Big J Institutions Ignore the Digital Truth

January 2019 was another tough month for media companies struggling with ongoing revenue declines. Layoffs came in bunches as Gannett, Buzzfeed, Verizon, The Huffington Post, and others tried to balance the books against losses on the inbound side of the ledger. The problem, however, isn’t those always‐evil “market forces;” it’s now and always has been an inability to correctly read the declines and respond accordingly. To use a very old illustration, if the railroads had known they were in the transportation business, they would’ve owned the airlines. But, no; they assumed they were in the railroad business, which allowed the disruptors in. Same with media: they’re not in the news business; they’re in the advertising business.

The digital advertising market is far bigger than local media companies understand, and this remains the top obstacle in all efforts to “save” local media (and “media” in general). The most baffling element of this is how these companies refuse to even compete for all the dollars locally, choosing instead to compete only for dollars already spent on their models. As a result, the local digital media market is only 15 percent of what’s available totally. And, the saddest part of all of the indictments of media managers is that the market is growing while the traditional forms of advertising are shrinking, so you’d think these corporate managers would want a different business model. They don’t.

Nobody knows this better than Gordon Borrell, the man who provides the measurements for how well or bad these companies are doing. Borrell provides details sliced many ways, but perhaps the most revealing is his recent data on what he now calls the “addressable” digital market. This is a percentage of the total digital advertising market that believe the local media company sales pitches and spend money with these companies. This figure is the share of the market that media companies serve, and it has been shrinking for as long as I’ve known Gordon. What media companies don’t seem to understand is that their model is inefficient, because it’s based on the archaic marketing rules (reach/frequency) governing mass marketing. Meanwhile, digital pure play companies (those who exist to provide targeted ads to individual browsers based on those browsers’ history) get 85 percent of the total market.

In a webinar last month, Borrell provided data about this “addressable” market, and while it remains a big number, it’s nowhere near the overall marketplace. Here’s a snapshot of that (provided to us by Borrell), and it shows the futility of chasing only those dollars spent with a mass marketing model.

Data provided by Borrell Associates

This graph reveals that all of these media companies today are competing for only 15 percent of the total market. In Texas, they call this “dumber than a bucket of hair,” but Borrell is much more circumspect, calling this obvious failure a product of the environment in which local media companies operate. That’s fine, but shallow industry thinking is never created by “the devil made me do it;” it’s a question of knowledge, tools, and the intelligence on how to proceed.

Many years ago — before I went to work for AR&D in 2006 — I was invited to make a presentation to a media group in Tampa. Sweeping changes were just beginning to impact their business, and they wanted a summary of those changes, so they could figure out what to do. At the end of my session, I was asked a question that completely altered my focus on “the problem” they faced. “This is all great, Terry,” the top dog said, “but where’s the money?” I didn’t have a very good answer for them, so I spent the next 10 years studying the question. The conclusion I reached early on was that if these companies continued to proceed with only mass marketing as their model, they would soon fade from relevance altogether.

So, to me, the issue wasn’t about content, because while media content was certainly being disrupted, the blow to their business model was the only one that really mattered. Nobody listened, in part because these companies are run by mostly older men, who seek first to help themselves and their families in a comfortable retirement. Rocking the boat isn’t conducive to that end, and this is another part of Gordon’s “environment” that contributes to making foolish decisions at the top.

On another occasion, I was making a presentation to the top managers of an east coast media company. Among the strategies I recommended was to get into the local search business. The owner of the privately‐held company was present, and he asked me, “You really want me to compete against Google?” I said, “Of course. Google is competing against you.” The company tried a couple of things I recommended, but their need to move every innovation into their mass media business model proved me right.

I simply couldn’t convince anybody that targeting individual browsers in the community was the Holy Grail of digital advertising and abdicating this to the pure plays was corporate malfeasance. At core, the problem begins with executives believing they’re in the news business. They’re not. They’re in the advertising business, and that’s where their focus should be.

And, here’s the most chilling aspect of this: local media companies are unable to see the impact the disruption to advertising is having on the local communities they serve. Here’s another image from Borrell’s addressable market presentation:

85% of digital advertising money that originates in the community goes to pure play internet companies. That money leaves the market forever. These companies pay no local taxes, employ no local people, contribute to nobody’s community chest, and are a net drain on the economic well‐being of the community. This money drain is staggering compared to what local media companies are getting, and it shows no sign of a reversal any time soon.

