known as the “post-work” position. The post-work theorists believe that while doing some work might be necessary, the work ethic, as a prerequisite for social value, can be corrosive to humanity; they argue that meaning, purpose and social value are not necessarily found in work but instead residein the communities and relationships built and sustained outside of the workplace. So people should be liberated from the requirement of work in order to have the free time to do as they please, and embrace what French-Austrian philosopher André Gorz called “life as an end in itself.” While both positions might stem from theoretical disagreements, is it possible to have the best of both worlds? Can work be humanized and play a less central role in our lives? Democratic worker control My own research has focused on what I see as a critical answer to the above question: democratic worker control. Democratic worker control – where companies are owned and controlled by the workers themselves – is not a new concept. Worker cooperatives are already found in many sectors throughout the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe. In contrast to how work is currently organized under capitalism, democratic worker control humanizes work by allowing workers to determine their own working conditions, to own the full value of their labor, to dictate the structure and nature of their jobs and, crucially, to determine their own working hours. This perspective recognizes that the problems people face in their working lives are not merely the result of an unjust distribution of resources. Rather, they result from power differentials in the workplace. Being told what to do, when to do it and how much you will earn is an alienating experience that leads to depression, precarity and economic inequality. Being told what to do and when to do it can make you feel helpless and dispirited. On the other hand, having a democratic say over your working life means the ability to make work less alienating. If people have democratic control over the work they do, they are unlikely to choose work that feels meaningless. They can also find their niche and figure out what’s fulfilling to them within a community of equals. Democratizing work also leads to an increase in labor’s share of income and a reduction in economic inequality. It has been shown that unionized workers earn an average of 11.2% more in wages than nonunionized workers in similar industries. Income inequality is also much lower in worker cooperatives compared with capitalist companies. But work should not be confused with the whole of life. Nor should it be assumed that a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging and the acquisition of new skills can’t occur outside of work. Playing, volunteering and worshipping can all do the same. However, in capitalist companies, labor-saving technologies do not afford workers with more leisure time. Instead, labor-saving technologies mean workers are more likely to face unemployment and downward pressure on wages. Under democratic worker control, workers can choose to prioritize values that are consistent with themselves rather than the dictates of profit-seeking shareholders. Labor-saving technologies make it more likely that leisure time can become a choice. Workers are free to assert their own values, including that of less work and more play. A mosaic approach Of course, democratic worker control is not a silver bullet to economic discontent, and these changes to the workplace can’t occur in a vacuum. For instance, trials of a four-day workweek without a reduction in pay are increasingly popular, and they have had resounding success in both the United Kingdom and Iceland. Workers report feeling less stressed and less burned out. They have a better work-life balance and report being just as productive, if not more so. Federal legislation to reduce working hours without a reduction in pay, such as through the implementation of a four-day workweek, could accompany a movement for democratic worker control. The expansion of social services, the development of a public banking system and the provision of a universal basic incomemay also be important components of meaningful change. A broader movement to democratize the U.S. economy is needed if society is going to take the challenges of work in the 21st century seriously. In short, I believe a mosaic of approaches is necessary. But one thing is clear: As long as work remains the dictates of shareholders rather than the workers themselves, much work will remain a source of alienation and will persist as an organizing feature of American life. Alec Stubbs, Postdoctoral Fellow of Philosophy, UMass Boston This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
  7. by Jeff Minick On a recent trip from Virginia to Indiana, the friend who was driving me commented on the trash alongside the expressways. With the exception of Route 30’s lightly traveled parts, he was right. Plastic bags, fast-food wrappers, beer bottles, and other debris uglified the roadways. The motel where we stayed that weekend wasn’t much better. Cigarette butts littered the grounds and the parking lot, likely because the motel offered neither outdoor trash cans nor cigarette disposal receptacles. Back home, I’ve now noticed that the roads around here are also awash in garbage. The middle-class neighborhood where I live is litter-free, but as soon as I turn onto Rivermont Drive and head to town, the roadside ditches and patches of grass become a dumping ground for trash. Drivers either toss their refuse out the window or fail to secure it in their pickup trucks as they carry it to the county dump. Similarly, a friend of mine reports that at his older, working-class complex of apartments in Richmond, Virginia, some neighbors frequently open their car doors and dump trash into the parking lot. Others throw their MacDonald’s boxes and wrappers to the ground after eating, too lazy or too ignorant to carry them inside to a waste can. It seems it’s time to bring back the “Crying Indian.” The Crying Indian advertisement, one of the most effective ads ever to appear on television, depicted a Native American canoeing in polluted waters. Landing his canoe and stepping to the bank, he stands surrounded by trash, and turning his face to the camera, he sheds a single tear. “Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country. And some people don’t,” the ad said. “People start pollution. People can stop it.” Such a lesson is now forgotten, judging from Elizabeth Cogar’s Rappahannock Record article on the mounting litter problem. While government workers and volunteers do clean up roadside messes from time to time, picking up trash is only a temporary solution. Within days, the litter reappears. Many places impose stiff fines for those caught littering, but catching these offenders, as one sheriff told Cogar, is virtually impossible. “That is a tough thing to do because most people are not going to toss anything out the window if they know a patrol car is close by.” Cogar also spoke with Ben Lewis, a government official who supervises people convicted of misdemeanors and sentenced to perform community service by picking up trash. “The behavior [of the litterers] has to change,” Lewis said. “It’s a cultural thing. If you grow up seeing your parents throw trash out of the car and that’s what your family does, then you’re going to do it and your children will, too.” I think Lewis just nailed the problem. So here’s a possible solution. Suppose instead of teaching our students critical race theory—which divides them—we unite them behind an anti-litter campaign. School officials could put up anti-littering posters in the hallways. Teachers could offer reminders throughout the school year that pitching your trash into the streets and parks makes America ugly. Even better, once or twice a year, kids might spend an afternoon cleaning up the trash around their schools or in nearby parks. Once they understand the consequences of tossing that fast-food rubbish out the car window, they might bring that lesson home to their parents. Here's a program—inexpensive, simple, and with little burden on academics—that everyone could get behind. In the early 1960s, television featured the “Susan Spotless” ads, in which an elementary-aged girl reminded those watching, that littering was shameful. She sang, “Please, please don’t be a litter bug, 'cause every litter bit hurts.” Like the Crying Indian, the Susan Spotless ads were effective, at least in my case, for that song has stayed in the storage unit of my head for over 50 years. Years ago, New York City took to fighting crime by instituting the broken windows theory, the idea that visible signs of decay and junky neighborhoods increase crime. Ridding our streets of trash may not decrease crime, but it will boost the morale of citizens, restore our pride of place, and help make America beautiful again. Jeff Minick lives in Front Royal, Virginia, and may be found online at jeffminick.com. He is the author of two novels, Amanda Bell and Dust on Their Wings, and two works of non-fiction, Learning as I Go and Movies Make the Man. This article was republished with permission from IntellectualTakeout.com
