FREE SPEECH ZONE | The ten worst things about Modern Times


True, every new advance in machinery, science, and technology has been met with skepticism, doubt, and even anger.  The first autos were cursed because “those damn things are scaring my horses”.  Even more graphic is the wonderful Charley Chaplin movie Modern Times. My recollection of the scene where the plant supervisor gets stuck in the gears…popping in and out of view as Chaplin tries to extricate him…feeding him lunch with the machine stopped and only his head showing… still brings a smile to my face.

Well, now 78 years old, I feel I have a right to be a legitimate curmudgeon, and offer my take on the ten worst things about our Modern Times.  They generally fall into just a few categories: technology, sports, politics, and business – and I am going to exercise my senior right to complain, grumble and kvetch here and now. Here goes:


Kids today are way “over-structured”.  Their free time seems limited as they are rushed from school to soccer practice, and oboe lessons, time on the computer (more about that later), then homework and…well you get the idea. My childhood was so much simpler, and to me more friendly and congenial. Summer was a delight. I woke up in the morning with nothing to do, so we created our own “structure”. A pick up game of baseball (or football in season), or a variety of other unscheduled and/or even inane activities. Loved it!


College sports. As a third generation Minnesotan I recall with fondness the halcyon years of Bernie Bierman and the beloved “Golden Gophers”.  They won national championships with tough raw-bonedMinnesotaand Midwestern kids – not imports or pretend Gophers.  Today’s college sports (especially football and basketball) are nothing but paid mercenaries brought in to enhance the image of a state or school. Don’t believe it – it’s a charade.

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The Free Speech Zone offers a space for contributions from readers, without editing by the TC Daily Planet. This is an open forum for articles that otherwise might not find a place for publication, including news articles, opinion columns, announcements and even a few press releases.


Education today is deficient in several important ways. True, the kids of today have more to learn as science and knowledge advances, but for the most part, they can’t spell, they can’t write, they compute with a calculator and I fear they have an inadequate immersion in history.  At the higher education level, a recent Doonesbury cartoon noted there is no longer any reason for college…all you need is Google (except for the partying). And regarding college, the outrageous cost is going to hurt our nation’s ability to compete, in the long run.


Income disparity. Perhaps not since the Robber Baron days (and maybe not even then) has there been such a great disparity in the income of Americans. It is estimated that the top 1% of earners now receive 24% of the income in our country. Even worse, the top executives of major corporations now earn 450 times that of the average worker. This is not theAmericaI grew up in, when the middle class was healthy and growing. It’s bad for Capitalism, too.


Pro sports.  The salaries now paid to athletes in all the major sports is nothing but obscene.  It was recently reported the average NBA player gets $5.85 million per year. Compensation of top athletes in other sports can reach $10-15 million per year. The NBA and NFL are under threat of strikes and walkouts. The love of the game might yet remain, but today it is overwhelmed by MONEY.


The movement of the political spectrum to the right.  Note the Republican candidates for president, they are all crowded, catering to, and influenced by the far right wing of their party. Moreover, they are intimidated and fear offending them (especially the Tea Party).  Where are the leaders of the GOP that we knew and could respect?  There is room in the middle for leadership, but no apparent centrist has arrived.


As a corollary to the above, this nation and this state has become intensely polarized.  The total shutdown of Minnesota government is a metaphor for this condition. Sure, there was the always confrontation; the Nixon years, the Viet Nam era and others to be sure, but I first entered the political scène with FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy – to me, much more comfortable politically, and later even a brief taste of Camelot.


Computers.  Necessary, and the way we do business and communicate now. But with a dark side as well. The internet is filled with everything from misinformation to downright lies and scurrilous propaganda. And, in every office folks have their heads stuck in the “gears” of the computer – just like the event that struck poor Charlie Chaplin. It is today’s Modern Times. And frankly, it is kind of sad. It makes me glad I pursued my core career in the era I did, because the future of office life for the next generations seems pretty dreary to me.


The corporatist society.  We are deep into the grip of corporations in Americain places they should not be. They permeate our economy and have influence they should not have (it is estimated the oil industry alone has 3000 lobbyists roaming the halls of Congress). But the most egregious happening which may change Americaforever, was the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court. That will negatively influence the most basic tenets of our Democracy: the electoral process.


And in first place on my “Worst Things” list: the cell phone. Why? Because it does precisely what it is designed to do – allowing people to call any time from anywhere. And that makes it annoying, intrusive, dangerous (when driving), and when combined with “texting” it has changed the culture inAmerica…for the worse. At its extreme are those who stick a plug in their ear in order to talk incessantly. When I was a kid, occasionally we would see someone walking down the street talking to themselves – obviously mentally unstable. Today when we see that it is likely just someone permanently locked to their cell phone 24/7.

Well, that is my critique, fears, and curmudgeonly comments on today’s version of Modern Times. You could come up with your own contributions.  But, the Little Tramp would be proud of us for extending his incisive commentary into the 21st Century. Having said that, I will now “spell check” my article…copy and paste it into an email to submit to various publications…click “send”…and turn off my Word Processor for the evening