Finally, I had a telephone conversation once with a guy from an ad exchange about the possibility of partnering with local media companies. In what was an embarrassing reality, this sales executive told me, “We don’t need to partner with anybody, Terry, because we already have access to 100% of the browsers in any market anyway.” 

You can ask Borrell about all of this for yourselves at his annual Local Online Advertising Conference March 11–12 in New York.

If I owned a local business, I certainly would want my money to go where it’s the most efficient and effective for growth, and all the evidence loudly screams that targeting local browsers is the way to go. The sales pitch of the account exec representing my favorite TV station seems shallow and archaic in comparison. There are no secrets that media salespeople can manipulate to their advantage anymore, and maybe that’s the real problem.

Regardless, managers who wince as if I’m calling their baby “ugly” have only themselves to blame, because the things I preached back then have certainly all come to pass. It ain’t rocket science, folks, and here’s a final prophecy for consideration. Either local media companies band together to attack the problem at the local level, or there will only be room for one “winner” in each market in the not‐so‐distant future.

The Management Culture

Abraham Zaleznik, 1924–2011

My newest topic of study and writing (another book) is one that I’ve touched on many times in prior works, and that is the idea that managers and leaders are completely different personality styles. In 1977, Harvard Business School psychologist Abraham Zaleznik published his brilliant essay, Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?. This paper set forth a line that separates the two personalities, and this has been a seminal document in the education of Terry Heaton.

The reason this is so important is that the managers have had their way since the invention of moveable type, which gave managers the ability to sell their beliefs to wide audiences. Slowly, but surely, the idea that you can manage your way to just about any goal (a management term) has led to disillusionment and frustration, because it’s just not possible to continually manage without the creative innovations provided by leaders.

This is why the financial laws that ancient Israel were given by Moses included checks and balances to prevent anyone from gaining massive wealth or to place any person into poverty. The Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee were designed to keep everything honest between people when it came to their financial well‐being, even to the extent of recovering lands they might have lost in the years prior to the Jubilee. The Israelites may have practiced this in the beginning, but clearly they gave it all up centuries ago and turned to profit‐based hegemonies.

What we have today in the West is a management culture, one that’s built on hierarchies and rules, all of which serve the top of the pyramid and not the base. Oddly, the vast majority of the population agrees with this and even votes for those who make the rules that keep them forever at the bottom. Each institution of the human existence offers a process‐driven solution to a problem that’s based on, amazingly, their own core competencies, but this is a public mask for private manipulation. Banking is the most obvious example. Banks hold our money “for” us, but that’s just marketing doublespeak. Banks exist to only serve banking, and the clearest example of that is how those least able to give their money to a bank are punished the most for not playing by the rules. We accept that this is “the way it is,” and the management culture advances.

When managers reach the inevitable wall that such formulaic adherence to rules must produce, those who pay the actual price are the rest of us. What awards managers is growth, and growth has limits. Always. There will come a day when these rules force a stoppage of growth, but to managers, this is just another hinderance that needs correction through management of the bottom line. People identified as “expenses” are summarily dismissed in order to help the guy who managed the destruction get his bonus. There is zero incentive for such people to not step all over others in the name meeting the money needs of the owners (who, by the way, managers have convinced us are the good guys).

The Shirky Principle is even more telling, for it states that “institutions will always try to preserve the problem for which they are the solution.” Drug companies are a great illustration of this, because it’s not always in their best interests for their medicines to provide cures. The pharmaceuticals industry is a terrific example of how the managers at the top get filthy rich in the name of “research” to help the world, but the sheer size of the salaries of drug company CEOs makes such a position utterly false. As a result, the entire industry is rampant with shame while touting the good they do for the community.

The paradox of prosperity, it should be noted, is that discontent increases with opportunities for acting on it.

In the world of music, the management culture inserts itself in a couple of ways. One, managers determine who gets money and who doesn’t, and it all depends on their ability to manufacture (a management term) hits. And, since managers are risk averse, this results in the homogenization of music that sells. Let me be the first to say that the purpose of music among humans is not to make money, but this is the fruit we have from the management culture. Two, the method of teaching music has adapted to the management culture by eliminating the ear from the making of music. In bluegrass music, for example, the invention of tablature puts the complex and fast notes in learnable form on paper. This has produced some phenomenal new 5‐string banjo talent, but everything sounds the same. Pickers that stand out are guys like Jim Mills, whose right hand work can’t be completely transferred to paper. His ear‐taught methods are unique, even though he can play the same songs note‐for‐note that the tab players use, yet sound dramatically different, because his ear tells his right hand to “punch” certain notes and play others softly. This produces a loyalty to the song instead of the notes, and that’s the nuance that’s lost with only tablature.