  8. The Implications of Declining Population In the State of New York (and particularly upstate), over a million and a half residents migrated to other states in the last decade (8% of the state’s population – barely offset by birth and foreign immigration rates). In 2018, as NYS led the nation in this “population outflow”, Governor Andrew Cuomo denied claims that a failing economy due to poor government leadership could be responsible for the decline. Instead, he blamed the weather. “Somebody wants to move to Florida because they want to move to Florida. God bless them. They want to fish. They want warm weather." Pundits found that premise questionable at best. As many academics and analysts noted: Since we’ve seen net “population inflow” in several cold states like Washington, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, and Minnesota.... “warm weather” can’t be the only reason Florida and Texas have seen “inflows”. There is a direct correlation between population growth and economic prosperity, and New York State has seen a decline in both over the last decade. Chemung County’s population drain has been longer and bigger than NYS’s exodus. From the peak of 101,000 residents in the 1970 census, we have lost over 17% of our county population. The History We’ve Heard About Like Cuomo pointing to Florida’s balmy temperatures, the weather has been unfairly scapegoated for local “population outflow”. It’s been repeatedly stated by local leaders over the years that the primary factor in Chemung County’s decline was the devastating flood that Hurricane Agnes hurled upon us in June of 1972. We’ve been told for nearly 50 years that Agnes’s destruction was simply too much to overcome. It’s unmistakable that Chemung County enjoyed over a century of growth prior to the 1972 flood and encountered a sharp downturn in population from that time forward. The economic prosperity that fosters population growth didn’t rebound after that event. With this timeline in mind, the theory that “Agnes was our downfall” seemed plausible and has been widely accepted by most people in the area. The Contrasts That Have Been Overlooked Similar to Cuomo’s “cold weather” excuse overlooking population growth in other cold climate states, the pretext that Agnes is to blame for all our woes neglects to explain why other counties devastated by Agnes managed to recover, but not Chemung County. Residents and businesses didn’t flee Steuben County after the destruction of Hurricane Agnes, and since 2010 Steuben’s population decreased by just 6% compared to Chemung County’s 17% plummet. Meanwhile, the populations in Schuyler and Tioga Counties (also struck hard by Agnes) have increased by 6% and 4% respectively. It’s worth mentioning that decades before Agnes, another record-breaking flood in 1946 laid waste to Chemung County, and the economy continued to boom afterward. Chemung County was able to recover and realize its sharpest population growth ever – with a 38% increase from 1940 to 1970. So, if Agnes isn’t at fault for our state of affairs....then what else occurred during the 1970s that could have hindered Chemung County’s growth? The Parallel Event That Shaped Chemung County’s Circumstances There is one change to Chemung County’s circumstances that the county did not face during its recovery from the 1946 flood: abolishing the established government structure that had resolved county issues for over a century (Board of Supervisors) and replacing it with a “new” and more politically motivated governing body in a 1973 Charter proposal. That change didn’t have much voter support at all. It was defeated by public vote in 1972 and when four different reapportionment and charter proposals were placed on the ballot in November 1973, the current 15-member Legislature and elected Executive options was finally approved by just over 8,000 votes (less than 20% of voters – with a margin of under 1,000 votes). As we approach the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Agnes.....it’s worth considering whether the transformation of local government may have done harm to Chemung County’s fate that has lingered decades after the flooding. The Value of The Board of Supervisors What impact did the (largely unpopular) shift in County Government have on the “Efficiency of County Government Operations”? As the people charged with everyday issues and challenges of their individual municipalities, members of the Board of Supervisors had solid roots and commitment to their individual communities. They had the qualification of understanding what services and needs their Town spends its resources on.....and where those resources come from. Whether it was one of our communities with a local police department or public water and streetlights or a community that’s home to retail, agriculture, or industrial enterprises. The people tasked with (and have the most understanding of) weighing the priorities of each municipality within the county are those who comprised the Board of Supervisors. The adopted County Charter that abolished the Board of Supervisors and established a separate Legislature created a new layer of bureaucracy, disconnected from the Supervisors who fully realize the needs of their communities. The adopted Charter goes so far as to prohibit municipal officials from the “new” bureaucratic arrangement. “No mayors of cities or villages, supervisors of towns, or members of the legislative body of cities, towns or villages who reside in the County shall be eligible to be elected as members of the County Legislative body.” Legislators can only grasp the needs of individual municipalities by getting second-hand input. Aside from being time-consuming and inefficient...that information is usually degraded as it passes through multiple channels. In order to examine the impact County actions have on various city, town and village concerns, legislators can either consult the very Supervisors who are excluded from serving on the body....or (as is increasingly common) commission a “study” from a third party. The latter option adds expense to taxpayers (as if the $1 million added expenses of legislature pay and benefits isn’t punitive enough)....for information that the Supervisors already manage and fully comprehend. Whether it’s New York State or Chemung County, it’s dishonest to blame the weather for the steady departure of residents. There’s a high probability that if Chemung County had kept its Board of Supervisors, it would have recovered (like other counties did) from the damage Agnes caused. And it’s fair to ask if returning to that structure (or otherwise modifying the current legislative structure) could finally right the ship Opportunities To Remedy Ineffective Government Operations So....how does a change back to a more efficient county government happen? In recent years, the Legislature has reviewed the “merit” of several of (its own) policies that benefit its members. Not surprisingly....the body (often steered by committees with members vocally opposing changes) has a pattern of concluding that “self-preservation” of the Legislature is best for their constituents. 