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  1. by Michaela Estruth “When I grow up, I want to be a mom.” These are common words to hear from young girls; they aspire to be just like their own mothers. But all of a sudden, once those young girls become women, those words become less and less common. Has that maternal desire faded? Perhaps. But might there be another explanation? The question, “What do you want to do?” is a constant ask of every 18- to 22-year-old. College-aged adults like me are just beginning independent lives and discovering the world of opportunities while also discovering a culture of commendation or condemnation. Depending on where we go and what we do, others will either praise us or persecute us. And young adults know this. We can feel it every time someone asks us that question about our future plans. If I were to respond to that question with “I want to get married and be a mom,” the average American would stare at me and blink. Then they’d probably say, “Right, but what do you want to do before that?” This mindset is just one of the factors contributing to America’s declining birth rates. America’s birth rates reached a record low of 1.6 children per woman in 2023, below the necessary replacement rate of 2.1. The birth rate had been on a rise for the past two years, which many experts attribute to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the statistics now show the continued decline and the lowest rates since 1979. This decline cannot be reduced to one factor. The cultural “success message” that delays marriage and family, however, should take some blame. Last December, Statista reported on U.S. Census Bureau data showing that the average marrying age for men is 30.2 and for women is 28.4—a marked increase since the 1950s when men married around age 23 and women around age 20. Along with getting married later, men and women are also having kids later. Twenty percent of women have their first child after the age of 35, according to a July 2022 article from the National Institute of Health’s News in Health. The article opens explaining why women may postpone starting a family: “There are many reasons you might wait to have kids. You may want to focus on your career. Or save some money first.” These are some of the common arguments against getting married and starting a family at a young age. Shouldn’t young women like me first go to grad school, perhaps law school, or at least make a worthwhile living? Don’t we want to travel, let loose, and have fun? Of course, all these reasons aren’t inherently wrong or even necessarily unwise, but the point is that people are starting families much later, and often putting off doing so for the sake of perceived personal accomplishment or enjoyment. And therein lies the heart of the issue. The cultural sermon preaches “you first” to every young man and woman looking to start adult life. “Do what you want to do. Marriage and family will come later.” But here’s the blunt truth: Marriage and family doesn’t just happen to someone. They take time and intentionality. Dating requires patience and thoughtful consideration before making a lifetime commitment to another person. Marriage requires self-sacrifice, a love that is rooted in commitment, not mere sentimental feeling. And a child demands that same self-sacrifice every minute of every day. Being a father or a mother means putting the child’s needs above your own. It means instruction, love, discipline, provision. These are exhausting responsibilities, and yet the most fulfilling. But sadly, the exhaustion and selflessness of parenting causes many to postpone the joys and blessings that overwhelmingly dominate. On May 15, Evie Magazine posted an article on X highlighting actress Rachel McAdams as a mother. In the post on X, McAdams is quoted as saying that motherhood is the greatest thing she has ever done, despite years of living the independent dream. “Your life is not your own anymore,” McAdams said. “But I had 39 years of me, I was sick of me. I was so happy to put the focus on some other person. I waited a long time. I’m having more fun being a mum than I’ve ever had. Everything about it is interesting and exciting and inspiring to me. Even the tough days — there’s something delightful about them.” For McAdams, the famous actress lifestyle wasn’t satisfying. But motherhood was. Even though women are still having kids—something that will hopefully never stop—many women aren’t doing so until much later in life, instead pursuing immediate self-fulfillment and enjoyment. Unfortunately, this mindset is also often imposed on a family. One kid is enough work already, so why would two exhausted parents have another? Today, a family with more kids is stereotypically deemed Catholic in reference to the Catholic doctrine that opposes contraception. But maybe that family of seven just loves having a big family. One thing is for sure, though: That eldest child was born well before the mom turned 35. That mother wanted to prioritize being a wife and a mom. So no, I’m not advocating for every 18-year-old woman to go get her MRS degree. But I am saying that prioritizing marriage and family isn’t a waste of time, energy, or money. In fact, it is an investment in a bright future of laughter and love. So don’t let anyone tell you to not get married and have kids—starting a family is likely the best decision you can ever make. Michaela Estruth is a rising senior studying history and journalism at Hillsdale College, where she is the senior editor of Hillsdale College’s The Collegian and host of various radio shows. She is a 2022 graduate of WORLD Magazine’s World Journalism Institute and a writing and editing intern for the Colson Center. This column originally appeared on IntellectualTakeout.org, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License Unsplash
