First off, let me say up front that I am NOT wearing an aluminum helmet as I write this. And our windows are not covered with foil to keep mind-controlling radio waves out.
But sometimes weird coincidences happen, especially with our cell phones.
I was sitting in a Sunday morning class on the topic of ‘hope’ at our church a few weeks ago, listening to a lesson presented by Chad Hellman, Ph.D., a University of Oklahoma professor and co-author of the excellent book “Hope Rising: How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life.”
Dr. Hellman discussed subjects like how childhood trauma impacts the future lives of children, and how pursuing “hope” as he defined it can help people — young and old — set goals and achieve them as they pursue a better life.
My wife, Paula, was seated next to me, and near the end of Dr. Hellman’s presentation she got a text alert from Apple news on her phone. It promoted an article on the order of “12 steps you can take for a happier life.”
Paula showed me the alert on her phone’s screen and whispered “they’re listening.”
We both smiled at the irony.
But it’s happened before. We’ve been in the car on trips having conversations on some topic when ads served up by Facebook on our phones eerily matched the subject.
Here’s the bottom line based on interviews with experts:
“It’s an old wives’ tale,” said Eric Seufert, who founded the marketing consultancy Heracles Media and runs a popular blog for app developers. “It’s this kind of mythical, horrific, but ultimately untrue, fear.’
‘The short answer is: No, your phone isn’t listening. But why is this rumor so hard to shake?’
Other articles take the possibility more seriously that conversations are being tracked by our phones, including this one from Fox News headlined: “You are not paranoid: your phone really is listening in.”
So, it’s a mixed bag of believers and skeptics. I only know from my own experience like the one during Dr. Hellman’s presentation on a Sunday morning.
‘The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty — a fad.’ — American banker to potential investor in 1903
Even at the dawn of the 20th century, your crazy uncle was spouting off nonsense about things he didn’t know anything about.
I guess back in those days, social media rants took place at the local church, tavern or letter to the editor. New technologies have always brought out the doubters and naysayers, I guess.
One hundred years ago. Sarah T. Bushnell published a biography called “The Truth About Henry Ford” in which she told the story of the banker who advised the attorney that drew up incorporation papers in 1903 for Ford’s automotive company.
The attorney had been asked to invest in the Ford Motor Co., but was hesitant and sought out advice from his banker.
“My advice is not to buy the stock,” the banker said. “You might make money for a year or two, but in the end you would lose everything you put in. The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty — a fad.”
We’re at the beginning of a revolutionary transition in which electric vehicles will replace gasoline and diesel powered vehicles. Auto manufacturers are building more EVs each year with commitments to make electric vehicles the vast majority of their production by the 2030s.
There seem to be an incredible number of Teslas already on Oklahoma roads.
Despite the upward trajectory and inevitable march of technology, I’m seeing rants against EVs every day on the social media platforms where I hang out. A lot of ‘crazy uncles’ are poo-pooing the potential of electric vehicles, along with alternative power generation from wind and solar energy.
I’ve seen photos and graphs and charts that allege that electric energy is just as harmful to the environment as fossil fuels because of the mining for minerals and the ultimate disposal of batteries.
If you Google “electric vehicles” and “scam,” you get dozens of articles showing that the world is being played.
I’m no expert, but I choose to believe that scientists and innovators have taken all of that into consideration.
So, I assume a lot of folks — especially Oklahomans — are feeling threatened by alternative power and transportation because of our long-standing ties to the oil and gas industry.
It’s sort of ironic that oil and gas-dominated Oklahoma is home to one of the world’s first large scale electric vehicle battery remanufacturing and recycling ventures, Spiers New Technologies.
Founded less than a decade ago by Dirk Spiers, the company has shown phenomenal growth, quickly outgrowing its original 23,000 square feet of manufacturing space to now occupying its current 200,000 square feet in its operations center along SE 89th Street just east of I-35.
Spiers also operates a European location and provides battery lifecycle services to virtually every automaker with the exception of Tesla. The company showed such potential that it was acquired in 2021 by Cox Automotive.