2019 “Legislature Compensation & Benefits Review Committee”: Over some objections, the decision was made to continue their 16k+ per year salaries and full health plan participation for their parttime (well under 20 hours/wk) duties 2020 “Term Limit Advisory Committee”: a panel (chosen by a Chair who is a career politician, serving his third term and vocally opposed to term limits) determined that the county is best served by allowing legislators to have an unlimited number of terms. 2021/22 “Legislative Redistricting & Efficiency of County Government Operations Advisory Committee”: From the beginning, this committee has pointedly avoided the question (cited as one of their points to consider) of balancing the number of legislative districts to the declining population (which would result in some number of “their” legislative seats being removed). Action That Citizens Can Take So if self-interest and preservation are clearly prevalent when these matters are left to the Legislative body....how can the electorate compel the Legislature to address transformational propositions that the body is averse to confronting on its own? Petition for a referendum on amending the Charter. We have seen pleas from dozens of citizens speak on these topics, often fall on deaf ears. Regardless of whether any members are inclined to support the reforms, it’s clear that the Legislature (at the behest of the Chair) is under no compulsion to comply with requests received from constituents, either by letter or public comment. However, the body is required to take action when properly petitioned. As outlined by the Department of State “Adopting and Amending County Charters”, the New York State Municipal Home Rule Law does provide a process for voters to bring about reform. “A proposed charter or proposed revision of an existing charter may be prepared by or under the auspices of the county’s governing body directly or by a specifically appointed charter commission. The charter drafting process may be initiated by the governing body itself or by voter petition and referendum.” ***** Voter initiative. Under a procedure set forth in section 33 of the Municipal Home Rule Law, the voters of a county may petition the county legislative body to establish and appoint a charter commission. The petition calling for the creation of the charter commission must be signed by qualified voters equal in number to at least 10 percent of the votes cast in the county for Governor in the last gubernatorial election. In response to such a petition, the legislative body may create and appoint a charter commission on its own motion. Otherwise, the county legislative body is required by law to submit to a referendum the question of whether a charter commission should be established and appointed. If a majority of the votes cast on the question are in favor of the proposition, the legislative body must create a commission and appoint its members within two months following voter approval.” A petition signed by ten percent of the 30-40,000 Chemung County voters who typically participate in the general elections seems like a high bar but is by no means insurmountable. If voters want a choice in how the county government operates, initiating a Charter Amendment is an attainable prospect; it works out to roughly 200-300 signatures for each of our 15 legislative districts. This could be accomplished by three dozen advocates each gathering signatures from 100 registered voters and would require the Legislature to offer a public referendum to amend the charter....which the Legislature has been averse to presenting on their own accord. Kathleen Reed is a Town of Catlin resident.
  9. There’s been commentary from some officials and 2022 candidates regarding the current redistricting that the County Charter tasks the Legislature with after each census. With some time browsing the County website, one can piece together minutes, videos and audio recordings located on various pages. In the interest of discerning fact from opinions, I encourage everyone to make the effort. Those records provide a revealing glimpse at conduct and sentiments of some local officials. To address the mandate to “reconsider its representation, and, if necessary, redraw legislative district boundaries”, the Legislature seated “The Legislative Redistricting and Efficiency of County Government Operations Advisory Committee” in early 2021. The original proposal for a $48,000 study from the Center for Governmental Research (CGR) was scrapped after the County Executive and Treasurer advised it wasn’t authorized in the 2021 budget. What was the Legislature’s reaction to this news from its counterparts in other branches of government? Under the guise of “Efficiency of County Government Operations”, discussion turned to matters far outside the realm of “redrawing legislative district boundaries”. Namely the notion of abolishing the offices of County Executive and Treasurer. The Executive’s misgivings on contracting with CGR were well founded. Their presentation to the committee during the first meeting indicated that their efforts would be dedicated to crafting a report to suit the Committee’s agenda. Not only was transparency in question, CGR assured secrecy. They promised that any findings that the Committee didn’t like would be hidden from the public: Once Census data became available in December, another group (from SUNY New Paltz) was brought in. Their presentation January 14th was professional and encouraging. Joshua Simon objectively outlined legal requirements and changes in election law. He advised ranking priorities that fall outside legal parameters to generate multiple map choices. He also stressed the importance of public involvement throughout the process, recommending multiple public presentations and input/listening sessions before Public Hearing on the final proposal. In his experience, he noted, transparency and partnership greatly increase the likelihood of a mandatory referendum passing. Some in attendance were receptive to his advice of seeking public input. However, some louder voices have been dismissive of the idea during the entire process. Those louder voices may prevail, but I’d like to offer input anyway, as a member of the public that Mr. Simon encouraged involvement from. First, abandon the idea of eliminating other elected branches. Countywide officials are elected by considerably more voters than any of the 15 legislators in individual districts. Installing appointed staff, serving at the Legislature’s behest, erodes the power balance on which democratic representation is built. And offers no savings to taxpayers; qualified appointees would receive compensation comparable to current elected officials. This is not the first time the Legislative body has sought to eliminate the elected Executive & Treasurer positions. The very first Legislative term passed a resolution in 1977 to do the same thing....and that Charter Amendment was defeated by voters in the mandatory referendum. Secondly, seek public participation at every stage in the process. A handful of legislators on one committee taking it upon themselves to define priorities for 84,000 constituents is presumptuous. The last half-century shows voters have repeatedly rejected Charter Amendments for redistricting and restructuring county government. When the Legislature provides final proposals that don’t reflect constituents’ priorities and wishes, they must start over next year – expending more time and taxpayer resources. After the 1990 Census, voters rejected redistricting plans in 1992 and again in 1993 before finally approving the plan presented in 1994. Current legislators should consider why such attempts by their predecessors have failed, and rather than blithely skipping down the same path, strive to do better. Otherwise, legislators will face voter rejection again when offering yet another ballot proposal that ignores constituents’ voices. Kathleen Reed is a Town of Catlin resident. "Guest View" is a column written by readers from the Southern Tier. For information on how to submit something for a Guest View column, email us at twintiersliving@gmail.com