  2. by Cadence McManimon These days, it’s almost common knowledge that homeschooled students have a better academic education, do better in college and careers, and are regarded as “smarter” than students from public schools. Homeschooling families typically gravitate toward this educational lifestyle to avoid the public school environment, to prioritize their faith and family values, to adjust to a more flexible and forgiving lifestyle, and to offer their children a better childhood than that found in public schools. Yes to all! These are wonderful reasons to choose homeschooling and should be widely shared and celebrated. When my parents chose to homeschool me and my siblings, though, they had no idea how deep the effects would be. Academics is only one aspect of homeschooling. The family-centric, homeschool lifestyle offered us benefits that continue to shape my adult life and the life of my own family. Everyone should know the often completely hidden perks that homeschooling provides children long after they finish their high school coursework. Here are just a few: Better Socialization My dad always looked bemused when people brought up the age-old question: “But what about socialization?” His perspective was, what adult spends eight hours a day in a room filled with people exclusively the same age? Homeschooling offered my family the flexibility to explore social settings of all sorts, rather than relying solely on peer classroom interactions. The most natural form of socialization stems from immediate and extended family relationships. Siblings and parents provide the first relationships in our lives, and these often become lifelong stalwarts. Beyond that, extended family and friends offer wider circles, bigger age gaps, and more activities for students to explore. Even beyond that, a flexible homeschool schedule allows room for completely different social contexts to be introduced. For instance, my family was really interested in music and dance. Our various performances through the years taught us all the basic skills of learning to make introductions, first impressions, small talk, and much more. Time Management Homeschooling offered me a lot of free time and a flexible schedule. Throughout my teen years, I would almost always complete my daily lessons before noon! (I challenge you to find a teenager who wouldn’t jump at having that type of free time.) Along with that, my parents wisely gave us many responsibilities to attend to during our ample free time. We had many different chores like tending livestock and gardens, babysitting, and various extracurricular lessons as well. The result was that all of us kids, after reaching the age of reason, developed the valuable skill of time management. As we grew up, we had less and less direct supervision from our parents and learned to balance schoolwork, chores, family, outside jobs, and leisure on our own. This is actually a rarer skill than people might think. In public (and even most private) schools, students are locked into an hourly schedule, with bells and teachers prompting every shift of activity and change, which doesn’t provide the opportunity to internalize how to manage one’s own schedule. This educational method was designed to train children for the military and the industrial/factory world of the early 1900s, and arguably did so successfully. Of course, we do not live in that world today—so why are we still using that system? Many students now will move into work-from-home jobs or careers with widely varying or self-managed schedules. For those who struggle to self-manage, this can be a nightmarish awakening to the real world. And those who are self-disciplined might fall into the common workaholism trap because they never were taught the importance of integrating leisure and variety into their schedules. Homeschooling can be a helpful, maybe even necessary, preparation for the world of adulthood, where time management rests on the shoulders of each individual. Self-Teaching Skills It’s no secret that the public school curriculum is a one-size-fits-all approach. Homeschooling, however, allows students to pursue their niche interests as well— sometimes to great depths. For me, my adult life has been shaped by having the above-mentioned skills of time management and creating a flexible schedule. But also, by allowing me to pursue niche interests, homeschooling helped me learn how to self-teach. For instance, my great passion as a child was art. I would pour hours and hours into working with my sketchbooks, pencils, and crayons. Neither of my parents were artists, and my mother says she’s lucky if she can draw a decent smiley face! But they gave me something better: art books for every birthday, drawing tools for every Christmas, and encouragement to forge ahead on my own. Today, sketching and painting are beloved hobbies I pursue in my leisure time—hobbies I work hard at and choose to do over things like watching television or scrolling through social media. This shaped me into a person who is not afraid to self-teach and pursue things I’ve never tried before. This skill actually led me to my writing work in both novels and freelancing. My writing interest started late in high school; my parents/teachers were not writers, and I did not go to college to study English or journalism. I simply had the skills to seek out resources on my own and the self-discipline to keep at it. Now I have a job that fits my lifestyle, skills, and schedule perfectly. How many public or private school students today might be better able to carve out time for work as well as for the pursuit of passions and dreams if they just had the skill to self-teach? Lifestyle Confidence I have yet to meet a homeschooler who is self-conscious about his alternative lifestyle. Whether their family focused mostly on religion, naturalism, farming, travel, or