Showing posts with label Musings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Musings. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Caught In the Middle

My word for 2021 is this:


As in, moderation in all things. Eating, drinking, talking, watching TV, playing video games, whatever.


As in, not a Republican (I'm too far left for them), and not a Democrat (I am too far right for them).

I'm a moderate.

Stuck in the middle. My former editor once told me I was what the Republicans used to be, back in the early 1970s.

What are the things I value, then, if I don't fit into any nice square box?

Citizenship (that means different things to people, but to me it means pay my taxes, vote, serve on a public committee or in a non-profit, volunteer to help. I've done all of those things.)
Justice (not revenge)

Some people might look at that list and say, Oh my, those are all liberal values. Somebody else might look at it and say, those are conservative values. Somebody else might look at it and say, shouldn't everybody value that stuff? I don't know. There are other things I value too, like peace of mind and feeling secure.

Why am I too far to the right for the left? 

  • I agree with gun control (everybody does, if you ask the appropriate question. If you ask nearly anybody if someone who has proven to be mentally ill and dangerous to society should have a gun, the answer is no. That's gun control.) but not to the point of taking away guns. I have no problems with requiring training, insurance, purchase limits, background checks, or what kind of weapon you own (those are already in place, I can't go out and legally buy a rocket launcher). We live on a farm. We have varmints. Sometimes one must shoot a varmint.

  • I also don't agree with total student loan forgiveness. The program needs to be revamped and modified. The loans should have flexible interest rates, not the high percentages currently on a lot of them. People should be able to refinance them like they would a house loan, say. But not forgiven. There are many ways to get a college education if you want one, and since we don't have free universities here in our little capitalistic love-land, then people need to find ways to pay for it. For example, I took eight years to get my bachelors (10 if you count the time I was at community college), and it was completely paid for when I graduated. I did not use student loans; we took out a home equity loan to pay for my last year so I could push things along and finish before I turned 30.

Why am I too far left for the right?

  • Social safety nets are necessary (so that knocks me off the side of the right) but we need larger government oversight so that the participants meet criteria (that is not the neoliberal way, either). That means we need more social workers or client engagers or whatever you want to call them, instead of having 3,000 people looked after by one single person. It should be like 100 to one or whatever a person could adequately handle in a 40-hour workweek without being stressed. This includes programs like SNAP, unemployment, TANF, etc. I'd throw Medicare, Medicaid, and disabilities into this, too. With appropriate oversight, then the people who really need the money would get it, and the ones who do not need the money, or are receiving the funds when they shouldn't be, (like a dead granny's Social Security check) would be weeded out.

  • Of course, to ensure a single mother can do a job, we need to provide childcare, which we do not do well in this country. I would be amenable to government-provided childcare for those who need it. (I don't know of any party is offering this up.)

  • Some people simply can't do what is required of them in a job, for whatever reasons. Human beings are not robots, and they're not all alike. Some people have health problems, some people are mentally deficient, some people can't deal with stress. These people can contribute in some way, but there again, oversight or a program to help these folks along is necessary, and that requires bigger government. Not the starved beast we're currently watching thrash about in the throes of death in the moat. A government whose focus is on the welfare of its people, as it states in the U.S. Constitution.

  • I am pro-life and pro-abortion. (Yes, you can be both.)

  • I don't care if you have an alternative lifestyle, because I believe what other people do only becomes my business when it affects me as well. As in, wear a mask because you might have covid and if you gave it to me, I would die, but I don't care who you sleep with so long as it isn't me.

  • I believe in climate change, but I don't care what is causing it because I think making the air and water cleaner is a good idea even if it doesn't affect the climate. Who wants to breathe in all that toxic crap spewing out of these industries? Not me. I'm all for regulating that.

Those are some of the hot button topics. Generally speaking, we all want the same things. The disagreement is over how to go about it.

Time we find some common ground.

MODERATE is a good word for 2021.