  10. A friend of mine decided to shake the dust of the cities off his feet last year and migrate to a more rural area. Reflecting on the move, he seemed surprised at how much he was enjoying the change. My takeaway from our conversation was that his life was fresh and new now that he has left the problems of the city. Having a community of reasonable people to live amongst wasn’t so bad either. My friend isn’t the only one who made such a change in the last year or so; Minnesota Public Radio highlighted the trend in a recent story entitled, “Ready for a change: Couples go all in on small-town life.” The article describes how James and Katrina Ball uprooted their children from the Cayman Islands to settle in the small Minnesotan town of Battle Lake at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic so they could be near Katrina’s parents. Not intending to stay for the long haul, they still find themselves living there—and not only surviving but thriving in their new community. While it once was the norm for small communities to empty out as their young people moved to the cities for bigger opportunities, it seems a reverse flight is beginning to take place—slowly, perhaps, but definite nonetheless. While some may see this as regression, it is actually progress, for a return to the rural, local community will eventually bring restored freedom and virtue to America’s citizens. Those who move say they love the connected feeling that a small community brings. Mentioning a fall festival that Katrina helped organize, the Balls expressed their surprise at how helpful and participatory everyone was. In other words, the couple appreciate the freedom, support, tight-knit nature, and comfort of life in a small town. And while the Balls likely don’t realize it, it is these very things that are the roots of a healthy society. Robert Nisbet noted this in his classic work, Quest for Community. “The family, religious association, and local community,” wrote Nisbet, “these, the conservatives insisted, cannot be regarded as the external products of man’s thought and behavior; they are essentially prior to the individual and are the indispensable supports of belief and conduct.” When such supports are gone, we shouldn’t be surprised to see individuals believe only in their own truth and behave in any depraved way that they choose. Nisbet elaborates: Americans are lost, lonely, and adrift. Almost all of us can sense that without even looking at statistics. But is it possible such a problem could be reversed by more Americans fleeing the cities and settling down in small communities? Here, people can’t blend into the background as much; they are a name instead of a faceless being, carried along with the crowd of good, upright folks striving to follow God, work hard, raise their family right, and support those around them with care and encouragement. America won’t survive without turning away from the rootless and toward the rooted. If we’re serious about helping that about-face happen, perhaps it’s time to find a small community, settle down, and start the process of becoming more than a lonely automaton in a massive urban arena. Annie Holmquist is the editor of Intellectual Takeout. When not writing or editing, she enjoys reading, gardening, and time with family and friends.This article was re[ublished with permission from IntellectualTakeout.org
  11. Reading through online headlines I often see a story entitled, “Demi Moore at 58 Hasn’t Aged Well.” Though I’ve never clicked on that link, I did google “Demi Moore at 58” and thought she looked pretty darn good. Sure, she’s probably gone under the plastic surgeon’s knife a few times—those high cheek bones seem a dead giveaway—but most online comments about her are complimentary, telling us she’s still a physical beauty in her sixth decade. But who cares? Go to any Walmart or grocery store and you’ll see platoons of people who haven’t “aged well.” Unable to walk, some of the elderly ride through the store aisles in motorized carts. Others teeter along, clinging to their shopping buggies for balance as they hunt for coffee, soup, and ground beef. Some older folks even work in these establishments, bagging groceries and pushing carts from the parking lot back to the store. By our societal standards of youth and beauty, none of them has “aged well.” Nor have I, for that matter. Compare me to the guy I was at 35, half my current age, and you’ll find in the former a solid oak and in the latter a weather-beaten, time-gnarled old tree. But hidden behind those gray hairs, barnacles, and wrinkled faces are gifts that younger people ignore at their peril. Many of the cognitive elderly are walking, breathing libraries, flesh-and-blood encyclopedias of knowledge and wisdom. They remember when racism was real in America, not some theory concocted by academics. They recollect the days when the Vietnam War divided Americans, when fights broke out over gasoline in the long lines at service stations in the 1970s, when the Iranians held Americans hostage during the Carter administration. Even more importantly, these old people have witnessed the heartaches and hardships brought by death, divorce, broken relationships with family and friends, debt and bankruptcy. And with any luck, they have also waltzed with love, joy, and laughter, and do so even today. In having trekked through some 25,000 days, a good number of these men and women have acquired wisdom. They know that what so many regard as crises—failure to gain acceptance at a certain college, a broken engagement, the loss of a job—are just small-arms fire on the battlefield of life. They recognize that the little things, like the hug of a grandchild or a pat on the shoulder from a friend, count for a lot. They have reached an age where they understand that people matter more than money, that character and a good name are worth more than mansions and gold, and that gratitude is the grace that keeps on giving. And if you talk to some of these wise folks, you may well find in them this description taken from the film Secondhand Lions: “A man’s body may grow old, but his spirit can still be as young and as restless as ever.” So much of the time, however, no one seeks out or listens to that spirit. I keep a 1988 “Peanuts” cartoon beneath glass on my desk, featuring Charlie Brown and Linus playing in the snow. “Yesterday was my Grandpa’s birthday,” says Charlie Brown. “I asked him what the most important thing was that he learned in life…” Charlie pauses, then adds, “He said, ‘I’ve learned that even when people ask me that question, they aren’t going to listen.’” One of my great regrets is that in my younger years I failed even to ask such questions. What, for example, did my beloved Grandma Helen count as success? What did she love—and she loved him deeply—about my grandfather, who died when I was a boy? What was the secret to their happy marriage? But she passed on more than 30 years ago, and I’ll never learn the answers to such questions. So, a bit of advice to any younger people reading this column: My regrets need not be yours. Open up the living books that surround you before time closes them forever. Ask questions. That 75-year-old aunt who sits so quietly at family gatherings might just be a treasure house of stories and insights. Who knows? Her words might even change your life. Jeff Minick lives in Front Royal, Virginia, and may be found online at jeffminick.com. He is the author of two novels, Amanda Bell and Dust on Their Wings, and two works of non-fiction, Learning as I Go and Movies Make the Man. This column was republished with permission from IntellectualTakeout.org