But I want to share some of his perspective again in this post, because I think it’s both worthy and accurate.
“In the next five years, the cost of an electric vehicle will be cheaper than a combustion engine,” Spiers said. “So, we are only at the beginning of where we are going.
“The Devon tower — and I think it is a great building — is now more than 50 percent empty. That shows you how they (and Oklahoma City) misread the future. And now the Devon tower stands there as a symbol of Oklahoma City prosperity, but it is half empty. A relic of an industry in decline.
“The good thing is that you know eventually that everyone will drive an electric car. Those cards have been played. So, we are on the right side of history”
Although he added that the transition is not going to happen all at once, we’re watching Dirk’s predictions playing out every day.
Meanwhile, I’ll end this with the long-ago perspective of another futurist, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice H.B. Brown in a 1908 article entitled “The Horseless Carriage Means Trouble.”
“The automobile is doubtless a most useful vehicle, but one is not likely to lavish upon it the fond attention he bestows upon his horse or dog. A man may admire his own carriage, but his affections are reserved for the horse that draws it and the dog that follows it. Whatever the outcome may be, every true admirer of the horse will pray that it may not be the extinction or dethronement of the noblest of all domestic animals.”
A couple weeks ago, as I flipped through my edition of The Oklahoman newspaper I was confronted by end-of-the-world sized type in a full-page advertisement.
“DON’T LET BIG TECH CANCEL LOCAL NEWS,” the headline screamed.
Beneath it were a couple of paragraphs of text, one of which read:
“Local news strengthens our community, but local newspapers across the country are under threat. Big Tech takes advantage of the news and information created by local publishers, but they won’t pay for it.”
The ad was placed by a newspaper industry group and targeted “Big Tech” giants Google and Facebook, although neither were named in the copy.
In the ad, the newspaper group urged Congress to adopt an antitrust “safe harbor” law — the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA). That legislation would allow newspapers to negotiate collectively for payments from Google and Facebook for using headlines and snippets of their work in search results.
We all use these sites. When users click on the headlines surfaced on a Google search, they are linked back to the full stories on the original newspaper websites.
I was intrigued.
I thought newspapers welcomed traffic driven from Google or Facebook to their websites, because they are in a desperate battle for readers and for survival as an industry.
Online readership has become a critical element to sustaining newspapers into the future. I thought readers following a headline back to the original newspaper website would be like a gift from God.
I’ll give you an example:
Let’s say there’s been an oil well explosion near Cordell in Southwest Oklahoma. I hear a rumor of the explosion at the grocery store, so I do a Google search for oil well, explosion and Cordell.
Google returns a headline from the Cordell Beacon, which I click on to read the Beacon’s story in its website. Google drove that traffic to the Cordell paper.
That’s not the complete story, says Brett Wesner, president of Wesner Publications, which publishes the Cordell Beacon. Wesner also is chair of the National Newspaper Association, an industry group that represents thousands of smaller community newspapers nationwide.
While newspapers need the traffic driven from aggregators like Google, the tech giants sell billions of dollars in advertising to their own websites based on the content they present and the eyeballs it attracts.
“Google and Facebook generated $4 million in U.S. advertising revenue every 15 minutes during the first quarter of 2022,” Wesner wrote in an editorial that has been widely distributed. “That amount could fund hundreds of local journalists in every state in the country.”
Wesner is a Cordell native and San Francisco resident, from where he oversees his Wesner Publications group, which includes 10 community newpapers across the state. A Brown University graduate, he was David Boren’s press secretary in the late 1980s.
Traffic generated from Google and Facebook is critical to newspapers, Wesner said. Yet, the news those publications generate is just as important to the tech giants, he insisted.
If Google or Facebook lost access to Cordell news because the Beacon refused to allow it to post anything, it wouldn’t cause much of a ripple.
“But what if everybody started doing that?” Wesner asked in reply to my question about the JCPA “safe harbor” legislation. “Then when you Googled the Uvalde shooting, for instance, the only listings you get are your crazy uncle Bill’s rantings on a Facebook post. You don’t have access to any real media takes. If you Googled them, if those were the only listings you got, how credible would that make them on news issues. Not very.