Friday, January 08, 2021


Apophenia is a word I recently learned. It means “the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas)."

In contrast to an epiphany (a moment of sudden revelation or insight), instances of apophenia do not provide insight into the nature of reality. They also do not create a factual interconnectedness, but instead creates an abnormal meaning that is then considered to be factual or real, even though it is not. 

Instead, what comes from an apophenia is self-referential, solipsistic (the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist, i.e., "this is my opinion and therefore it must be correct"), and paranoid, which would or could include thinking all the news media is out to create harm, that all government officials are evil (unless they're on your side or speaking your language), that people are following you, etc.

In today's world, it would be things like 5G is more than another advancement in technology, it's something sinister (so wear the tinfoil hat), we couldn't possibly have a pandemic without it being some covert operation (even though history is littered with instances of pandemics, the 1918 flu and the Black Plague being but two examples), there can't be a vaccine created so quickly (even though they've been working on vaccines for SARS and related coronaviruses for over a decade now), etc.

The falsehoods spread on social media are great examples of apophenia. It's how people are creating these alternate realities, where up is actually down, where fascism is "democracy," where wearing a mask is taking away rights, where someone can believe that people who went spent four to eight years in college and then went into the media are out to get them by telling untruths, where they really believe that Democrats suck the blood from babies and eat the hearts of their enemies, or whatever that idiotic stuff is that I see float across my Facebook pages from time to time because I haven't managed to unfollow the latest person to swallow the bait.

This word explains a lot about what is going on today. We have a large group of people - less than half of the nation, I suppose, but close enough, who believe certain things. These things are based on opinion, unrationalized suppositions, and information pieces that people are trying to put into a space that fits into their world view.

However, the information doesn't fit into their world view, so they create a way to try to make it fit. For example, Donald Trump was unfit for office right from the start, and those of us who voted against him knew that. He made it blatantly obvious that he was a racist, a white supremacist, that he wanted to be king of the world.

It was also obvious that he knew nothing about government, why we have it, or how it actually functions. 

I do not know how the people who voted for him could overlook all of that. They wanted a change, from what I've read and been told. To be sure, most people don't understand government, but I have been writing about it for 30 years. It has a function, but apparently people who voted for this man could not follow their thoughts through to the logical conclusion of his taking office (which was the insurrection seen on January 6). They wanted someone who could "speak to the common man," which means someone who knew the racist dog whistles. Did they honestly think Donald Trump would sink so low as to have a beer with them on a hot summer day after they've done hard work and smell like a working man? Maybe they did, I don't know.

There's a very good article that explains these delusions in video game terms here. It is where I learned the word.

I have experienced this apophenia myself, mostly visually in patterns. I have always seen things in random designs on bathroom floors, in tile, or in curtains. As a child, I had a dinosaur I saw on the bus ride everyday. It was a patchwork of brush that looked to me like a dinosaur. (This is actually called pareidolia, but it falls under apophenia.)

It's the same way we see things in clouds as they float by. Who hasn't looked up at the sky and thought, oh, that cloud looks like an elephant, or whatever.

This is all well and good and harmless. When these kinds of interpretations move into the real world because one cannot accept reality, truth, or facts, then we begin to have a problem.

Addressing why people cannot accept reality, truth, or facts then becomes the question.

I do not have the answer.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

January is Not My Month

January is my least favorite month.

Here in southwestern Virginia, it is a cold time of year. Nothing is green. The ground is barren, the grass not yet growing. The trees stand naked against cloudy skies - or as dark protrusions against a bright blue sky on cloudless days.

The chill goes into the bones, leaving me huddled in blankets and sweaters. The humidifiers run day and night to keep the air moist so my asthma stays in check. It is a constant struggle to keep the humidity just right - too much, and I worry about mold. Too little, and the air is too dry. Dryness brings about colds and other ills. It is also not good for the wood furniture, or the hardwood flooring.