  12. by Jeff Minick “All aboard!” North Carolina writer Anna Raglan was delighted to find that Amtrak’s conductors still called out these words to passengers before departing the station. In her new travelogue The Train From Greenville, Raglan, a kind and wise friend of mine, describes a journey she made by rail from Greenville, South Carolina, to Seattle and back again. A wife, mother, and professional in her mid-50s, Raglan was apprehensive about the trip. She packed and repacked her luggage, had a friend help her make the reservation by phone, and nervously kept an eye on her luggage while onboard. Raglan takes her readers along with her on her way across the country and shows them the pleasures of train travel, which include the opportunity to see the American landscape and to meet people from all around the country. The Train From Greenville is a good book, wise in its observations of Raglan’s railway companions, accepting of their eccentricities, and gentle in tone, but that’s not why I am writing about it here. No—what deserves a deeper look is the sadness of this book, a sorrow entirely unintended by the author. You see, though The Train From Greenville is newly published, Raglan made her trip in 2011. That time, and the people she describes, seem to have lived not just a decade ago, but a century. It is startling looking back at who we once were. On that train were blacks and whites, Hispanics, Asians, and at least one Native American. Raglan spent a good bit of time with a tattooed man who loves drag racing and the music of Bruce Springsteen. Eventually, he told her a harrowing story about how he killed a man who had tried to assault him in self-defense. She conversed with a Native American hired by Amtrak to share stories of Indians and the West with the passengers. Her seat companions ranged from a female veteran of these trips to a quiet young man wearing dreadlocks. And though Raglan overheard a few political conversations, nowhere on her train do we encounter the acrimony so commonly found today in our mainstream media. Black Lives Matter, Critical Race Theory, the savage political assaults on presidents and politicians, and the laments over America’s faults: not a word. And of course, the COVID pandemic with its fearmongering, lockdowns, masks, and mandates were not even a whisper in the wind back in 2011. No, these trains, the beauty of the country they rolled through, and the Americans who rode them represent what America was about back then, a people united in purpose—in this case, getting to a destination—and helping one another along the way. Again and again we see these men and women offering assistance to their fellow travelers, helping a blind woman find a seat, sharing food and treats, and making certain not to crowd the person seated beside them. Other than a nervous, easily angered woman Raglan refers to as Birdie, and a man upset by a delay in the timetable, these people displayed those traits foreigners have long thought of as American: optimism, cheerfulness, and a can-do attitude with lots of smiles. Above I mentioned the miserable contrast between now and 10 years ago. But as I reflect on the matter, I also see The Train From Greenville as a sign of hope and rejuvenation, a reminder of who we were and who we are. Surely all of us know friends, family, and neighbors like those on the train, good-hearted people who looked out for one another and who have carried on through these last two miserable years. We are a people who were born in a revolution, fought a civil war, who helped to save the world from fascism and communism, and who, despite our flaws, have made enormous changes throughout our history, looking for justice and liberty for all. The fearmongering of the current pandemic, the heavy-handed efforts by government to order us about and so diminish our liberties, the insane spending by Congress, the foreign policy failures: these have damaged the American spirit, but they cannot kill it—unless we throw in the towel out of despair. One chapter of The Train From Greenville is titled “We Are Here Together.” Let’s make those words one of our banners. Let’s turn our backs on those contemptible people working so hard to divide us and remember we are all Americans. Jeff Minick lives in Front Royal, Virginia, and may be found online at jeffminick.com. He is the author of two novels, Amanda Bell and Dust on Their Wings, and two works of non-fiction, Learning as I Go and Movies Make the Man. This column was republished with permission from IntellectualTakeout.org
  13. As a mental health counselor, I am witnessing an emotional ass-beating unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed before. People are coming into my office defeated, exhausted and some, barely able to function. Others are restless, uneasy, walking out of jobs and even marriages without a second thought. Some are fleeing, making big moves, a futile attempt to escape themselves. Some are consumed with rage, guilt and shame. Prior to COVID, it wasn’t unusual to have parallels between my story and the stories I have the honor of holding space for, but I wasn’t in my client’s battles. Now, I feel as though I am experiencing this ass-beating right along with them. I have days when I can hardly function, finding myself grateful for an unexpected cancellation so I can curl up on my couch and take a nap. A couple weeks ago, I told my husband I was ready to move. It was a toss-up between New Hampshire or the Netherlands, I’ve never even been to the Netherlands. The slightest inconvenience, my child being sick, feels like a monumental stressor. There is the emotional weight of worry, what if they have COVID? What if I get COVID? And then there are the moving pieces, where can we go to get tested? How long will it take? How am I going to navigate remote schooling while trying to conduct virtual sessions? It would be one thing if this happened every so often, but we are less than a month into school and we have had two weeks with way too many moving pieces. And then there is the guilt and shame that immediately follows as I can’t help but think, others have it so much worse and as a counselor, I should know best how to navigate this season we are in. A week ago, I found myself in my primary care doctor’s office in tears, my chest hurt so bad I wasn’t sure if I was having a panic attack or a heart attack. The diagnosis from my doctor was that I am human and have stress. In a recent article in the Washington Post by Amy Cuddy and JillEllyn Riley, they coined the term, “Pandemic Flux Syndrome” to describe what people are experiencing nearly 18 months into this collective trauma. The article resonated deeply with me and gave words to my experience and what I am bearing witness to with those I see. The article goes on to explain reasons we are feeling this way, “for many people, our brains and bodies are simply fatigued, and recalibrating to the new circumstances is too much to bear.” They refer to the concept of ‘surge capacity,’ which you can read about in an interview with psychologist Ann Masten and science journalist Tara Haelle. In the healthcare field, surge capacity refers to the ability to manage and care for a significant increase in volume of patients. Outside the healthcare field, it refers essentially to our capacity to draw upon our internal resources to manage a crisis. A crisis or trauma spanning the course of a year and a half, takes a toll. Brene Brown recently did an interview with Amy Cuddy discussing this concept further. Many of us were hopeful over the summer, we felt the end was in sight, we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. And then, it was as though someone flipped the switch on us. Some of us are hyper focused on whom they perceive has turned off that light. Lines are being drawn and we are taking our beaten emotional minds and body into battle with others, sometimes with our own family and friends. I believe we have a hard time accepting what we cannot understand and for many, this seems impossible to comprehend so we cope by lashing out, by trying to find the why, the seemingly elusive solution. So, what can we do? How can we cope with this emotional ass-beating? I have a few thoughts I would like to offer. First, we need a ‘what the flux friend’ or better yet, ‘what the flux friends.’ We need someone who can hold space for us to express how we feel, whether that is rage, anxiety, sadness, grief or shame. Connecting with someone we can be open and honest with can help us heal our bruised minds, we need someone to encourage us to return to battle. We also need to know we are not alone and hopefully in reading this and other articles, you realize you are most definitely, not alone. We need to move and not out of state. Most self-help articles around caring for our mental health during the pandemic mention the importance of exercise as a form of movement, along with eating healthy, staying hydrated and getting enough sleep. Moving our bodies can serve multiple purposes though. When I can, I go for walks with my clients. The cooler fall weather is perfect for being outside and the changing color of the leaves offers a beautiful backdrop. One of my clients recently said, ‘I like walking when we are talking about hard things.’ Movement, whether that is walking, running, hiking or dancing, can help us not only to feel physically better, but can also serve as an outlet to our emotional experiences. There is a saying, ‘emotions need motion.’ If we don’t tend to the thoughts and feelings arising within us, they will not dissipate on their own. To prevent an external or internal eruption of these emotions, it is best if we can acknowledge and tend to them with compassion and intention. The other day, my 8 y/o daughter lathered soap on her hands and arms, she told me the soap represented her ‘worry thoughts.’ My daughter then turned on the water and scrubbed her hands and arms vigorously, effectively ‘washing away’ those painful thoughts. We all need to find a way to release and wash away what comes up for us throughout our day. Create, get outside, meditate, spend less time doing and more time being. I believe whole-heartedly in this quote by Rumi: “We carry inside us the wonders we seek outside us.” I truly believe what we need is within, we must quiet the noise to be able to access that wisdom and right now, there is a lot of noise. We need to create quiet pockets of time, even if that is just a couple minutes a day where we can take a couple breaths, tune into how we are feeling in our bodies, minds and hearts and just let that be. Notice what is coming up from a space of compassion and tend to those emotions arising, maybe you are feeling overwhelming anxiety and you need a couple breaths to create more internal space. Maybe you need a good cry or maybe you haven’t had anything to eat or drink. Maybe you need to step outside and feel the fresh air on your skin, maybe you need to turn off the News for a while. I know it can be hard in a society where we are constantly on the go, but now perhaps more than ever we need to pause, breathe and just be. Be Kind. It’s truly that simple. Yesterday, I was waiting in a long line at a store, a trip that was supposed to be a quick ‘in and out.’ I had ice cream in the car and it was an unusually warmer Fall day. I could feel the heat rising in my face and tension throughout my body, why is there only one person working? What is taking so long? I was so consumed by my own gunk that I didn’t notice the man in front of me. “You have the most beautiful mask,” he said sincerely. I snapped out of my anger trance. Such a simple statement and suddenly, the anger and irritation I felt melted away, kind of like the ice cream most likely was in my car. With kind words, we can bring people into the moment, we can extend our light and illuminate their light through a compliment or just a simple gesture that communicates, ‘I see you.’ If we could all be more intentional about extending random acts of kindness, I think we would all feel a little less fluxed. I want to end by pausing and creating a space to acknowledge and honor the lives we have lost, those left behind and those living with long-term effects of COVID-19. We are all living in the midst of this collective trauma and I believe we are all connected by a collective experience of grief as well. Even if we haven’t lost someone we love, we likely know someone who has. And while some of what I have written is in jest, I know there are those experiencing waves of anxiety and depression and others who feel like they are drowning. If you feel this way, there is help and support: SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) National Domestic Violence Hotline Psychology Today, Find a Therapist For residents of NYS: NY Project Hope If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 Renae Carapella-Johnson is a licensed mental health counselor and owner of Ray Of Light Counseling & Consulting in Savona NY.
  14. The other day I was sitting in a coffee shop when a rap song began playing in the café. The F-word—you know, the one that rhymes with muck and yuck—featured prominently in the lyrics. I was happy there were no children present. After leaving the café, I went to our library to return some books. Next door to the library is a public park with two basketball courts and a playground for children. On my way back to the car, I could hear some kid yelling the F-bomb as he called on his teammate to pass him the ball. Arriving home, I was sitting on the front porch when a member of the construction crew working on the house across the street about 100 yards away began striding up and down the street, shouting the Big F into his phone. For almost 10 minutes, he used the word as an adjective, a noun, and a verb. I was tempted to approach him and ask him to tone it down, but was deterred by his rage. This crudity of language is only one symptom of our descent into barbarism. Our disheveled fashion sense is another. But one of the much darker signs of our drift toward barbarism is the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill passed by Democrats in the House of Representatives on Friday, Sept. 24. The bill seeks to supersede state laws on abortion such as mandatory waiting periods and requirements involving ultrasounds and informed consent. Far worse, this act would allow abortions through nine months, a procedure that basically entails dismembering the unborn in the womb and extracting the remains piece by piece. Though some commentators argue that the Women’s Health Protection Act will have a tough time making its way through the Senate, that circumstance still doesn’t answer this question: What kind of hell are we creating in this country? What kind of people are willing to chop up an eight-month-old baby in the womb? To cheer the passage of such a bill, as some did, labels us a nation of barbaric pagans. Even if we don’t enact this monstrosity into law, the mere fact that it passed the House condemns us as a country, putting us in the company of the ancient city-state of Carthage, which practiced child sacrifice, modern-day China, and even Nazi Germany. We are fond today of condemning the past, tearing down monuments, revising our history books, and attacking the men and women who founded the United States and who sacrificed so much to make this a land of liberty. What will our children’s children, those of them fortunate enough to be born and see the light of day, think of a people who condoned such atrocities? Just 10 years ago, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to reaffirm the motto of the United States, “In God we trust.” It’s a good motto, but how do we honor it when members of Congress vote for a bill that would put into law such horrific practices? Do we really expect the blessings of an almighty deity given policies like this one? We may hope and pray this legislation fails. We can vote in elections for candidates opposed to this turn toward barbarism. We can write to our representatives to protest such horrors. Some might even organize demonstrations. But the best thing we can do is to change ourselves, to return to a moral way of living, to act as if we actually believed in the truly liberal values and mores of our Western civilization. Supposedly the London Times long ago sent this brief inquiry to a number of well-known authors and intellectuals: “What is wrong with the world today?” Writer G. K. Chesterton responded with a two-word answer, “I am.” If those in our government, in our corporations, in our schools and universities, and the rest of us exercised this same sense of humility, perhaps we might turn away from the dark path we are walking. Jeff Minick lives in Front Royal, Virginia, and may be found online at jeffminick.com. This article was republished with permission from IntellectualTakeOut.org