Consequently, originality in music has become a niche and not the main market, and this benefits only those willing to be “managed” to prosperity.

Happy with the music industry? Read Joel Rose’s recent NPR article, Why Is The Music Of 1968 So Enduring? ‘It Was Allowed To Be Art’.

“I realized that I was part of the rebellion, and not part of the establishment,” says (author John) Simon, who earned a degree in music from Princeton University before getting a staff job at Columbia Records. “Part of being the rebellion is, you could rebel musically in the studio. You didn’t have to be as formulaic as in the past.”

The management culture copies formulas for success in every walk of life, including, believe it or not, the church. Here we have an institution with little incentive to overcome cultural evil, for that would take them out of business. Instead, the message is always “you need us” in your life for protection against the culture and the possibility of going to hell.” We are taught to believe this is “truth,” so we behave as instructed, which helps the other managers stay on top and in charge. Ask yourself this: if churches aren’t a part of the management culture, why is the goodness of churches heaped on only those that are growing?

The management culture put Donald Trump in the White House. It was inevitable and predictable.

Another institution fully involved in the management culture is medicine. Doctors today are troubled by patients educated by other patients via patient websites who question both diagnosis and treatment. They don’t have time to argue, because other patients are jammed into a queue that’s part of the profit process from other managers. The authority of the doctor is rightly challenged by the spread of formerly protected knowledge, and I always point to the story of Lorenzo’s Oil and a statement by Lorenzo’s father: “The needs of the doctor are different than the needs of the patient.” Healthcare in the U.S. is an enormous mess, thanks to the fine work of the management culture.

I can’t help but think this way after reading The Education of Henry Adams, who notes in the book that “The way of nature is change (chaotic); the dream of man is order.” Order is truly an unreachable dream, because human nature gets in the way. The only way to produce a form of it is to apply force. Self restraint requires sacrifice, and that’s not a hallmark of the human condition, and absent an internal governor, order requires the use of some form of bayonet at our backs. It’s good for the culture, right? Maybe not so much.

The world desperately needs Zaleznik’s leaders, people who are comfortable with a little chaos in the mix. For them, problem‐solving isn’t always based in what worked before. They are fearless in that sense, and can’t be tied down to a specific set of rules to follow. They must have freedom in order to innovate, and the management culture has a serious problem with that. And since progress is judged by those who play by the rules, very few institutions are run by leaders.

And the most ridiculous idea that the management culture perpetuates is that one can follow certain systems or processes to “become” a leader. Zaleznik tried (because the demand was there) with his book You can call a manager a leader, if you’d like, but that doesn’t make her a leader in the Zaleznik style.

The problem is that absent contributions from both, the culture can’t really function as free, for there is a grave difference between the liberty of free people and the license demanded by those at the top of the tower. Can we overcome it? Perhaps, but given the nature and depth of the hierarchy, they won’t give up their positions without a fight, and that conflict could be very, very deadly.

I want to end this with a Bible verse that speaks to the core of this dichotomy, because it strikes at the motive of managing and being managed. It’s from the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter four, verse four (NIV):

And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Don’t ever think that managers aren’t aware of this. They exploit it to their own ends, and we just go along.

After all, it’s a management culture.

Presenting the apostles as holy

I don’t usually write of theological matters, because I’m not a theologian. Of course, my philosophy rejects such expertise in the first place, because as far as I’m concerned, theologians tend to embrace what they’ve been taught, and that doesn’t include doubts. It’s the same formula for all expertise based on education, and this is one of the great differences between modernity and the postmodern mind. Experience is elevated above book‐learning to pomos, and this is upsetting to the status quo. I’ve written of this many times, so bear with me as we examine something important about Christianity.

Russian painter, Simon Ushakov, painted his “Last Supper” in 1685. Ushakov was an Orthodox Christian, the primary Christian practice in Eastern European countries and elsewhere. The painting is significant, because it depicts Christ and the Disciples with halos, which was the custom when trying to present these historical figures as holy. The use of such icons is common in Orthodox history, similar to the icons of Buddhism. Only Judas is depicted sans halo.

