Archive for the ‘Demographics’ Category

Is an Age of Facebook Discontent arriving or, perhaps, already here? Lately I’ve noticed an increasing number of Facebook members expressing a level of dissatisfaction above and beyond the normal American tendency to whine and snivel incessantly.

The trend seems to have begun in earnest with Facebook’s latest changes to the Home page. All of a sudden, members seemed seriously teed off. The comments ranged from a simply-stated irritation at an inability to find the Logout button all the way to a call for a one day boycott. In at least one case, someone established a Facebook page calling for a return to the prior home page.

Others expressed their intent to hook up with Google Buzz, giving as a reason their desire to connect with a younger, more attractive crowd. Still others noted that, yes, Facebook seems to have become overpopulated with geezers and geezettes. A social networking tool originally designed for the college crowd now appeals primarily to the AARP generation.

All of these may have a degree of validity behind them. I’ve complained about having “lost” the Logout button myself. But I think the expressed dissatisfactions are a reflection of a peculiarly American trait, a desire or even a need for change. We seem to have short attention spans. The pleasure of the moment quickly yields to a new toy or delight.

Someone once said “Variety is the spice of life.” Americans are always looking for something different. That sense of adventure may be embedded in our DNA. Whatever.



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When the story first broke, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to CNN News. CNN is the news outlet after all that continually flashes “Breaking News” or something similar across the ticker at the bottom of the screen. Every thing is “breaking” or “developing.” My mind numbs itself in self defense.

But then something caught my attention. I heard the words “Richmond High School.” There are other Richmonds in the U.S., including Richmond, Virginia. I went back to my latest issue of Country Weekly magazine.

As I read, I heard the announcer, I think it was Kyra Phillips, mention California. My ears perked up. The gang rape occurred on the grounds of Richmond High School, Richmond, California. Once upon a time, I attended that very high school. My tenure there was brief, but still, things stick in the mind.

Richmond when I lived there was a classic All-American town, or perhaps I should say a classic California town. However, I’ve lived in many towns and the habits of teens weren’t substantially different from the habits of Richmond’s teens.

In Richmond, as in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, cars were a big deal, and every Saturday night, McDonald Avenue, Richmond’s main drag, would be lined with cars full of kids dragging the street from 23rd Street in the east to the train depot at the west end of town.

If the kids weren’t tooling up and down shouting at one another or at a gaggle of girls walking along the street toward the movie, they were parked in or just idling in any available spot near a drive-in with real live and often good-looking girls taking and delivering orders.

If you want to get a good idea of Richmond then, watch the movie American Graffiti. The movie wasn’t filmed in Richmond but in several nearby towns like Petaluma (the primary filming location), Pinole, Concord, Larkspur, Mill Valley, and San Francisco.

Mel’s Diner in the movie was filmed at a diner (since torn down) on South Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. And 4th Street in San Rafael was used for many of the street scenes. Another coincidence: my wife and I lived on 4th Street shortly after we were first married and then later in Petaluma.

Times have changed since American Graffiti was released in 1973. Most of the towns where the movie was filmed have undergone dramatic growth spurts accompanied by an influx of people from other areas of the United States and from foreign countries.

Richmond has also experienced its share of changes. But unlike the positive changes in many other Bay Area communities, the changes in Richmond have been mostly negative.

The reputation of Richmond today is a place to avoid. The town is widely known as the murder capital of the state. In 2007 (last year I have a figure for), there were 37 murders in this town of roughly 100,000 people. And, the part of I-80 passing through Richmond has achieved dubious standing as a war zone based on the number of shootings that happen along that short stretch of the highway.

To compound these negatives, the Richmond-San Pablo area has become rife with gang activity that often erupts in violence. And lesser crimes such as robbery and burglary are beginning to spill over into once small and peaceful enclaves like El Sobrante.

The causes of Richmond’s decline have often been attributed to its ethnic shift. While the town was once overwhelmingly white, today whites make up about 25 percent of the population. The balance consists mainly of Blacks and Hispanics.