  15. by Nicole Carr - ProPublica My second grader’s almond-shaped brown eyes widened over the doubled-up N95 and cloth masks I’d instructed her and her older sister to wear that day. There, in the foyer of her school, stood her unmasked principal, greeting the hundreds of families who were flocking to a July 29 open house. We passed by the front office staff, also mostly unmasked. In the crowds we observed, there were as many unmasked parents and children as masked ones. Families bumped into each other in hallways as they searched for classrooms. They lined up in the cafeteria to sign up for PTA and extracurricular activities. The cafeteria, we were told, would be back to full capacity the following Monday, the first day of school in Cobb County, Georgia. Unlike last school year, when my girls had attended virtually, there would be no more social distancing when it came time to eat. We found my younger daughter’s classroom. The maskless homeroom teacher presented a slideshow of her family’s summer adventures. Her classroom partner, a Spanish-language teacher who was paired with her as part of the school’s dual-language immersion program, donned a mask that matched her outfit. “Will you be masked while teaching?” asked a masked parent from the back of the crowded classroom. “I will not,” the homeroom teacher answered, emphasizing the “not.” “I will,” her Spanish-language teaching partner answered. A few miles away, at about the same time the doors to the open house swung open, Dr. Janet Memark, director of public health for Cobb and Douglas counties, sat down in a conference room to record a somber update. “We are up to 235 cases per 100,000 since last night” for new infections over a two-week period, Memark said, delivering a message for community channels, news outlets and YouTube. “So that has blown us past high transmission,” she said. “And I heard today our numbers are looking even worse.” Back in early May, when my family had to decide whether to send our daughters to their suburban Atlanta school for face-to-face learning in the upcoming school year, I was comfortable with the decision to let them go back. The coronavirus caseload in Cobb County at the time was low. Plus, the school had a mask mandate. By the time of the open house, neither was true. Cobb County reversed course on its mask mandate in June and refused to budge even after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose headquarters is two counties over, on July 27 recommended masking for all K-12 students and teachers,even vaccinated ones. Three days before the open house, we had requested to change our decision and return to virtual learning. The superintendent’s office denied our request. Too late, it said. Cobb County Schools, the second largest school district in Georgia and among the first major metro districts nationwide to reopen for the 2021-22 school year, is one of only two of the eight districts in metro Atlanta’s five-county region without a mask mandate. The other is the city school system in Cobb’s county seat, Marietta, which operates as its own district and which ProPublica wrote about last year for its then-rare decision, among Georgia districts, to require masks. “It’s disappointing that the districts are not implementing the strategies recommended by the CDC to keep these kids safe when there is moderate to high transmission,” said Elizabeth Stuart, a biostatistician at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in reference to the metro Atlanta school districts that are not requiring masks. “It puts families into these really challenging situations.” The school districts weren’t even heeding the warning of their county’s own public health director: “My best advice is that you go with the CDC recommendations. They are that everybody in K through 12 need to wear their mask,” Memark implored those watching her July 29 recording. Asked why Cobb County Schools deviated from the CDC and its own county’s public health director on a mask mandate, a district spokesperson would only respond that its public health protocols “are intended to balance the importance of in-person learning and the frequent changes associated with COVID-19. This pandemic continues to impact students, staff, and families differently throughout Cobb County, and we will continue to update our school protocols accordingly.” When I walked into that open house, I reminded myself of my husband’s words from earlier that morning: “Have an open mind.” When I walked out, I knew there was nothing that would make me feel safe sending my girls to school on Monday. The car ride home from the open house was filled with excited back-to-school banter between the girls and my husband. I was silent, waiting for him to pull into the driveway and drop me off so he could take the kids for Happy Meals. He and I had planned to talk that night, after the girls and our toddler son went to bed. But I wasn’t sure I could wait that long. I ignored the knot in my stomach and focused on figuring out Plan B. Our immediate alternatives were private school (though we could scarcely afford it, and admissions had closed for most of them), home schooling (but what about our jobs?) or moving to another district (if we could find a house in this manic real estate market). Waiting for my husband to come back from lunch, I threw up a prayer and tried to secure one more last-ditch option. I entered our daughters into a lottery for a virtual-only charter school that had just opened a few hundred additional slots statewide. It was the only free, accredited and teacher-led virtual alternative at the time. Within five minutes, I received a response: They both got in. When my husband got back, I intercepted him in the garage and sent the kids upstairs. “Can we have a pre-meeting?” I begged, then launched right into it: “I don’t like what I saw at the school.” He was less bothered by what he’d observed than by our girls forgoing another year of in-person learning, arguing that he hadn’t yet seen data to convince him they needed any more protection than their own masks. Besides, he said, if it got bad enough, wouldn’t the school have to go back to virtual learning, anyway? I countered that the data we were reviewing was based on current behavior, noting that the transmission and hospitalization rates were rising before the kids even packed into the buildings. That afternoon, between calls to my daughters’ pediatrician and their elementary school to get records that the virtual charter needed, I forwarded the virtual school information to other concerned parents. At least one of them tried to get in, two and a half hours after my attempt. It didn’t work: She was stuck on a waitlist. The next morning, still locked in a stalemate with my husband, I stopped by the pediatrician’s office to pick up the immunization records I needed. “Am I the only one doing this?” I asked the receptionist. “No, ma’am, you’re not alone,” she said, holding up a folder full of vaccine records awaiting other parents who’d changed course. I then went to the elementary school to pick up my daughters’ report cards and un-enroll them. A staff member wrote their names alongside those of more than a dozen students who would not be showing up on the first day of school. Later, I reached out to Cobb County Schools and other districts to determine how many parents had withdrawn their children in recent weeks. Most districts, including Cobb, said it was not a request they could immediately fulfill. While I was out trying to handle the new school enrollment, my husband called to apologize. He