“So, we need them. They need us.”
And that brings us to the proposed bipartisan legislation that seems to have a lot of Congressional support. But it’s slow moving.
“I think we will get to the negotiating table,” Wesner said. “I think they JCPA will be the path for that. We have had a lot of support from both sides of the aisle.”
In Holt’s book, “Big League City,” written in the afterglow of the Thunder franchise relocating to OKC, he talks about how critical a $120 million arena improvement special tax package was to that decision.
But that was 14 years ago, and there’s been a lot of Thunder games under the bridge, so to speak. I never gave the length of their lease agreement a second thought.
So, last week’s announcement came as both a surprise and a disappointment. Seems like Paycom Center was built only yesterday, but turns out it is already 20 years old. Arenas must age in dog years.
After my initial anger subsided, I’ve come to accept the reality that OKC — and Thunder fans like me — find themselves in.
For all sorts of reasons — amenities, size, not built specifically for the NBA, perceived second-rateness — the city must build the Thunder a new arena within the next decade.
A new showcase arena will set us back at least a half billion dollars, if not much more.
Consider that American Airlines Arena in Dallas was built in 2001 at a cost of $420 million (and the Mavericks already are pushing for a new arena). How high will inflation drive the cost past that?
Holt’s job now becomes that of selling OKC residents on another special financing package, whether it’s part of a new MAPS deal or a special sales tax like that passed in 2008. I hope the city can negotiate a deal that requires the Thunder to share some of that cost.
But I’m not holding my breath.
It’s not a scenario I’m rushing out to embrace, but I do see the reality of the OKC’s situation. Remember what happened to Seattle when that city refused to build a new arena to the Sonics’ specifications?
Thank you very much, Seattle.
And you know there are cities all over the nation that would jump at the chance to claim our franchise as their own and build it a billion dollar Taj Mahal.
Anyway, I got a glimpse this morning of what Holt is up against in convincing voters to accept a new arena. I was at church chopping up the arena prospects with a friend when someone overheard us and wanted to know the topic.
We told him we were discussing the prospects of a new arena for the OKC Thunder.
“What?” he asked. “No way. Paycom is how many years old? No way will that happen.”
And this guy is the former CEO of an OKC-based company with two college-age kids. He’s not even in the demographic that I see as most opposed to a new arena.
So that brings me to the real purpose of this blog post. Who will be most opposed and who will support the new arena? I’m weighing in with my totally non-scientific observations.
I’ll start with those I see as most likely to oppose a new arena built by OKC for the Thunder:
First, it’s people in my demographic who are over the age of 65. Or what I call the get-off-my-lawn crowd. That includes many people who live in suburban areas of the city and have never attended a Thunder game. These folks poo-poo’d the whole MAPS initiative beginning back in the early ’90s and continue to disparage it today. Apparently, they were fine with our downtown the way it was in 1989 because they never went down there. And remember, statistics show that older citizens are far more likely to show up at the voting booth whenever a new arena hits the ballot.
Second, up-and-coming young people from the urban core who are focused on social issues. They are asking ‘why would we spend half a billion dollars or more on an arena for a professional sports team while we ignore the plight of hundreds of our citizens who are without shelter, food, sanitation and health care?’ That’s a legitimate and tough question to answer .
Third, people who recognize the opportunity costs of building a new arena. If we pour half a billion dollars (or more) into a new arena, we’re limiting the potential of other legitimate economic development drivers in our community. On Facebook, one pundit cited articles that show publicly built sports arenas don’t return the promised economic impact. Another example I saw: If we tear down the old Cox Center to build a new arena, our best facility as a set location for the film industry disappears. And that’s an industry just now gaining some real momentum in Oklahoma.
So, who supports a new arena?
The first group is pretty easy. They’re the 30-year-old Thunder fans who obsess over the team’s tanking philosophy, where the Thunder will end up in the draft lottery each year and over-analyze who will be the team’s next pick. Naturally, they will support a new arena because they are offended that our players have to play home games in an obvious shanty like Paycom Center. HAVE YOU NOT SEEN CHASE CENTER IN SAN FRANCISCO? But this is a pretty small voting block, all in all.