However, the attribution of Richmond’s ills to its ethnic balance is a specious argument. So many variables come into play that it’s difficult if not impossible to narrow the root cause or causes to one factor. More likely, the cause lies in both economics and a failure of civic leadership to address Richmond’s burgeoning crime rate and rapidly declining infrastructure. McDonald Avenue, for example, that one-time image of Americana embodied in American Graffiti, became an absolute, decaying roadway to nowhere before the civic leadership seemed to wake up.

Regardless of the reasons for Richmond’s decline, there can be little doubt that many of the students at Richmond High School are products of the current culture of violence, poverty, drugs, decay, and a nation-wide attitude that drives individuals to seek the immediate gratification of their own desires.

Given such an environment, it was probably inevitable that violence would eventually reach the ground of the high school. In fact, at least one of the active participants in the gang rape apparently wasn’t a student and shouldn’t have been at the homecoming dance to begin with.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of the school’s students are undoubtedly decent individuals doing their best to make it in a cruel environment. Moreover, the high school wasn’t exactly pristine when I attended it. There were fights, usually between individual boys over a girl, and other students would gather and watch, cheering on one or the other of the gangly teens.

But there were no rapes on campus, gang or otherwise. Those were different times. In retrospect, so innocent. Sadly, once upon a time will never come again.

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Another child murdered. Another family in turmoil. Another mother in pain so excruciating that she collapsed on television. This mother now joins other mothers forever deprived of the pleasure and joy of loving a child and watching it achieve in life and in school, attending proms, graduating, heading for college, and eventually having its own family.

What monster could perpetrate such a crime? What kind of twisted personality could snatch a child walking from the school bus to home in virtual plain sight of the child’s friends? Who in God’s name could murder an innocent young human being and toss it’s body on a garbage dump as if it were a piece of trash?

This is what happened to Somer Thompson and her family in Florida. One day, they were happy and loving, the next day, they were thrown into absolute chaos, forever touched by a vicious murder, lives forever dark and brooding. This family and this mother will never “move on” They will live their lives forever in the grip of depression and a Post Murder Syndrome (PMS), which seems to be a peculiarly American disease.

As much as it tends to trivialize and remove the human element from despicable acts, the statistics of child abuse and murder stagger the imagination. Every year in America, about 3,000,000 incidents of child abuse are reported to various government agencies. Sure, not all of these turn out to be legitimate cases of child abuse, but if even ten percent are valid, 300,000 children are the objects of some sort of abuse. That is staggering and it suggests a society that hasn’t come to grips with its acceptance of cruelty against children.

The numbers on homicides are also mind boggling. From the time that statistics on murder began to be reported to the federal government in the early 1900’s until the present time, more Americans have been murdered in this country than have been killed in all of the wars America has engaged in since the birth of the nation. If you doubt this statistic, do as I did. Visit your local library and take a look at a publication called The Statistical Abstract of the United States. Tabulate the number of murders per year, beginning with the first year on record, 1900. My own tabulation covered the years 1900 through 2000, and the total number of murders was just short of 2,000,000. That’s almost two million dead people in a span of 100 years, an average of about 20,000 murders a year. Of course, the number per year will vary. In some years the figure may be less than 20,000 and more in others. But the total number of almost 2,000,000 is still there.

The number of Americans who died in America’s wars, roughly 1,000,000 (I’m working from memory here), pales in comparison to the number of murders. But at least we can understand and accept death as a result of military conflicts. We cannot understand and we ought not to accept senseless murder and child abuse.

What in God’s name can we do to prevent the violence against innocent beings in our society? At the moment, solutions seem elusive. When a murder is sensationalized in the media, we get on a roll and the air and cable waves are loaded with talking heads and experts of all sorts who raise our righteousness to a new level the way a balloon with a (rumored) six year old boy in it rises and soars across the Colorado prairie. Then, as soon as the current murder or sensational event loses its immediate emotional impact and hence its revenue potential, those same media twerps file the story in the bin of yesterday’s news. Remember Elian Gonzales?