thanked me for executing a new plan at a time when he was consumed with disappointment for the kids. He just wanted them to be happy, he said, and didn’t want them to feel defeated by the news of another year of virtual learning. On Sunday, Aug. 1, the day before the first day of school, I wrote an email to Cobb County School District Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, Assistant Superintendent Ehsan Kattoula and the county school board, to let them know we were leaving the county school system for now. I noted that, as difficult as this process had been for us, I couldn’t imagine what other families in tougher spots with fewer resources must be facing. School board member Charisse Davis, one of three members of the Democratic minority on the Cobb County School Board, wrote back: “With school starting tomorrow, we are hearing from so many parents who are flat out scared about what is going to happen. I have no answers as to why we are rejecting the public health guidelines.” She added, “It almost feels like the last 18 months didn’t happen. We are just back to normal because of what? Denial, fatigue, politics?” Several parents I spoke with while reporting this story expressed skepticism that COVID-19 could harm them. “We go out to eat. We go to the grocery store. We’ve traveled all summer long,” said Ashley Gentile, a West Cobb mother of two elementary school students. She said that any member of her family could have gotten the virus anywhere, but none had. “For our family, it’s not alarming when we hear numbers have risen in certain schools and certain areas. It doesn’t make us want to keep our kids home.” Sharon Abney, Gentile’s sister, who lives in East Cobb and is a physical therapist, said the data isn’t concerning to her. “The kids, yeah, they’re gonna get it, but they’re probably going to be asymptomatic or have a really mild case,” she said. “There are people in our community who believe that because we’re choosing not to send our kids in a mask, we’re killing them. And that’s not what’s happening.” The same day I sent my email to the district, screengrabs of a message to parents at Cobb County’s King Springs Elementary School, near my daughters’ now-former school, began circulating on social media and in my parent text groups. The message concerned the school’s open house three days earlier. Up top it said in bold red: “Covid-19 Low Risk Letter.” “Good Evening Everyone,” it read. “We are super excited to get this school year started! Following our wonderful Sneak A Peek on Thursday, we’ve been notified that several families have positive cases of Covid and attended our event. Since this was a fluid event with people mingling throughout the building, we thought it best to send a low risk letter to all families.” The alert prompted Cobb County school board member Dr. Jaha Howard to request, the day before school started, an emergency meeting for the board to consider the repercussions of the district's COVID-19 protocols when it came to keeping students safe. Howard, a pediatric dentist whose three children attend Cobb schools, said he had spoken with dozens of parents who expressed a broad spectrum of opinions on masking in the classroom. “You have a good number of parents who fundamentally would like to see less people getting infected and less people getting into the hospital, and they’re willing to do what needs to be done so that people don’t get sick,” Howard told me. “You have another group in this county and in this country that fundamentally believe that this virus has to run its course. And they’re not saying it out loud, but what I’m hearing between the lines is: ‘People are going to get sick. Some people are going to have to go to the hospital. Some people might tragically pass, but the best way through it is to literally allow it to take its course.’” Howard had made previous unsuccessful attempts to get the school board to meet about COVID-19 protocol, including a meeting he tried to call between the board and Cobb’s public health director in June. Like those previous appeals, his Aug. 1 request also was denied. Board Chair Randy Scramihorn did not respond to a request for comment. The board’s most publicized agenda item in recent months, which came to a vote in June, had nothing to do with the pandemic. Rather, the board voted to ban critical race theory from its curriculum. On Aug. 4, the third day of school, Cobb County Schools emailed parents to let them know the district had updated its COVID-19 protocols. One change was that masks, though still optional, were now “strongly encouraged.” A more significant change had to do with quarantining. The district’s new protocol allowed asymptomatic students and staff who’d been in close contact with a person who’d tested positive to return to school the next day, as long as they agreed to wear a mask for 10 days. The previous protocol was to follow CDC and Georgia Department of Public Health quarantine guidelines, which call for asymptomatic unvaccinated people to isolate at home for between seven and 14 days following a close contact with a coronavirus-infected person. Not only is Cobb County one of two districts to fail to adopt a mask mandate among the eight in metro Atlanta, but, as of Aug. 4, Cobb has a far more lenient quarantine protocol, too. Asked what precipitated the change, a Cobb County Schools spokesperson pointed to an Aug. 2 order signed by DPH Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey, which states: “Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on quarantine remains the safest way to protect teachers and students from the spread of COVID-19. However, recognizing the importance of in-person learning, schools may elect to adhere to different quarantine requirements as developed by the local school district to facilitate in-person learning.” Yet the order clarifies that schools should adopt “such different quarantine requirements as long as the point of exposure occurred in the school setting” and as long as those exposed remain asymptomatic. Cobb County Schools did not directly address ProPublica’s questions about how the district would distinguish point of contact or if there was a threshold at which it would adopt a mask mandate. Over a 12-day period between my children’s school open house and Aug. 9, the second Monday of school, Cobb County and much of the rest of Georgia and the South saw rapid growth in coronavirus infections. In Cobb, cases per 100,000 nearly doubled in that time and the positivity rate went up, as well, a sign that the virus was spreading rapidly. On Aug. 10, Memark, the Cobb-Douglas public health director, told the Cobb County Board of Commissioners that child cases had grown by 60 percent in the past week — the first week of school — for kids between the ages of 5 and 17. On Aug. 8, Georgia’s seven-day average number of cases among 5- to 9-year-olds reached a peak higher than at any previous point in the pandemic. As of Wednesday, it was higher still. That first week of school, instead of posting pictures of the kids’ first day and sitting each afternoon in the carpool pickup line, my husband and I tried to come up with a schedule to fill their days in advance of virtual school starting later in the month. I also attempted to turn off the notifications from my elementary school chat group. But for some reason, I kept getting them. On Aug. 6, an alert popped up. A mom wanted us to know that her kindergartner, whose sibling is in the classroom where my second-grader would have been, tested positive. She said she doubted the school would notify us. The next morning, another mother confirmed that she herself had tested positive; her kids were negative so far. The day after, another family’s three-year-old tested positive. Their school-aged child remained negative. That night, a fourth mother’s friend was rounding out a 24-hour hospital stay with her kindergartner who’d tested positive. So had multiple classmates. “If you have a little one in that class,” she wrote, “I suggest you get them tested.”
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