The winds howl too, in January. They sounds like rabid coon dogs baying at terrified rabbits as the gusts bluster up to 40 or 50 mph, rounding the corners of my house, making a wail that would frighten the church out of a priest.

Sometimes, the winds keep me up at night, the gusts blowing strong against the siding. It is worse now since we had to remove the blue spruces, all dead or dying from some fungus created by a drought a few years ago. 

We need to plant more trees. But who thinks of planting in the dead of winter, when the forecast calls for snow or ice, and the bitterness is enough to freeze the snot up inside of your nose?

This is also my month for the blues. I cannot recall a January when that particular darkness did not come creeping forth to haunt me during this languid, frigid month. It moves along the pathways of my mind like a spider, leaving webs of despair and dismay behind. I sweep, I clean, I wash, but that spider is quicker than I, I cannot outrun its filmy traces, the dust it collects, or the remove the clingy mess from my mind.

Sunshine helps, and that doesn't come until mid-February, when I see green shoots rising from the ground, a tinge of color on the weeping willow trees, the robins suddenly landing in the front yard. The spider runs from the birds, then, still leaving a webby trail, but disappearing until I sense it no longer. 

Or at least, sense it not so much in the highlights of my thoughts.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Happy New Year!

Welcome 2021! At long last, 2020 is over.

Unfortunately, as years tend to do, this one so far looks like last year. It's raining, it's cold, and there is still a bad virus out in the world.

But now we move on. Beginning years of decades seem to not be the best ones. Maybe soon this will be the Roaring '20s of the 2000s. I hope so.

There are many rituals about the first of the year. The ones I am aware of have to do with what you eat and opening doors. I have never subscribed to any of them, so while I tried black-eyed peas one year, they were not on the menu today.

I did get up and open a door and shoo out the old year and then waved in the new. I didn't think it could hurt anything and fresh air is always nice.

Another superstition, maybe it's a local one, I don't know, is that good luck comes depending upon who enters the house first as a visitor - a man brings good luck, a woman brings bad luck. (Sexist much?)

This superstition has haunted me a long time. When I was seven, we went to my grandmother's house on New Year's Day. I was so excited to see my grandmother that I bounded into the house.

My grandmother immediately burst into tears. "She came in first. We'll have bad luck all year long," she wailed.

My grandfather, who had watched my father enter second, suggested that only held true for adult visitors and children didn't count, so my father was bringing good luck.

My grandmother was having none of it. I had ruined the entire year. I still remember her clutching at her chest and the tears in her eyes.

I was walking bad luck.

As one might imagine, this had quite an impact upon me at that particular age. I spent the entire year ducking anytime something bad happened, sure I would be blamed. My young uncles would tease me if something happened - a glass broke, I remember, - and remind me it was all my fault. 

I was bad luck.

This kind of thing can dampen the spirits of even the most resilient child. I, however, have always been prone to melancholy and moodiness. 

That year I was about as melancholy and moody as a little girl of seven could be. I had moved to a new school that year. I told my classmates to stay away from me - I was bad luck. I shied away from making friends.

I told my teacher I was bad luck. After about the third time of hearing this, Mrs. Wright sat me down and told me there was no such thing as good or bad luck. She asked me where I'd gotten the notion that I was bad luck.

"My grandmother said I was bad luck because I'd walked in the door first on New Year's," I explained.

I remember seeing Mrs. Wright inhale deeply and look off in the distance. Then she looked back at me.

"Now see here. There is no such thing as bad luck or good luck. That's all superstitious nonsense and you should not believe any of it," she said.

"But my grandmother dropped a glass," I said. "She said it was my fault."

"Everybody breaks things. In life, things happen. We have to accept that. But they do not happen because someone walked into a room. Sometimes things simply happen, and all we can do is accept them," she said.

This advice lightened my heart, but only a little. (To this day, I do not leave my house on New Year's Day. Nor do I go into anyone's house first, if I can help it.)