something else, the common ground is that homeschoolers grow up outside the normative culture. This removes any fear or insecurity about being different. We grew up being different, getting weird looks, and being asked countless questions about being homeschooled from curious strangers. Being a social curiosity inoculates us homeschool families against caring what the wider culture thinks of us. This offers us great freedom and confidence to live as we choose to live. And this doesn’t mean that every homeschooler will grow up to simply echo whatever their parents valued. I have met plenty of adult homeschoolers who are members of a different religion, who have moved far away, or, due to other factors, don’t even see their families of origin much. But all of them were unapologetically living what they valued and wanted and were unbothered when others looked at them askance. They simply felt free to do what they wanted, whether or not the wider world condemned or supported them. This is also valuable in today’s world of social media. I personally don’t use social media, but I have a couple of siblings who do, and the same freedom from peer pressure holds true in their cases. None of them are addicted to it, worried about comments or feeds or negativity, and they don’t compare themselves to what they see online. I attribute this to their confidence in living differently from the norm. And in today’s world, traditionalism is wildly different from the norm. Homeschooling is one of the best choices we can make regarding our children, and it gives them so many more benefits than even what I’ve listed here. The wider world of education is waking up to this, too. Many more modes of education are available today than even just a decade ago. Private schools are popping up left and right, Montessori is on the rise, learning pods and co-ops are growing, and online options are everywhere. And of course the school lockdowns of 2020 pushed the need for alternative education into the spotlight. So let’s take it seriously and choose what’s best for our children in every aspect of life, not just academics. Cadence McManimon is a published author, former special education teacher, and now a wife and mother. She has too many houseplants, plenty of artsy projects, and not enough pens that work! (Doesn't everyone?) Her novels Name Unspoken and The Lily Girl are available at her website cadencemcmanimon.com. This article appeared on IntellectualTakeout.org and is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
  3. by Jeff Minick “A society that loses its sense of outrage is doomed to extinction.” So stated New York State Supreme Court Justice Edwin Torres over 30 years ago in a private communication. From the bench, Judge Torres added this lament: “The slaughter of the innocent marches unabated: subway riders, bodega owners, cab drivers, babies; in laundromats, at cash machines, on elevators, in hallways.” We find the judge’s remarks, which read like today’s headlines, cited in Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1993 article “Defining Deviancy Down.” By normalizing what was once abnormal, Moynihan argues, we eventually ensure “the manifest decline of the American civic order.” He uses as his data points soaring rates of crime and gun violence, disintegrating families, a chaos of ideas about sexual practices and marriage, failing schools, and the closure of facilities for the mentally ill. Moynihan outlines his argument in this way: Now, flash forward 31 years. Those of us old enough to remember the 1990s may recollect that time as idyllic when compared to our present troubles. The Soviet Union had collapsed; the national debt in 1993 was around $5 trillion compared to today’s more than $34 trillion; our southern border was relatively secure. San Francisco was famed for its beauty rather than for its homeless population, crime rates in New York City were declining and would continue to do so over the next decade, and drug overdose deaths in 1993 were less than 10 percent of what they are today. Fortunately for the future of our country, some Americans of all ages are in fact outraged by today’s cultural radicalism and deviant behaviors. In “Culture Shock with Lindsay Wigo,” for instance, the young, eye-rolling Ms. Wigo brings us a man who claims deep suntans are racist, a woman who boasts about being a stalker, and another woman who identifies as a pig. In the 1990s, our society would have looked on this trio as oddballs at best and, at worst, as suffering from mental illness. Another negative take on our decline into deviancy —and there are countless others, both online and in conversations with our families and friends—can be found in Naomi Wolf’s “Broken in What Way?” Here, Wolf recounts at length a recent visit to New York, a city she loves but which now seems to be in ruins. “I think if one lives here day to day,” she writes, “the shocking decline of the city is not so obvious. But to me, the change in the city was like seeing a beloved friend, who had formerly been beautiful and enchanting and witty, in a hospital bed, on an IV drip, half-unconscious.” Here Wolf puts a finger on another reason for our demise: the gradualism that moves society from condemnation of an idea or a practice first to tolerance and then to acceptance. So, where do we turn if we wish to reverse this decline into deviancy? In 1993, Senator Moynihan recommended several political solutions, yet given the federal government’s increasingly dismal performance in the 21st century—the massive debt, the lost wars, the broken border, the malfunctioning domestic programs—that rutted roadway promises only more failures. No—if we are to reverse our present decline, we are the ones who must take action. In some instances, such as reducing the deviant federal deficit, most of us have only a vote as our