There are two real problems with this. One, in proclaiming these disciples as “holy,” the church bends the historical narrative for its own benefit, which was to create a dependency on the church for access to God or anyone holy. If we can be convinced that the only way to gain our own halo is to live a “Christian” life in accordance with church teachings, then the hierarchy of the church is not only intact, but it has a permanent place in the lives of the community.

Two — and this is perhaps the biggest difficulty presented with this “holy disciples” narrative — it simply isn’t accurate. These were not holy men; they were just like you and me. Their clumsiness as humans is lost in the recognition of their holiness, and this alters the meaning of important texts that would greatly help each of us on our own journeys through life. The growing of Christianity’s brand, therefore, was based on a fallacy, for in order to receive the good news, we must be convinced that we are unable to become what the disciples became. We need to be kept in our place to assure order, but that all changes, if the disciples were just ordinary people. In fact, to conclude their holiness even in the early church is to lose track of the gospel in a hodgepodge of mixed messages.

The just shall live by faith, unless and except when it comes to everyday living. Then, it’s all about our behavior, and grace gets kicked aside in the need to maintain the institutions we’ve built. That is best accomplished if those 12 men were kept aside as ideals for us to chase. But that was never really the case when Jesus was teaching them, assuming one’s belief in the Bible as a teaching document.

In Luke, chapter 17, for example, the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith.” If these were holy men, they would have no reason to make this request. Their motive would have been to help Jesus in spreading the word through performing the same signs and wonders that He did. But, they were not sanctified and separate from others in their thoughts or their behavior. Therefore, Jesus detects the self‐centered motive in asking for more faith. They’re profoundly impressed with the guy and want to share in His power. They’ve heard him talk about this “faith” thing and don’t understand. So their question really is, “Lord, increase our faith so that we can do the same cool things that you do (and gain an advantage over our fellow man).”

The parable of the mustard seed follows, in which Jesus describes the faith of a mustard seed for them (it simply does what it’s supposed to do) and challenges them with a statement that, if they were to act similarly, they could move mountains or toss trees into the ocean.

Then, however, he shifts to another parable — the unprofitable servant. He essentially tells them not to expect any personal reward for doing what we’re supposed to do — like uprooting trees — because we are nobodies compared with the Creator. So, Jesus saw through their request, and this story has become fully bastardized through this idea that these men were holy simply because they followed Jesus in the beginning of His ministry. Many translations, for example, reference the size of the mustard seed as depicting just a wee bit of faith, which is a bit like being a wee bit pregnant. In for a penny; in for a pound. The decision to think and act for the benefit of others is contrary to our nature, and Jesus certainly knew that. He was fully man and fully God, according to the book, but isn’t it amazing how rarely we speak of his humanity and the internal conflicts He must have known? We need to think about it, however, because the book — especially the New Testament — takes on new meaning and significance if we can understand that the only holy man at the time of the disciples was Jesus himself.

The story of Jesus being tested in the wilderness is a great example of the humanity of Jesus. You know the story: Jesus was dealing with the torture and death what awaited him in Jerusalem. He was suffering internal agony over the conflict. If we’re to examine only His godly nature, we think that he was actually confronted by a devilish character who tempted him to avoid crucifixion by bowing down to the devil’s wishes. This makes for chilly — almost Tolkienesque — imagery, but it’s much more likely that these ideas — the stone, the leap, the rebellion — were birthed in His own head by his own ego, for that is the realm of man wherein temptation resides. This makes the story much more relatable to all of us, for who hasn’t heard the voice of his own ego?

It’s too risky. I might get hurt.
It’s really not my ministry.
Surely, I can take just one drink, right?
Nobody will see me in the adult video store.
I’m not worthy of getting a raise.
I’m special and good.
I’m special and bad.
My intentions are good.
It’s too hot/cold to keep my commitment.
He’ll never miss that $20 I owe.

So Jesus is hungry. Bang, he entertains the thought of changing a rock into a loaf of bread. The lesson doesn’t change whatsoever, but the scenario becomes much more relatable, because we’re no longer forcing ourselves into a magical illusion in the name of holiness.

The Protestant rebellion against Rome was based on the belief that “the just shall live by faith” and that grace, not works, was the path to righteousness in God’s eyes, thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus. The reasoning was simple. The law of Moses could not be kept, so God, through His unmerited favor, intervened with one final sacrifice for all of humanity. The problem for Rome, of course, was that such a stance gutted the hierarchy in place with the church. Controlling the behavior of citizens on behalf of the haves of the culture became its “business” model. Its value proposition was it stood as God’s intermediary with His people, and God only worked through its priests, cardinals, and bishops. The church sold its blessings to the highest bidders and became the absolute governor of human behavior by promising the “right” pathway to heaven.