However, on this New Year's Day, I think back on Mrs. Wright's advice and realize that she was right. I also realize that this lesson - that sometimes things simply happen and we must accept that - is one lost on the majority of the population right now.

The virus happened. The election happened. People have car wrecks, lose their jobs, lose their families, and sometimes - maybe most of the time - it's through not fault of their own. Nor is it bad luck. Sometimes it is the result of a choice made a decade ago, one that a person may not remember ever having made. 

Sometimes things happen.

Occasionally, we break a glass.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Disco and Today: There is a Relationship

The other night we watched the HBO documentary, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. The documentary was very good and informative.

I had no idea about the early recording history of The Bee Gees. I didn't realize they were famous long before Saturday Night Fever, especially overseas in England and Australia.

As a 14-year-old from hicksville, and one who played in a "Top 40" band at that, I loved disco. I still love disco. If I'm in a bad mood, I tell Alexa to play disco and I perk right up. It is hard to listen to disco and stay hurt, sad, or upset. It's such an upbeat, moving sort or music, the kind that makes your feet simply want to move around on their own.

When Saturday Night Fever came out, I did not see the movie. But I heard the songs. How could you not? Disco was all over the radio. The Bee Gees may have topped the charts, but they were followed up by songs from Donna Summer, ABBA, even Barbara Streisand.

And then disco went out of style, and the Top 40 songs of the 1980s had a different feel. Not as danceable, but ok.

I never knew why, because I never thought about it and because I was still a kid. Fads come and go.

What the documentary pointed out to me was the reason disco came and went.

Disco began underground, as a mixture of music from venues popular with African Americans, Hispanic and Latino Americans, Italian Americans, and gay culture in Philadelphia and New York City during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some scholars say disco was a reaction to the 1960s counterculture.

This little ol' farm girl didn't know anything about that. I just knew it wasn't country and western, I could dance to it, and I could play it on the guitar. Well, some of it, anyway.

Then came the backlash. Actually, the backlash came with a mouth with a megaphone. Some fellow at radio station in Chicago hated disco. He bashed it and railed against it. He had the means to be in touch with probably millions of listeners in the Chicago area and beyond. Finally, on Thursday, July 12, 1979, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois, the mouth teamed up with a MLB team for a stunt.

The stunt was to blow up disco records in between a double-header game. People could enter the ballfield for 98 cents and a record to blow up.

What caught my attention during the HBO documentary was a commenter who said he was working at the ballfield that night. The records that 50,000 people brought in (apparently mostly young white males), were not copies of Saturday Night Fever, although I'm sure there were some. No, the records, the gentleman said, were R&B music, soul singers - black singers, Latino singers, i.e., anyone not white.

In other words, the mouth with the megaphone dialed into the latent and apparently inbred fear that lives in that most cowardly aspect of humanity, the fragile white (mostly male) ego. They came out not to blow up disco, but out of fear that the black people, the Latinos, the women, the homosexuals - anyone not them, were gaining traction.

They could not have this. So they blew up their records.

Rolling Stone critic Dave Marsh described this event as "your most paranoid fantasy about where the ethnic cleansing of the rock radio could ultimately lead". Marsh deemed the event an expression of bigotry, writing in a year-end 1979 feature that "white males, eighteen to thirty-four are the most likely to see disco as the product of homosexuals, blacks, and Latins, and therefore they're the most likely to respond to appeals to wipe out such threats to their security. It goes almost without saying that such appeals are racist and sexist, but broadcasting has never been an especially civil-libertarian medium."

Nile Rodgers, producer and guitarist for the disco-era band Chic, likened the event to Nazi book burning, according to Wikipedia. (Here's a good recap of the event, if someone wants further reading.)

