Online debates

I love the power of social media, and how it allows us to remain in contact with people over long distances. I have many friends around the country, and being able to see pictures of their kids, and vacations, and heard about what is going on in their lives is amazing. It’s one of the truly great benefits of platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

However, they’re one of the worst places to have real discussions. On occasion I have had a few good debates, but those are far and few. Therefore, I’ve never been a big fan of trying to change people’s mind on social media platforms. If I’m feeling feisty and I want to just vent I’ll toss up a tirade, but I have no expectation that it will make any difference.

The reason that these online debates so often fail is encapsulated in the following screencap:


The underlined portion (“I don’t care what you think”) is the key phrase. In this debate that was going on about slavery and the reasons for the Civil War, it came down to a single, simple fact. The other person simply doesn’t care what others think. They don’t need to, since most of the time you’re never going to meet these people in real life. People often have hundreds and hundreds of “friends” on Facebook, many of whom they may have not even met in real life. Therefore, the desire to actually listen to what the other has to say is diminished or completely non-existent. If they don’t agree with you it doesn’t matter, you can just block them from your feed.

This results in a large echo chamber where everyone just shouts what they want, and no one is listening or open to discussion. So, I make a conscious decision to stay out of it. I feel like I have a much higher chance of success with in-person relationships, or at least conversations in “meat-space” than I ever will online.

Frankly, maybe we should just force Facebook be about funny cat videos and what you ate last night. It would save a lot of people a lot of stress.

Suburban density

The city that I live in recently sent out some surveys for residents to fill out about issues and concerns that people have with the city. Many of the questions dealt with streets and getting around walking and by bike. I was really pleased to see that there is some attention being paid to this issue, as our city has a tremendously low Walkability score. There is almost nowhere you can get to easily without a car.

Yet, just seeing that there is a desire to make the city more livable for everyone, even those who want to walk or bike, doesn’t solve the simple issue of density. Because of the size of the lots that the houses are built on, you simply can’t make things close enough to make a difference.

As an example, my city has a density of 2500 people per square mile. The suburb just south of us has a density of 5500 people per square mile. The large city where I grew up is even denser still. It takes these higher densities to make non-car travel even feasible. All the bike paths in the world aren’t going to make a difference if I still can’t get anywhere quickly because of all the land taken up by large lots with single story houses.

Our city is starting to build more high density housing, in terms of apartment complexes. Additionally, many lots seem to be much closer together with houses that are built up and not out. It’s going to be impossible to change the core housing layout though without completely razing neighborhoods, which simply won’t happen. It’s not that it needs to either, but it does dictate the type of suburb that you will have because of a very specific type of urban planning from 60 years ago.

Healthcare and waits

People who are opposed to single-payer healthcare always tout stories of supposed long lines, and wait-times, for getting medical care in countries with national health care. They would have you believe that if we did what these countries did, we’d be dying in the streets because of how long it takes to see a doctor. Well, I have news for those people, we have wait times here in the good ‘ol USA.

I took today off of work to attend an appointment with a family member with a specialist. This appointment was booked a month ago. Two and a half hours before the scheduled appointment time I get a call informing me that the doctor that we were seeing called in sick and that we would have to reschedule. The next open appointment time? A month and a half from now. This is after I took the day off of work to attend, and at this point it was too late in the day to go into work.

The issue of long wait times isn’t a factor of single-payer healthcare. It’s a condition of a medical system that costs too much, isn’t run efficiently, and doesn’t have nearly enough people going into various specialties. In fact I would even speculate that it is the competitive system that makes it all worse. Clinics need to keep their costs low, and so they staff only as much as they absolutely need to. There’s no gaps in any doctor’s schedule, and there’s no backup if a doctor is sick. The bottom line is the only line that matters, and if it costs too much, free-market healthcare won’t do it.

I’m not saying that there aren’t lines in single-payer healthcare, but let’s stop kidding ourselves that it doesn’t already exist here. We need to address different issues in healthcare, and fix the problems that already exist, no matter how it gets paid for.

The proliferation of hate

One of the blogs that I follow, linked to the new Southern Poverty Law Center Hate Map. This map shows the distribution of various hate groups across the country. Even in my home state of Minnesota we suffer with groups like this, spreading their message of hate towards other human beings.

It’s sad to see so many groups listed on this map, but I have hope in the fact that it’s not as widespread as it could be. There are a handful of groups in Minnesota, but they are not in every city, nor are there multiple ones of each category of hate group. It’s the little things like this that give a bit more hope that we can survive this current crisis in our nation.

Hope is about all we have right now. When hate groups start shouting their rhetoric it’s easy to want to return hate with more hate. Yet, the easier we slip into the “eye for an eye” mindset, the quicker we devolve into chaos. Violence and retaliation is never the answer, no matter how it makes us feel. The only answer to these hate groups is justice.

Justice is not about revenge or violent retribution, it is about holding people accountable for their actions and intentions. We may never be able to change the minds of hard-core neo-nazis and fascists, but that does not mean we tolerate them. They need to face justice for the harm they do to society. This justice is not vigilantism, or reckless destruction. It is the metered out punishment for crimes against the very nature of humanity.

This is why it is important for people to support groups like Southern Poverty Law Center, and their efforts to help shed light on these hate groups, and defend the people that these groups wish to kill and destroy. They’ve been a key ally in the fight for civil rights for decades, and they are needed now more than ever. If you donate to causes, I’d highly recommend tossing a few bucks their way to help their efforts at peace and justice.


Photowalk at Jay Cooke

This past weekend, while camping, I got a chance to do a photowalk at Jay Cooke State Park before we headed home. This is an amazingly beautiful park south of Duluth, MN, with the beautiful St. Louis River flowing through it. The park is a favorite of kayakers, though I’m not sure which portion they’re allowed on. Where I was taking pictures, they were not to be seen.

I managed a few nice shots in the early morning light. I had fun getting some of these shots, some of which included me laying prone on a large rocky outcropping to get some nice steady shots of the water with my camera on manual. I’ve included a couple shots below, but the full gallery is over on SmugMug.