And if people can be persuaded to accept their lot in life as God’s plan — and that their reward for this comes in the afterlife — then the masses can be controlled on behalf of the rulers of the culture. This is what we cherished for hundreds of years.

Protestantism stood a chance at replacing the power of Rome, but corruption reared its ugly head in the name of Protestant evangelism. Destroying entire civilizations in the name of God became morally acceptable, as long as it meant growing Christianity worldwide. In establishing the faith as a dynasty, it was important for the church to picture “holy” humans with halos to justify its unique separation from the filth of humanity.

And, as long as we covet our own halos, we’re susceptible to manipulation by the alleged grantor of halos, namely the church.

Jumping the Shark: Criminal Minds

Let’s review. I’m an old guy. I mostly watch crime dramas on TV, which is typical for my age group. I’ve watched them all and have seen my share of programs come and go, but Criminal Minds has been one of my favorites for a very long time. It’s sad to see articles like this one from a Zimbio list of TV shows that are likely to get cancelled next year:

While the first 13 seasons of Criminal Minds received an average of 23 episodes per season, Season 14 garnered a mere 15‐episode order. The long‐running CBS drama will soon reach its 300th episode. All of that means nothing if ratings are down. Season 14 debuted to 4.45 million viewers, easily making it the lowest watched episode of the entire series. After suffering the loss of major characters like Aaron Hotchner and Derek Morgan, perhaps it’s time to write the final chapter for Criminal Minds.

I’ve been wanting to write about this for a couple of years, because the show has had a serious chemistry problem since Thomas Gibson (Agent Aaron Hotchner) was booted for kicking a producer on the set. When that was followed by Shemar Moore (Darek Morgan) leaving to star in his own drama (SWAT — it’s awful), it flipped the chemistry and removed all the dominant macho male characters.

There’s an old saying in television that it’s not who goes who impacts the program; it’s who comes in as replacements. It’s the one thing that producers can control, and the producers of Criminal Minds blew it completely with the new agents. The show used to be built around these strong male characters, but that’s all been replaced with mush, and despite the efforts of the remaining cast members, you can’t fix a chemistry problem with just good acting. Chemistry in a crime drama influences everything and especially the writing.

They’ve injected macho into Dr. Spencer Reid’s character. Doesn’t work at all. They put Emily Prentiss in charge of the unit, but as strong as she is, she simply cannot replace the loss of Hotchner and Morgan. Producers brought in Adam Rodriquez and Damon Gupton to fill the macho void, but it doesn’t work, because Rodriquez oozes empathy, and Gupton is, at best, warm milk. This creates an impossible task for the writers, because they’ve got to know it isn’t working.

They’ve also botched the character of David Rossi and turned him into a bit player instead of the former founder of the BAU who was brought to the team after the departure of the original Criminal Minds guru Manny Patinkin (Jason Gideon) after two seasons. Patinkin’s character was deep and dark, and that set the tone for the original scripts. I honestly can’t watch some of the first two seasons, because the shows we’re just too dark. So Patinkin up and quit over creative differences. They brought in a clone, Joe Mantegna, to play David Rossi, said to be Jason Gideon’s partner in the creation of the FBI’s profiling unit years earlier. The chemistry of the cast after hiring Mantegna was, in my view, just right, in fact, perfect. It was this cast that led the show to its position atop the crime drama genre. Sadly, that’s all gone.

Even the show’s oddball personification of love, the adorable Kirsten Vangsness as Penelope Garcia, has been negatively impacted by the loss of the Darek Morgan character. Without her lusty and charming relationship — as a submissive female — to Shemar Moore’s rock solid dominant in Agent Morgan, her character now flaps in the breeze of nothingness. We know that his loss is her loss, and none of the current cast members is able to fill that void, and so, it’s just gone. It’s eliminated the tension of their loving “babygirl” relationship.

Thomas Gibson, the story goes, was very difficult on the set: demanding and angry when he disagreed with production. Here’s how Wikipedia describes his departure.

