Sharing stuff I've learned, and things I've thought about...

Urban/Rural Cultural and Political Divide

This is kinda an “open letter” to the two writers I discuss below. If you haven’t done so already, please, Please, PLEASE read these three items:

I hope that this post pops up on David and J.D.’s radar – if it does, then David, meet J.D. – J.D., meet David.

David, you need to read J.D.’s book if you haven’t already, and J.D. you need to connect to David – you guys have a lot of background on which to compare notes.

I want to thank both of you for your observations and your bringing in a new perspective from which we can begin to understand the horrible things that our nation is experiencing right now.

Context – I’m an upper-middle-class liberal “elite” nearing retirement (like in two months) having been employed for the past 10 years in digital advertising for a major ad agency, son of a woman who was raised in a working-class single-parent household in Evansville Indiana, and a father who was raised in a middle-class urban household, WWII veteran, a high-school drop-out but who became a highly successful serial entrepreneur. I’ve enjoyed all of the advantages of a white upper-middle-class environment, and despite some extremely bone-headed choices in life, managed to get very lucky. I’m married to a medical social worker who grew up in urban poverty, but like J.D, she was able to transcend her circumstances, and who sees daily first-hand the struggle of both white and minority people dealing with their own poverty.

J.D. – I thought your book was absolutely great, and I’ve lost count of the number of people to whom I’ve recommended it. David, your piece was equally as enlightening, and I have to admit even more stinging in it’s rebuke of liberal attitudes than J.D.’s book, but you were using a short-form channel, so you you had to cut to the chase…

We live in Michigan and our state like others has been subjected to aggressive gerrymandering by the Republican majority that was in control after the census of both 2000, and 2010. I made a comment to my wife a couple of months ago that if you look at the map of state districts and their representation in Lansing, that the gerrymandering seems to be less along partisan lines, and more along an urban-rural divide.

J.D.’s book suggests, and David’s article states explicitly that this is no accident.

I think that your analyses are spot-on, and valuable in understanding what is happening in our country right now. Unfortunately, neither of you (and I’m not stating this as a criticism) offer any solutions, whether they be personal or policy-based.

I. Want. To. Fix. This.

This election has been the ugliest I’ve seen in my life, and I started observing electoral politics with the 1968 election (Nixon, Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace were on the ticket). I want to try to do what I can to make this the nadir of national electoral politics in my lifetime, but I’m just one guy. I know that I’m not going to make any huge shift in people’s attitudes, but I think that some of us have to start talking about the issues that you both raise before we all run off a cliff.

I was reminded of the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, and how their differing views on human nature are played out today in partisan world-views. I kept coming back to this fundamental difference, looking at how it affects people’s politics and their view of other groups in our communities, nation and world. I was convinced that developing some kind of social discourse that recognized and embraced these differing and divergent philosophies, rather than trying to argue them, might lead to the civil society so many of us yearn for. I still think that this is the case, but I have realized that while there may be a few more adherents of Hobbes among Republicans/conservatives, some of the followers of Bernie Sanders (and long before him in other extreme left-wing movements – remember the Weather Underground?) show that this kind of world-view can also strongly influence liberals in their propensity to demonize certain groups e.g. business & the financial industry, the wealthy, religions. However, your writing has also shown that there are other complex factors that overlay this fundamental view of human nature that we have to keep in mind if we are going to re-establish some kind of civil social and political discourse.

Finally, I don’t think we can ignore the fact that communication technology has pushed the extremes of our society (e.g. rich/poor, rural/urban, educated/working-class) into very close proximity, but in a very distant and impersonal way. This of course began with television, but that was one end of a continuum that has continued through cable networks, the internet and social media. All of this made it easy to derisively say “look at THEM!!” coupled with political leadership that was quick to use the dissonance of this impersonal in-your-face confrontation of cultures and values to deepen and widen the divisions between us for political gain. How much of our current situation is a matter of basic tribal instincts, and how much has been exaggerated and magnified because it makes it easier for some to get elected?

What must come to pass to inoculate ourselves against the tendency of political leaders to encourage our hatreds and fears? At one time, the news media had at least the potential to act as a buffer against inflammatory rhetoric (and sometimes even stepped up to the challenge). However in recent years some outlets have become active participants in the division of our people, some just enjoy the ratings boost from the carnival,  and still others endeavor to be “fair and balanced” for fear of appearing “partisan”, all accompanied by much public rhetoric that devalues any institutional influence they may have had.

J.D. – two take-aways from your writing keep coming back to me. You mentioned in your interview with Rod Dreher that “we need to judge less and understand more”. I do so strongly agree. I see so little effort being made to REALLY understand people that live very different lives than the ones we may lead. The other take-away was that you had some good role models growing up which you credit in large measure with your being able to escape the destructive cycle of many of your kin. This too is a failure of understanding, is it not? Look what happened to you when you were in the Marines when people helped you to understand “how the other half lives” and showed you how to start making good choices.

Anyway, thanks to both of you for bringing in some new and valuable perspectives on what we’re all going through. If you or anyone else reading this has any ideas about what I can do, personally to help move this conversation forward, please give me a holler!!

Religious freedom?