I see the second group as led by Oklahoma City business and community leaders who endured the OKC of the 1980s and enjoy what the city has become in 2022. They can point to both the MAPS projects and the arrival of the Thunder as critical elements to turning our city from eyesore into a showcase. If we refuse to build a new arena, there’s a risk that the team could be sold and relocated to one of dozens of cities salivating for the opportunity to become their own Big League City. And we turn back the clock on two decades of economic development. I believe this is a sizable, influential voting block.
Finally, I see the third group of supporters as being that large block of Thunder fans and season ticket holders. The NBA season has become as much a part of their lives as going to church on a Sunday or taking the kids to school. It’s what they do. They schedule their lives around the Thunder season, whether it’s watching the games on TV or driving down to Paycom Center 41 times a season. There’s a legion of loyal Thunder fans whom I believe will be a major source of support for a new arena.
Mayor David Holt and OKC civic leaders have a big job ahead to gain majority support of a new arena. I don’t envy you.
But as I told my friend Steve Buck last week, I’ll grit my teeth and support a new arena, because that’s our only real option.
Somewhere in the early 1970s, I stumbled upon a video game called “Pong,” and was immediately infatuated. I couldn’t get enough, playing the game against my cousin on an old black and white television.
If you remember Pong, you know it was a simple game that featured two paddles and a sort of ball-like squarish blip that made a cool sound when it connected with the paddle. You connected Pong to your television and used simple controls to move the paddles to return the “ball” to your competitor in a crude table tennis simulation.
That’s all Pong could do, but the world had really never seen a game like this that could be played on your TV. Pong even kept score for you at the top of the screen.
Turns out, Pong is hailed as the world’s first video game and it was released 50 years ago this summer. It was created by a young inventor and entrepreneur named Nolan Bushnell, who founded Atari to market Pong and other games.
Anyway, Atari became a huge hit after it licensed Pong to Sears and the national retailer sold 150,000 units of the game. That led to other popular Atari games.
Bushnell eventually sold Atari in 1976 to Warner Communications for a reported $28 million.
Pong was such a ground-breaking innovation that today Bushnell is known as the “Father of the Video Game” and was named to Newsweek magazine’s list of “50 Men Who Changed America.”
In his Oklahoma City appearance back in 2006, Bushnell talked about how Pong was created and designed on the circuit board to do only one thing.
“What I did was create the video game out of digital building blocks,” Bushnell said. “But it was architected in such a way that this board was designed to play Pong and that was all that it would ever do.”
Atari released many other game titles, including Breakout and Combat, after its success with Pong and eventually produced a popular personal computer. The Atari 2600 game console is considered one of the most successful game platforms in history.
An aside: I’m also a Steve Jobs fan, and discovered a connection between Jobs and Bushnell from reading the Walter Isaacson biography of Jobs published in 2011. Bushnell hired a 19-year-old Steve Jobs to work at Atari to develop another game known as “Breakout.”Read more on the Bushnell-Jobs relationship here.
So, Nolan Bushnell created Pong, founded Atari and single-handedly launched a multi-billion dollar industry. But I can’t forgive him for one thing.
He also founded the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant chain.
I‘m not sure how other NBA teams welcome new talent to their community, but the OKC Thunder way may be the gold standard.
On Saturday, the Thunder welcomed their four 2022 draftees to Oklahoma City with a special press conference at the Clara Luper Center just west of downtown.
The event was streamed on the Thunder app, so we all had a chance to watch it. And it was an intriguing hour that provided some insight into the team’s new players — Chet Holmgren, Ousmane Dieng, Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams.
But for me, it afforded an opportunity to see and hear Sam Presti describe what he saw in each player well before the draft that ultimately brought them to the team.
It’s obvious that Presti pours a huge amount energy in learning all he can about the players, their personalities and their families, in addition to assessing their level of talent.
I loved the way he described watching the players in various settings months or years before the moment their names were announced.
And how he uses locations of historical significance to introduce new players to the community.