On August 11, 2016, Gibson was suspended after appearing in two episodes of the twelfth season of Criminal Minds, following an on‐set altercation with a writer‐producer; he apologized for the confrontation in a statement, claiming the dispute arose from creative differences in an episode he was directing (Gibson had previously directed six episodes of Criminal Minds since 2013, along with two last season episodes of Dharma & Greg in 2001). Gibson had a prior altercation with an assistant director and underwent anger‐management counseling.

You know what they say about hindsight, but the truth is that temperamental artists are a part of the creative process and a wide berth is very often a necessity. No matter how ugly this kicking incident was, it wasn’t worth destroying a top‐ranked television drama, but that’s exactly what has happened. CBS blew it with one of its top products, and, as a fan, it’s really agitating and unbelievably sad to watch the whole thing just crumble.

But that’s the way it goes with television.

Honey, we’ve got to talk about marijuana

The Gallup headline yesterday says it all, “Two in Three Americans Now Support Legalizing Marijuana.” That’s right. This is one of those gems of information hidden in the midst of the culture war fueled by the GOP’s wish to take us back to the days when, cough‐cough, America was great. According to NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), the Gallup data is consistent with those of other national polls, including those conducted by Pew (62 percent) and Quinnipiac University (63 percent).

We’ve come such a long way since the days of Reefer Madness (1936) and the demonization of my generation for wishing to expand our minds through marijuana. Today, it’s big business and getting bigger, and those states who can’t get onboard due to misinformation and ignorant paranoia are going to be left behind. I mean, seriously behind, because there are now absolutely compelling reasons to rethink such misguided reticence.

Let’s just say that there’s no room anymore for emotional responses based on all the deliberate lies and manipulation behind the nearly century‐long battle. Today’s argument is over the ancillary benefits of marijuana legalization — the business opportunities, the tax revenue, the agricultural benefits, and, most importantly, the science of it all.

There are serious efforts underway by medical research to study the medical benefits of Cannabidiol (CBD oil as opposed THC, the “high” chemical). The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming as to its almost miraculous healing powers, but science needs to do its thing before we can assign certain absolute benefits to the product. Where will these studies be done? In states (and by states) where the crop is legal. Do we really — based on misinformation — want to maintain our ignorance over what could be the greatest medical discoveries of modern times? Why deliberately enjoin your universities in this race?

In states where it’s legal, there is another form of science at work in the growing of the crops. New hybrids are producing products with different human impacts (mind versus body), and the cataloging of hybrids based on effect is now underway. Users can now buy marijuana based on the effect they want to achieve. This blows big holes in the propaganda that the only reason people use marijuana is to drop out and avoid responsibility. The medical benefits to anxiety, fear, and especially pain cannot be ignored, especially in the wake of removing opioid pain medication from the culture.

Meanwhile, there’s a whole new government revenue source within those states, and we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars. The economic impact of pot, however, goes far beyond tax revenue, and this is something other states cannot ignore forever. Here’s Gallup’s “bottom line.” It’s fascinating.

Like support for gay marriage — and in prior years, interracial marriage — support for marijuana legalization has generally only expanded, even if slowly, over the course of multiple decades — raising the question of where the ceiling in support might be. As the percentage of Americans who favor legalizing pot has continued to grow, so has the number of states that have taken up legislation to allow residents to use the substance recreationally. States that permit use of medical marijuana are even more prevalent in the U.S. than states allowing recreational pot are.

After this year’s elections, recreational pot use could be allowed in two more states, depending on what voters decide in North Dakota and Michigan. Both of these states border Canada, whose adult residents now have access to legal marijuana nationwide. Meanwhile, state lawmakers in New Jersey are moving closer to passing legislation to legalize pot, and neighboring New York might not be far behind after the state’s health department conducted a study that led to its recommendation that marijuana be legal.

But even as many states take action to legalize pot, to date, no Midwestern or Southern states permit legal recreational use — though medicinal marijuana is allowed in a few of these states. Now that public support is consistent across U.S. regions, legalization will likely spread to new areas in the future.

So, here’s what I’m seeing. Red states have no choice but to address this as a hard cost in maintaining religious or other objections to legal marijuana. To be left behind in the culture due to the emotional view of pot being evil is the dumbest form of dumb and something residents need to let their leaders know about.

I must say that this is a remarkable take on the culture war we’re currently fighting. For all appearances, the left is losing, as witnessed by the approval of Judge Kavanaugh, huge tax cuts for the rich, and a host of other actions by the government of Donald Trump. In this highly progressive issue, however, we have evidence that Americans still determine not only what they will and won’t tolerate, but also that the people will have their way.