Prejudice is what we hold in our heads. We all have our prejudices – some of which we feel uncomfortable with and whose impact on our thinking and behavior we try to minimize. Others are strongly held beliefs that we may feel to be well-founded World Views.

Discrimination is the mechanism by which we allow our prejudices to cause harm to others.

The legal system uses the term “protected class” to identify groups who share a characteristic over which they have no control – their race or ethnicity, religion, cultural background, country of origin, skin color, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc.

Discrimination against any of these groups is an attempt to put obstacles up to prevent them from being successful and fully integrated into our society. Limitation of career choices or occupations, political participation, organizational membership, educational access, land or business ownership have all been used to hobble every immigrant, ethnic, religious or cultural minority throughout history.

Now, we’re hearing that placing a limitation on people’s ability to discriminate, to turn their private prejudices into institutional and public policy, represents a limitation of their “religious” freedom, and indeed, constitutes a “war on religion”.


Our rights are not absolute, but within obvious limits (we might all take exception to virgin sacrifice or ritual beheadings), people have and always will be free in the United States to believe as they wish, and to freely practice their religion. However, it in no way restricts anyone’s practice of their religion if we deny them the ability to use discriminatory practices to try to coerce other people to live the way they think they should, or to otherwise successfully reduce a group of Americans to second-class status.

Once again, religion is being used to achieve some truly ugly goals. No unit of government should allow it’s citizens to use religion as an excuse to institutionalize or condone discriminatory practices.

Music streaming options

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve made extensive use of Rhapsody’s music streaming service for the past several years. It’s a great resource to try out an artist or an album for a while before I purchase a copy for my own, and I have a pretty extensive playlist that I listen to almost as regularly as I do my personal collection.

There is speculation in the music and tech community that personal music collections in the form of CD’s or MP3 files may go the way of the 8-track cartridge and 45-rpm records – why buy all that stuff, when you can customize a HUGE library of all your favorite stuff, and be able to access it from anywhere? Not a bad argument, but rather than digress into that discussion here I’ll circle back on that at a later date. One thing that does prevent me from relying totally on a streaming service is that a couple of my favorite artists – Robert Fripp and his constantly evolving band King Crimson are not available through ANY music streaming service. That isn’t a concern for 99.999% of music listeners, and any emerging artist is not going to avoid streaming services, so going to all streaming from a purely musical standpoint is not a horrible option.

In the meantime, I was wondering if I was missing something, or if I should look at other options. One thing that concerned me was that articles or discussions of the various streaming services very seldom ever mention Rhapsody. I don’t really understand why this should be the case, other than the tendency to dismiss any technology or business model that has been around too long (Rhapsody’s roots in the music business go back all the way to the Jurassic period, back before the turn of the century!!). Still, any business trying to exist at a nexus of pop culture and technology that fails to gain sufficient mental shelf-space among the journalists that cover those areas might not be around much longer.

My research led me to look at Spotify and to sign up for a 30-day free trial. I figured if I could find any reason to switch, I’d do so.

At first, I couldn’t see that Spotify was that much different than Rhapsody – both had enormous collections of music; Spotify claims a larger collection than Rhapsody, but I couldn’t find any shortage of any of the more obscure music I listen to on either service, so it was a wash there. The user interface of course was slightly different, but nothing that one wouldn’t get used to in time. While I have the Rhapsody app on both my iPhone and Android tablet, I’ve never used the Rhapsody desktop application (and poking about their site I wasn’t able to find it), but Spotify kinda puts the desktop app right in your face when you sign up , and I have to say it’s an improvement over both their and Rhapsody’s web interface.

Where I noticed a big difference was in two areas that are important to me. Rhapsody limits the subscriber to using their service on only ONE mobile device, which meant that every time I tried to use it on my iPhone, I had to agree to de-activate the registration from my tablet and vice-versa. Spotify has no such limitation – you just can’t stream to more than one device (computer OR mobile device) at the same time.

The second feature that I like on Spotify is an additional option for creating a “radio station”. Rhapsody allows you to create a genre-based station, or radio based on a particular artist. Spotify drops the genre-based radio, which I was a little displeased with, especially as Rhapsody’s genre classifications run pretty deep (I could stream radio based not just on Downtempo, but specifically Drum’n’Bass or Acid Jazz). However, Spotify will allow me to stream radio based on a playlist!! That’s pretty cool. I dump everything into a “Library” playlist so I can choose to shuffle-play the whole collection, and it ranges from Techno artists like Underworld or Nightmares on Wax to Doo-Wop, Blues and Duke Ellington – all of which can make for a pretty interesting radio station!!

There is one other feature of Spotify that is attractive, and corrects an irritation that I always felt with Rhapsody. When signing into Rhapsody, I was presented with all the stuff that Rhapsody was pushing because it was new stuff from hot, popular artists – Kanye West, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and all the other ubiquitous pop stars that are being shoved in my face at every turn. Spotify instead looks at stuff that I’d listened to recently, (which includes things that I’d heard on a radio stream as well as stuff in my library), and suggests other, similar artists. What a great way to get exposed to new stuff, and since my listening tends to be pretty eclectic, the suggestions are similarly eclectic, but consistent with my taste in music.

So, it looks like it’s going to be goodbye to Rhapsody for me in the near future. I just hope that Spotify doesn’t screw up what seems to be a pretty good service.