All of that’s probably the reason broadcaster Dan Patrick described Presti last year as “the best GM the NBA has seen in a long, long time.”
I agree with that assessment, even if I’ve complained about every inch of the Thunder’s tanking strategy over the past couple of years. I don’t think that playing to lose is fair to their fans, players or corporate sponsors.
But that’s just me.
Folks like my friend Steve Buck are all in on losing on purpose because they say the end justifies the means. I’m just hoping the NBA will come up with a way to nullify tanking as a strategy.
Anyway, I thought the press conference was a huge success, and the players said all the right things, as did Presti.
I also had a secondary reason for watching the Thunder introductory press conference. My wife, Paula, was invited to attend as a “community draftee” by the Thunder through her role as an employee of NAMI Oklahoma.
She sat on the front row during the press conference, and had the opportunity to meet Thunder coach Mark Daigneault and the new players. And Steve Buck’s middle school-age boys went with her, so it was a win-win-win for everybody.
“It was an awesome experience,” she said. “I gained a whole new respect for Coach Daigneault and for the way the Thunder introduce their players to the community. It was a great event.”
As I fueled up my vehicle the other day with unleaded gas priced at the bargain price of $4.57.9 a gallon, it stirred a memory that I clearly recalled from 1973.
Gas prices were suddenly rising in the early ’70s when I heard an angry young man defiantly declare the line he was drawing in the sand. It was in a time when Americans had been comfortable for years paying 30, 40, 50 cents a gallon.
“I’ll never pay $1 for a gallon of gas,” he said.
So, how did that work out for you, fella?
I was living in Western Arkansas at the time, two years out of high school. A Sunday afternoon of what I will call sandlot football brought me into contact with a dozen or so local yahoos.
Somehow, the topic of the Arab oil embargo and gas prices became the focus of discussion among the group, when one guy defiantly declared what he would never pay for a gallon of gasoline.
Nearly 50 years later, I can still clearly hear his defiant tone and how I wondered at the time how a young man living in small town Arkansas could be so delusional.
Would he beat the $1 gas price by purchasing fuel with a gun? Hunting down robber barons in the oil industry? Committing suicide just before the price crossed over the $1 rainbow from $.99.9?
Turns out, gas prices topped $1 a gallon not too many months after the bravado that I heard on that Sunday afternoon.
So, nearly half a century later, we find ourselves in another situation where gasoline prices are setting all-time highs. I’m not assigning blame like I read from so many who think President Biden should just pull a lever and prices will fall back to $1 and some change.
In today’s world, we’re at the mercy of Putin’s war, limited refining capacity, and, well, the robber barons who control the flow.
I will say this. Climbing fuel prices are a great incentive to get people to try public transportation. Or electric vehicles.
Surely, in 2022 there’s no one foolish enough to declare that he will “never pay, uh, $6? $7?, for a gallon of gas.”
I was sitting in a pew in the next-to-last row at Oklahoma City’s Quail Springs Church of Christ one Sunday in 1991 when someone tapped me on the shoulder.
I glanced back and almost fell out of the pew.
Sitting directly behind me was Dr. Charlie Marler, my favorite professor from my days as a student at Abilene Christian University. Dr. Marler taught most of the journalism courses I took at ACU and led the university’s journalism and mass communications program for many years.
Turns out, Dr. Marler was traveling through the state that Sunday morning and randomly decided to attend the Quail service. Quail was a large church, but somehow he ended up sitting directly behind me.
I took it as divine coincidence.
I had only been attending at Quail for about a year and had begun dating the woman who would become my wife, Paula Bottom. She was sitting next to me at that service, so I introduced her to Dr. Marler.
“Oh, you need to stay away from this guy,” he said with a smile.
I was at Quail because of the influence of Dr. Charlie Marler. Not only did he help guide me and motivate me to stay the course to graduation at ACU, he also modeled a life of faith for me that led me to Quail Springs church decades later.
I grew up in a church tradition different but similar to the Church of Christ, and had always been a religion skeptic. I’m not a smart man, but I always wondered why there were no professionals — no doctors or lawyers or college professors — in our little church growing up.