Even if it takes a hundred years to make it so.

“But the babies!”

Roe v Wade was made law in 1973 when I was in my late 20s. That means my entire adult life has included the debate over abortion, and I’ve viewed the issue from both perspectives, because, well, that’s what news people do. I was also deeply involved in the strategic thinking involving the use of abortion as a key fund‐raising plank for Christian Republicans. As such, my window overlooking the conflict is perhaps a bit different than yours. Cynical? Perhaps, but I feel it’s justified.

Firstly, let me say that I’ve never heard anybody — even the staunchest supporter of a woman’s right to quality medical care in this matter — say that they are “for” abortion. No matter what form of new math you use, the case cannot be made that people who support choice are, in fact, supporting the killing of babies. This really grates on me, for pro‐lifers occupy a seat of self‐righteousness here in their attacks on people who vote choice. It is simply sloppy logic to erase the truth in favor of a “murdering the babies” emotional meme, no matter how effective it is as a fund‐raising or support‐inducing cause. Good and well‐intentioned people seem incapable of thinking this whole thing through in favor of the emotional appeal that comes from those who are not so well‐intentioned.

The best, most compelling analogy that I can make for the pro‐choice position is the NRA and guns. That’s right. The NRA doesn’t argue that its members want guns to kill people; they simply want their weapons IN CASE the situation ever comes up where they’re needed. This is the Second Amendment in a nutshell. It’s why most anti‐gun arguments fall flat. If we assume that guns kill people, then we ought to be able to make an argument for some form of restraint in gun sales, but that’s beside the point.

It’s this “just in case” argument that wins in the case of abortion. When my own daughter came home from the doctor after her 20‐week pregnancy check‐up that revealed a badly deformed fetus with severe chromosomal deficiencies, I was very glad that abortion was an option. My daughter, who is very well‐grounded, wouldn’t even consider it, so she carried the child until she gave birth. The baby, a boy, lived six hours. Had she chosen to end the pregnancy, I would’ve been just as proud of her as I was for carrying this child. But only the hardest of hearts would force such misery — carrying a child you know is going to die — on a young woman. Why is this so hard to see?

So legal abortion just doesn’t automatically lead to abortion, and that’s where Christian people miss the point of why we have no law prohibiting it, and that’s the way it has to be.

But, Terry, abortion is murder, and there are laws against murder. True, but so is a mass killing at an elementary school. If we can justify guns in the wake of such, what can the anti‐abortion lobby truly expect in this most personal of family decisions? Is abortion wrong? Is owning at AR‐15 wrong? Again, Terry, owning an AR‐15 doesn’t mean you’re going to use it to slaughter children at a school. Right, and that’s the identical argument for why we need to leave abortion alone. An “unwanted” child doesn’t automatically mean there will be an abortion, which is why we must leave this decision up to the family and the medical community.

This view IN NO WAY endorses abortion, and that’s where the disconnect exists. William F. Buckley used to rail against abortion as immoral — not illegal — and that’s where the argument belongs. That being so, there would still be plenty of work for pro‐lifers to do in making the case that abortion is the taking of a human life, so as to convince women to consider other options. This would be a much more productive position, but it wouldn’t raise the money that a “we need to outlaw abortion” position does.

And then there’s the horrible reality that abortion being illegal wouldn’t do a thing to stop abortion; it would just move in back to the dangerous underground practices that existed prior to Roe v Wade.

Meanwhile, missing from the debate is the reality that the abortion rate has gone down considerably over the years since Roe v Wade. The abortion rate is now below what it was in 1973, thanks to concerted efforts at birth control. The point is that the culture is already correcting the “wrong” of abortion by reaching the most vulnerable with birth control methods. And, since it’s “working,” the question of why this doesn’t satisfy the extremists is worth asking. The answer, of course, is that the right needs abortion around which to rally the emotions of decent, God‐fearing people to vote against their own best interests in supporting this one, highly manipulated issue.

The special interests — those puppet masters with sinister motives — have a bottomless well of energy they can tap to get what they want, for even if abortion wasn’t an issue, they would still rail against the behavior that led to “unwanted” pregnancies in the first place — sex outside of marriage. Effort here would also affect birth control, for the act of fornication is the problem, not how humans use various chemicals and barriers to prevent pregnancy. If the Kavanaugh court ever manages to overturn Roe v Wade, this is exactly where the evangelicals will go.

And won’t that be fun?