Provincetown-The Pilgrims First Home

While we all think the Pilgrims first set foot on Plymouth Rock, it was actually here in Provincetown, Cape Cod. Out here at the very eastern tip of Massachusetts, you can experience what the Pilgrims saw: An inhospitable landscape of sand dunes, rocky beaches, and probably Indians.  A few weeks after landing,  they hightailed it a bit further north to much more habitable Plymouth. It was there they built the first settlement.

Today Provincetown is a tourist destination with all the usual bars and restaurants. It’s a jumble of crowded streets, tourist shops, and convenience stores mixed in with historic spots, and a lot of beach – most of which the Cost Guard protects as an environmentally sensitive area.  The dunes are extensive and open to the public during the day.

It’s not a place I would choose to spend a lot of time in, but it is interesting for a day or two.

What the Income Tax Ended: The Breakers in Newport

The Breakers
The Breakers

This is the Breakers, the summer cottage of Cornelius Vanderbilt. It was designed by Richard Morris Hunt and built in 1895 in Italian Renaissance style.  This mansion required 200 servants to manage the parties and social events that regularly took place.  

But when it was built, the end was already in sight. By 1906, Teddy Roosevelt was endorsing an estate tax and by the advent of World War I both the income and inheritance tax were fully in place.  And so began the end of Newport’s many mansion like The Breakers.  As inheritances dwindled and income taxes rose,  it was not possible to keep up several lavish homes that were occupied only 2-3 months each year.  

The Gilded Age came to a final end in the 1930′s with the Depression and by the 1940s many of these homes had been torn down, abandoned or turned over to non-profit agencies to maintain as historical monuments to what unchecked wealth creates.

Today one wonders at how any one family accumulated the wealth needed to build, run and keep up such lavishness. But, today instead of building physical monuments that at least employed people, we just invest and keep on accumulating to what end?

Vermont – A Transformed State

Queeche Covered Brdige
Queeche Covered Brdige

Spent 10 days in Vermont, my home state, visiting family and attending my high school reunion.

Vermont remains amazingly beautiful and unspoiled. Even though it weathered a once-in-a-century flood 3 years ago, it has completely recovered, as far as I can see.  This covered bridge was washed away and reduced to splinters during the flood, but has been rebuilt in a remarkably short time.

When I was in high school, Vermont was a poor state with bad health care, mediocre schools, and poor nutrition. Its economy was based on dairy farming, maple syrup production, and tourism.  Dairy farms were failing because they were too small and transportation was too expensive to compete with the larger and better located farms of the midwest.  It was solidly Republican and conservative.

Sometime in the early 1970s this all changed. It has done a political and economic 180. Today it is heavily Democratic, progressive, liberal and has the only socialist (independent) senator in the nation in Washington.

Vermont has universal medical care, a very robust elderly care system, a network of farmer’s markets that are subsidized for poor families, and low unemployment.  Tourism, book publishing, and the arts are flourishing. Burlington, its largest city, is cited as one of the best places to live in America.

How did this happen?

As the farms went under, they were purchased by people looking for second homes away from the city.  Many came from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. Authors seeking peace and solitude came, as did artists and musicians. The Internet made living and working there easy. In Vermont they could enjoy privacy, continue to work, share the beauty with friends and live where it was not congested.

In time they became residents, brought the more liberal and progressive views of southern New England and have voted in a different kind of politician.

“The Medium is the Massage” in 2011

The year is 1967 and an academic named Marshall McLuhan writes a book.  It’s a book called “The Medium is the Massage,” with only a few pages, pictures, white space and not very many words.

It would revolutionize how we think about media.

The title: “The Medium is the MASSAGE” was a printer’s error.  It was supposed to be “The Medium is the MESSAGE.”  He kept the erroneous title because he felt that it actually expressed what he as trying to say in a different way.

And what was he trying to say?  Very simply that no matter what medium one uses to communicate,  it becomes part of the message and helps to shape (or massage) it’s meaning.

McLuhan was not well understood in the 1960s. Most of his message was interpreted as commentary on how television was changing the way people thought. While this was true, it had much deeper significance. He uncovered the underlying principles that differentiate written, verbal,  electronic and visual  media.

Re-reading that book is eye-opening because he was, without knowing it, speaking to us today with great clarity. He was way ahead of his time and his messages resonate more clearly now than then.

A few quotes:

“Now all the world’s a sage.”  Referring to the reach and speed of electronic communication, as well as the power of the crowd.

“The wheel is an extension of the foot. . . electric circuity, an extension of the central nervous system.”  Replace “electric circuity” with “Internet.”

Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act - the way we perceive the world. When these ratios change, men change.”  Think about  YouTube vs. a book, a Tweet vs. a paragraph.

“Time has ceased, “space” has vanished. We now live in a global village. . .a simultaneous happening.”   Wow!  many books and articles are in the midst of  discussions about our interconnected worlds and what that means for culture, language, and even the viability of nations.

His ability to envison – imagine – define our interconnected, media-centric future was astonishing.

If you are interested in why YouTube, for example, has become so popular, or why Facebook has grown to connect 800 million people, you need to read this book.

McLuhan has inadvertently become the prophet of this age and we need his understanding of the power that the Internet has to change and shape our thinking and behaviors.

I sugest you run our NOW and get a copy.  It is very short, but deeply powerful. It’s available here.

A Pause to Enjoy – Spring Wildflowers

Here are a few photos I took this past weekend in the California central valley along the Stanislaus River. Wildflowers are blooming around every rock, between the blades of grass and in the nooks and crannies of the river.  The bursts of color, a rapidly flowing river as the snow begins ever so slowly to melt in the high Sierras, and a bright beautiful day are hard to beat for relaxation and for refreshing the mind and spirit.

Now that we are into Spring in the northern hemisphere, the southern slips into autumn and equally beautiful colors appear.  Last year I spent a bit of time outside of Melbourne and along the river banks I saw trees in colors as spectacular as those I saw in Vermont as a child.

I like the two transitional seasons of spring and autumn best of all perhaps because they are harbingers of what is too come.

I hope you enjoy the pictures and have a great spring (or autumn)!  If you like these, you can see more pictures that I have taken as I travel around the world here.

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A Friday Diversion: Biking & Walking in the U.S. and Europe

bicycling-16-19-mph-very-vigorousThis is my Friday diversion from the usual things I write about. One of my pet peeves is the devotion to the automobile shown by the U.S., California and the Bay Area.

While I like to drive and I am not a biker, I do enjoy walking. I wish I could simply walk to my local grocery store or to the barber or dentist.  But in the Bay Area that is a dangerous activity.  A few months ago I decided to walk to the shopping center which is about a mile from my house.  Continue reading