weapon. In other cases, however, such as combating neighborhood crime, seeking the best possible education for our children, or opposing society’s attacks on marriage and the traditional family, our power to effect change vastly improves. Here we must begin by reviving the old-fashioned concept of decency, which one online dictionary defines as “behavior that conforms to accepted standards of morality or respectability.” Those standards derive from our Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian heritage, but they have been shoved aside in the last 50 years in favor of relativism, which is no standard at all. We find one glaring example of this sea change in the recent phenomenon of drag queen story hours in our public libraries. Billed as family-friendly events promoting diversity and foisted off on communities by the American Library Association, these performances for children aim at subverting the family, normalizing deviancy, and confusing preschoolers about gender and sex. At the same time, we must recognize that accepting deviancy as a norm comes with a tremendous cost. In many of our large cities, for example, crime and murder are now accepted as everyday events. The weekend casualty counts, assaults, and robberies out of places like Chicago and New York receive due notice in some media, but little if any effort is put into reducing these tallies of murder, rape, and theft. Once we understand that the deviant behavior found across the board in today’s culture is neither normal nor desirable, and we have the heart and the spirit to do something about it, we can take action. The field of education more easily demonstrates this power of the individual or a group of citizens to make a difference. More families are homeschooling now than ever before, and private academies of all sorts are springing up around the country. Parents are voting with their feet and leaving government schools. The Dylan Mulvaney Bud Light ad and the subsequent backlash that caused Anheuser-Busch InBev to take a major hit in sales was yet another demonstration of our power to make change. The lesson there was to stop supporting companies that are intent on radical cultural transformation. Public libraries have also become battlegrounds in the culture wars. From Prattville, Alabama, Lori Herring writes “How to Save Your Local Library From Cultural Marxists.” Pratt and a group of concerned parents spent nearly a year working to divest their public library’s children’s section of pornographic material, but they finally succeeded. Courageous people like them are making a difference. To take charge of our lives rather than looking to government is a tradition as old as America itself, and it can be applied to everything from cleaning up our city streets of trash to crime prevention. Participating in local elections, voting, becoming candidates ourselves, volunteering, staying engaged in local affairs—in these ways and more, citizens can have a direct effect on culture and community. Stout hearts, willing hands, and a sense of common decency can heal any number of the wounds inflicted on our society. Enough, then, of defining deviancy down. Let’s start defining decency up. 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.
  4. by Cadence McManimon It doesn’t take a fashion designer’s sense to notice the decline of American clothing in the last few decades. The neat suits and dresses of yesteryear have been replaced with stretchy athleisure, the hats and coats vanished in favor of sweatshirts and leggings. Quite honestly, I don’t think fashion and clothing is all that important. Sure, we’ve lost some aesthetics and have nearly erased any sense of modesty. But in the end, clothes are still just clothes, right? And yet, even the humblest elements of history have something to teach us in this regard. For example, I have been a skinny jeans girl all my life. I literally used to sleep in jeans as a teenager! I prioritize comfort, as do most of my generation. I would be the last person anyone would expect to promote a return to wearing dresses. And yet, here I am, writing this while wearing an ankle-length skirt. What happened to me, a lover of comfortable modern clothes? I got pregnant. How very ordinary, right? I am currently expecting my third child with my husband, and since during my pregnancies I tend to get extremely sick, clothing choices rank at the absolute bottom of the priority list. That is, until this third time around, when I have some new symptoms. Let’s just say I am dealing with some inflammation in very sensitive areas! Tight clothes, legging seams, and denim fabric only worsen the discomfort. So, I’ve had to put away my beloved jeans in favor of soft skirts and dresses. And that’s when I realized why skirts have been so very practical throughout most of history. Most women, up until recent decades, did a lot more childbearing in their lives. It was common to have at least three children, if not seven or eight or more. Of course skirts would be more comfortable than pants as women carried, delivered, and nursed many consecutive babies! It’s only in recent decades that birth rates and motherhood have drastically decreased. On top of that, skirts and dresses are also far more adjustable for changing figures and weight fluctuations, which are a natural part of childbearing. I’ve been surprised these days that the garments that fit me the longest through my pregnancies are different dresses I’ve had since I was a teenager. Historically speaking, this type of adjustability was imperative during centuries when women could only afford two or three dresses. They needed clothes that would fit many seasons of life—it was simply impossible to buy different clothes for different body changes, as we have the option to do today. Along with that, historical—that is, non-synthetic—fabrics are