Concurrent with the loss of media interest, our righteousness subsides and the victim loses its identity, relegated to the obscure and forgotten pages of The Statistical Abstract of the United States. Unfortunately, there are no solutions in this obscure government publication.

As individuals, we may be powerless to effect change, but as a society, we ought to be ashamed.  Shame, however, is un-American. Murder is the price we pay for freedom.

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This past Saturday, we drove from Annapolis to Philadelphia to scout out Philly’s historic locations, snap a few photos, snack a little bit, and get sunburned a lot. And, we walked our buns off.

Philly’s primary historical landmarks are concentrated amid lots of tall buildings without historical significance at the moment, but though the historic area may be small in size, it seems larger when you just sort of meander around.

And that’s what we did. We meandered through the Liberty Bell exhibit, the Philadelphia Mint, and the final resting place of Benjamin Franklin and a host of other Colonial personalities instrumental in developing the Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution of the United States. The sense of history and of the times made our meandering worthwhile.

However, we weren’t able to tour Independence Hall. Tickets are required for entry, but by the time we arrived, the day’s ticket quota was gone. According to the National Park Service, tickets are used as a means of spreading the visitor flow throughout the day. Sounds reasonable to me, but I was irked nevertheless. I wanted to see where those Colonial firebrands stood and condemned the British to hell, a tradition that still lives when the subject of universal health care arises.

Interestingly, as we waited in a rather long line to enter the Liberty Bell exhibit, a group of people stood near the line and handed out pamphlets about the Falun Gong. This is a religious group whose members have been persecuted in China, and on this day, the group’s message and writings were aimed at those who in appearance were probably Asian. At least, they overlooked us and others who resembled us, probably assuming, and correctly so, that the number of non-Asians fluent in the Chinese language would range from nil to nada to zilch.

Before I reached a point of utter exhaustion, we decided to survey real history. With our trusty GPS activated, we headed cross-town to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where Rocky ran up about a million steps and then, at the top, gyrated around, finally assuming that triumphant pose now enshrined in a statue at the bottom of the steps.

We, along with a few thousand others in line, stood in front of the statue when out turn came, emulating Rocky’s pose for our own personal pictorial posterity. Like the fool I can sometimes be, I stumbled on the damned pedestal and almost fell, much to the delight of the smirking crowd. I didn’t blame them. Hell, I would have smirked, too. But I recovered nicely and pranced around with arms raised just like Sylvester Stallone did in 1976, 200 years after those rugged firebrands of 1776 may have pranced inside Independence Hall. I think George and Thomas would understand Rocky’s triumph if they were around today.

After the picture-taking session, we walked to the flight of concrete steps Rocky had enshrined in modern American cultural lore so many years ago. Four of us ran up them just as Rocky before us. One of us had better sense and sat down nearby, watching the other members of our party run up and then back down. One female member ran back up and down again, and I was surprised that she wasn’t winded in the slightest when she returned.

By now, the hours we had set aside for our sightseeing were about over. We headed back, taking a route through New Jersey and Delaware and onto US-301into Maryland. As we drove, I noted when we left one state and entered another and thought about the differences. Aside from the obvious—Welcome to Maryland, e.g.—are the people different? Do they look different? Do they speak different languages, New Jerseyese, for example? Do they think differently?

These are philosophical questions for another time. For the moment, suffice to say we had a good time and enjoyed learning a little bit about Philly. As my blogging cohort, Alexandra Jones, a native of Philly, might say, “Go Phillies!” In honor of her devotion to her team, I shouted those words as we passed the Phillies stadium on our way out of town.

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Lately, I’ve been in a Facebook frenzy.  For some reason, I started working a few of those idiotic exercises that remind me of the 2nd Grade, like “What kind of element are you (Krypton, it turns out),” or “First 5 cars you owned.”  On the cars thing, I actually couldn’t remember, so I just named the ones I thought would impress the girls. All in all, I ran through about ten of Facebook’s finest. Here they are, along with the results and my observations.