We had plenty of blue collar people who worked with their hands, and we were proud of it.
Anyway, Dr. Marler showed me that you could be highly educated and still have faith in a God of the universe. Years later, I recalled Dr. Marler’s faith when a friend invited me to Quail.
I attended the church reluctantly, but slowly came to accept the faith myself.
Along the way, I met Paula, we married and have been members of the Quail Springs church — now known as The Springs Church of Christ — ever since.
So, when Dr. Marler passed away late in May, it was a very personal loss to me even though I saw him only on rare occasions over the last 40 years or so.
I’m writing this to share how one life was influenced by his academic guidance, gentle patience and faith.
My college career at ACU also was a divine coincidence, I guess.
I wasn’t recruited to ACU in the 1970s. I wasn’t recruited by any college. Poor academic record. Poor study habits. Little involvement in my high school community.
But I had a dream. I wanted to go to college and study journalism. I wanted to be a sportswriter. I aspired to be Blackie Sherrod of the Dallas Morning News.
Somehow, life’s circumstances led me to Abilene, Texas, in the Spring of 1976. So, I sort of turned up on ACU’s doorstep with 30 hours at community college to my credit.
That twist of fate brought me into Dr. Marler’s sphere of influence for the next two-and-a-half years. I recall his teaching style with fondness because he seemed to involve everyone in each class but never singled anyone out for embarrassment.
He was notorious for marking up papers I wrote and articles I attempted for ACU’s student newspaper, The Optimist, with his red editing pen. Every ACU journalism student was subjected to the red editing pen .
However, that red pen helped shape my writing style, and I slowly grew in confidence and ability.
And he talked about how Christians could — and should — work in newsrooms, keeping the faith while pursuing careers in a secular world.
It took years for the message to really sink in, but it finally hit home with the skeptic that I am.
Thanks to Dr. Marler, I had a 30-year newspaper career, and a decade-plus beyond that in the marketing office of a company.
Now, multiply the influence that Dr. Marler had on my life and career with thousands of other students over his 50-plus year academic career. That’s why he was a towering figure in journalism education and the Christian faith.
‘You better stop, look around Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes, here it comes Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown…’
— 19th Nervous Breakdown, the Rolling Stones
When I was a kid, I don’t recall anyone around me described as suffering from a mental illness. But I do recall plenty of discussion about little old ladies at my Grandmother’s church or my aunt having a “nervous breakdown.”
I didn’t know what it was, but I assumed it was awful.
Fast forward 60 years or so. Now I realize that my aunt or those little old ladies from the church actually suffered from some form of mental illness.
It’s just that back in those days there was such a stigma about mental illness that no one would ever admit it. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disease or even Schizophrenia were topics that were never discussed in polite company.
‘The term “nervous breakdown” is sometimes used by people to describe a stressful situation in which they’re temporarily unable to function normally in day-to-day life. It’s commonly understood to occur when life’s demands become physically and emotionally overwhelming. The term was frequently used in the past to cover a variety of mental disorders, but it’s no longer used by mental health professionals today.’
Today, my eyes are open.
Every family — mine included — likely has first hand experience with some form of mental illness. I long ago decided that it’s my job to support my loved ones who suffer from mental illness, try to get them professional help and not make rash judgments or punish them for what’s out of their control.
I say all of that because today was the annual NAMI Walks Your Way event down at the Myriad Gardens. It went off without a hitch amid unseasonably cool weather but with no rain to hamper the program or the walkers.
The important thing about the NAMI Walks event is that it is designed not only to raise money to support the efforts of NAMI Oklahoma — the National Alliance on Mental Illness — but to help end the stigma of mental illness.
When one out of every five people in our society endures their own personal battle with mental illness, It’s important that we be upfront about the illness and support those afflicted in tangible ways.
It’s more than a nervous breakdown, even if we didn’t know what to call it back in 1962.
Thank you, NAMI, for shining a light.
(Full disclosure: my wife, Paula, is employed by NAMI Oklahoma, which introduced me to the NAMI Walks Your Way event and its purpose)