far more durable. In the last couple of decades, we have had the luxury of clothing made of elastic fabrics. Clothes made of nylon blends, spandex, and jersey can stretch and accommodate pregnancies easily, as well as being affordable. So why am I nevertheless turning to skirts these days? Simple. Those elastic fabrics don’t hold up. They function like a rubber band and can only be stretched so often before losing their ability to “snap back.” The stretchy clothes I do have remain functional for only a year or so. The longest-lasting fabrics—coincidentally, those my dresses are made of, are woven from natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and wool. These fibers are simply more durable, and because they don’t stretch, they last for years and don’t wear out with laundering. It’s easy to see how this greatly benefited mothers throughout history. Along with these unexpected practicalities, I’ve also come face to face with dresses being gendered clothing. Our culture has distinctly pursued androgyny and unisex fashion, where men can wear women’s clothing or vice versa. Wearing traditional clothing is not in itself going to fix the gender confusion in our culture. But it does make an often subliminal visual statement. I recently came across this post by the Modest Mom from way back in 2012. I was impressed that her primary reasoning for dressing traditionally was not Biblical modesty, as I expected of her, stereotypically. Instead, she wrote about the stark visual difference skirts give to denote the female versus the male form. She said this is a very easy way to show her children the beauty and differences between the sexes. It reminded me of an experiment I took part in back in college. I, my sister, and a good friend were all in the depths of our coursework, and we had a lot of male classmates. We were discussing one day the popularity of androgynous athleisure fashion on our respective campuses. One of us had the bright idea to try a little social experiment just to see what would happen if we dressed completely femininely. So, on a normal day of classes, we each wore a pink dress all day long—and, yes, we agreed it had to be pink. We were shocked at the results. Yes, female students would comment “I like that outfit!” or “You look cute.” But the more drastic change came from our male classmates. My friend was in organic chemistry with almost exclusively male students; in her group project, she’d been pulling most of the weight in writing a hefty paper. But during the pink dress day, every member of her group offered to do double the amount he’d previously contributed! My sister experienced chivalry in the streets—every car driven by a man stopped to let her cross the road that day. I was offered multiple better seats in lecture halls, and every single time, men I barely even knew opened the door to let me pass. Without exception, we saw a huge increase in the amount of positive attention and deference from men in every setting. What was the lesson we learned? Men respond positively to women who look like women! Far from being preyed upon, as modern culture claims, looking feminine offered us three college girls more respect and kindness than wearing androgynous clothes ever did. And of course, I’m not the only writer to have noticed the difference dressing well can make in our lives. “What does our own sloppy dress tell us about ourselves?” asks Jeff Minick. “Are we rebelling against the idea of beauty and culture? Or are we just too lazy to pull on a pair of slacks instead of wearing the sweats we slept in?” As Maida Korte previously wrote on Intellectual Takeout, “Getting dressed in something more than flannel-patterned pants and a somewhat stale T-shirt signals that we are part of life and living it on purpose.” In our modern culture, have we too quickly thrown out skirts? What have we lost by rejecting the classic gendered dress of yesteryear? I don’t think we need to burn our jeans or swear off leggings forever, but we could certainly consider the benefits of returning to clothing that reflects our traditional values. What might dressing traditionally look like in our modern culture? It can start very simply: Recognize the value and visual signals of a classically gendered appearance. Apply good hygiene in our daily habits. Take five minutes to do something extra for our appearance, like curling or braiding our hair or having a fresh shave. Choose our clothing pieces thoughtfully. Practice frugality by maintaining the clothing we already have. There are so many small things like this we can practice, things that were commonplace mere decades ago. We don’t need to burn our newer wardrobes, or try to look like sock hop attendees, or start completely from scratch. A few small changes like this go a long way toward making our outward appearance reflect our values. Let’s rediscover the wisdom traditional culture can offer our modern closets. Cadence McManimon is a published author, former special education teacher, and now a wife and mother. She has too many houseplants, plenty of artsy projects, and not enough pens that work! (Doesn't everyone?) Her novels Name Unspoken and The Lily Girl are available at her website cadencemcmanimon.com. Her favorite things include crayons, sarcasm, Sherlock Holmes, and hearing from readers! This content originally appeared on InetellectualTakeout.org and is is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License Image credit: Pexels
  5. 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.
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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
  12. 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.
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. 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
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