Where have you lived?
Honolulu, HI, San Francisco, Moses Lake, Washington, Petaluma, California and Tokyo, Japan.
Some of these were exciting places, some boring. I think my preference was Petaluma.

Favorite movies of all time
Cool Hand Luke, Dirty Harry, Bullitt, Open Range and Unfaithful.
I included Unfaithful because there is a lot of Diane Lane’s skin along with those gorgeous legs throughout the film.

5 people that I can’t stand
Dick Cheney, George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Bill Clinton and Gavin Newsom.
This was so easy. The names popped out without a pause.

5 landmarks I’ve visited
Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Wall – Wash, DC, Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, Mississippi River and The Mouth Of The Columbia River.
There have been more on my itinerary, spots like Port Arthur, Texas, but I thought these would impress someone with my dedication to politics and panoramic grandeur.

What do people think of you at first sight?
You are cute.
This is so not true. If there is a non-cute human on the face of the earth, it is me. Call me ugly if you want to, but cute may bring an explosive stream of vomitus in your direction.

Robert took the Are You a Real Texan quiz.
Yes, You’re a Real Texan!
That’s funny. I never was before. And I fully expected not to be following this difficult test of Texas history. I challenge Texans and non-Texans alike to take this quiz.

Robert took the Rorschach Test quiz
The result is Perfectly Sane.
Except that I see a Vampire with Werewolf paws sitting on the head of an ugly kid and a couple of dancing dogs jumping over a chicken.

Robert completed the quiz “So, you think you know American History?”
The result:  Graduate.
Man, the result surprised me. This was another difficult one for me, and again, I challenge the brains among you to prove your knowledge of American history.

Robert took the quiz Where Should You Be Living?
The result: New York
This is absolutely ludicrous. It’s actually just the opposite of every one of my answers. I was thinking of Reno or Winnemucca. Also, Annapolis MD is nice. A few Bay area enclaves were also in the mix. Not to mention the rolling fields of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country. But New York? Give me a break.

One last frenzied attempt. People are challenging me to take the IQ Test. I won’t do it because whoever concocted the quiz wants my cell phone number but I refuse to provide it. I submitted a fake number but it was rejected. Besides, based on the scores of people I know who took the Quiz, I don’t want to embarrass myself with a score of 65 or something.

I’ve invited a few Facebook friends to join me in these fun exercises, but none of the gutless twerps has responded. Well, two have, but they are sterling friends I would trust my life with. The rest are merely collectors of large numbers of “friends” with whom they never communicate.  If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say they are members of the political class, a redundant species that may soon become extinct.

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Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne envisions a world without print journalism in his on-line column today. It isn’t pretty for the legions of working journalists and would-be-journalists.

Under the rules of a capitalist economic system, print journalism will be replaced by some form of electronically-transmitted news.  Dionne uses a nice analogy, however, to hold out hope for inveterate news readers.

General Motors may disappear under the capitalistic onslaught, but cars will continue to be manufactured by other companies.

In like manner, hard-copy newspapers may fade away, but the news will always with us, albeit in a different form and transmitted by different means.

To legions of old-line newspaper readers, that could be a life-altering experience. Scrolling through a news source with a mouse in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other just doesn’t seem like the proper way to start a day.

Needless to say, the newspaper industry is striving mightily to remain relevant and competitive with internet news sources, but it has been a losing battle. Major papers from coast to coast have disappeared and more may follow.

If there is a bright spot, it may lie in small town papers. Many have also bitten the dust, but there are still a few thousand daily papers rolling off the presses every day.

Another saving approach could lie in specialization. Most newspapers, large and small, attempt to satisfy everyone. Thus, papers are crammed with embellishments like crossword puzzles, Sudoko challenges, recipes, comic strips, and society gossip, to name a few. Economics has already forced many papers out of the generalist business by eliminating some of these special features.

Further specialization in the kind of news a paper chooses to include may also reduce content, as papers strive to appeal to a special audience, such as those interested solely in politics, business, or cultural matters.

Business publications have enjoyed a modicum of economic stability for a long time. Other specialized models may follow as the survival shakeout continues.

I am reminded of a small, foreign language newspaper in Hawaii once edited by a friend of mine. Honolulu has had two major dailies for centuries, yet the state of Hawaii also has several smaller papers aimed at specific ethnic groups.

The paper I am thinking about is the Hawaii Hochi. It’s small as papers go, but it prints its front page in English and its inner content in Japanese, and to meet its needs, the paper employs both an English-page editor and a Japanese news editor.

The remarkable aspect about the Hochi is its continued existence despite a shrinking population of Japanese readers. Even so, it has seen its own hard times in the face of a declining readership. It has managed to stay around by branching into other fields, such as job printing. At one time, it published special editions funded by businesses, governments, or educational institutions that wish to commemorate special occasions.

In short, the Hochi has adapted to the capitalist business mode and has stuck it out through thick and thin.

Could such a model work elsewhere? Yes, but it would require a reevaluation of just what is print journalism. For one thing, journalists would need to perform multi-functions. One day, a journalist might cover city hall. The next day, he or she may be assigned to collect information about a company’s history and write the copy for a centennial edition.

Whichever model comes out a winner in the long run, I am sure of one thing. Hard-copy newspapers are not going to disappear entirely. It’s just too satisfying to lean back and prop your feet up during your morning coffee break and doze behind the safety of a large newspaper.

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I confess straight up and down that I didn’t watch much of Barack’s speech yesterday. I was too engrossed in the audience.

There was Turncoat Joe, sitting up front somewhere with his classic just-been-hit-in-the-forehead-with-a-rubber-mallet vacant stare, silly grin and all. Sure, he hugged Barack later, but that was just another blatant example of his opportunistic sincerity.

And then Senator Shelby of Alabama. He just stared down at his desk or something, like a sixth grader waiting for the recess bell to ring. To refresh our memories, Shelby not too long ago wandered through fields of poppies and came out wondering if Obama was really qualified to be the President. Then, when someone asked him if he really believed what he had said, he parsed and ‘splained until he worked himself around to his original statement. I think he was tripping through Oz for sure and I bet it galled him that he had to look upward from his seat at Obama behind a kingly dais.

Not to mention Sarah Palin’s ex. Ole John Boy sat there indolently like a Navy captain sneering at some poor seaman. Isn’t it odd that when we think of John, the first image that pops up in our minds is of Sarah as a Miss Alaska Runner-up?

And who could fail to notice Madam Pelosi, even more elevated than Barack, cheering him on with such enthusiasm that at one point she leaped out of her chair and exhorted the crowd to cheer and clap in the manner of a high school cheerleader? This is the same Madam Pelosi who, not long ago, warned Barack that he and Joe better not impinge on her turf. And who, before that, seemed enthralled with GB II’s Iraq war spending. (Note that I did not capitalize the word “war” or classify the operation over there as a real war. I view Iraq as one battle in a larger war, the war for hearts and minds, which we rapidly began losing with the ascendancy of Rush Limnbaugh to the shadow office of Uber-President.)

As for the speech itself, presidential speeches serve many purposes, paramount among them rallying the party and instilling a sense of public confidence in the President. Obama certainly achieved the latter. In a day-after poll, the percentage of those confident in him and his abilities hovered at 91 percent.

Presidential speeches also function as a road map for the nation. They envision the President’s goals and his means of achieving them (programs, e.g.). In the latter sense, only time will tell. A great deal will depend on a cooperative Congress as well as an improving economy. Not all events and outcomes are at the President’s pleasure. However, I am optimistic that Obama’s vision will trump Bobby Jindal’s any day.

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