This reminded me so much of the present day that it left me breathless. This is what the current Twit on Twitter has tapped into, this fragile white ego. The election of the soon-to-be-former president was a homophobic, bigoted, racist reaction to the election of Barack Obama. How dare a black man sit in the White House! And he looked good in a tan suit, too.

So for forty years, this racist, misogynistic, bigoted group of white fragility has simmered and boiled and no one in charge has addressed it. It's simply sat there, an underground music all its own, one that people with decency did not hear or understand if they did.

Then finally, another mouth with a megaphone tapped into this seething underground mash of decay, realizing it was there and ready to overflow, because he was a part of it.

And that's at least a little of the reason of why we are where are today - racists marching the streets of Charlottesville and Washington D.C., bigots in all areas of government, and a (leaving) administration that would sooner destroy democracy than see another black person (or a woman) in the seat of power.

It was an eye-opening few sentences for me, and certainly something I've given a lot of thought to since we watched the documentary.

Long live Democracy, and disco music, too.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Lecture Notes - Something About Paths

Over the summer, I listened to several different podcasts or viewed videos on this subject or that. I came across notes I took from one of those, but unfortunately I didn't write down who did the lecture.

It may have been Martha Beck, Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, or somebody else altogether. I am leaning toward Martha Beck, but I don't know for sure.

The lecture laid out several paths of a life. We all walk different paths. Sometimes we cross paths, sometimes we walk together along parallel paths, sometimes our paths go in different directions and we never see one another again, sometimes they reconnect years from the point of departure.

As Tolkien said somewhere, people come and go in the telling of a story, and so they do in life.

My notes:

The broken path. Self-compassion, self acceptance. I am assuming this is the path of the person who is at odds with herself. In order to find firmer ground, she needs self-compassion and self acceptance.

The mended path. I took no notes about this. To me it would mean someone who has found a little self-compassion and self acceptance.

The path of fascination. This includes attention without effort, nurturing what interests you, narrowing your focus, and naming the thing you're doing. You need curiosity, compassion, connection, and courage to follow this path.

The path of mystery. This includes augmentation by interest (I'm not quite sure what that means), being sensitive to feedback, and imagining things differently.

Finally, there's the path of truth. I took no notes about this, either.

I suppose if you master the first four paths in some manner, one finds her truth.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

I Miss School

I miss college. I miss the atmosphere, the ideas, the notion that there is a world where positive change is possible.

I hate living in this new world that evil has created, the one where everyone is angry, people are dying, and the life is being sucked out of everyone by a bully who thinks he can become the dictator of the USA.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending 45 minutes with one of my former professors in a webinar, along with many other Hollins students (most, I am sure, were former students of hers), and it was 45 minutes of bliss - the kind of relaxation I haven't felt in months (years?).

I felt at home. How nice to have a conversation about writing, about ideas, about creativity. A conversation that did not involve politics, stupid flags, police states, or the cost of pork and other meats. How beautiful to see the sparkle in my old professor's eye as she talked about her creative process, her work habits. How amazing to hear the solemn joy in her voice as she read one of her poems to us. How utterly decadent to spend 45 minutes doing something I loved, instead of the things I must do (like laundry).

How wonderful a campus is, where you can mention Rilke or Descartes, or talk about Sisyphus, and somebody knows what you're talking about. It's a place where ideas go to find their owners, because people on campus are creative learners, who want to learn, and they are seekers of truths and knowledge. They value knowledge and learning. They don't think that opinion is the same as fact; they understand the difference.

God, I miss college.

Monday, July 13, 2020

In the Quiet of the Night

I rose around 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning, slipped on my fluffy robe and leather slippers, and softly stepped away from the bed.

My husband snored gently. I left him there.

I wanted to see if I could find the comet.

Without turning on a single light, I found my camera on its tripod in the kitchen and my binoculars beside them, for I had left them where I could easily locate them both before we went to bed. I carried them outside with me, one item in each hand. I set the tripod down and opened the back door.

We'd had a thunderstorm with hail, wind, and rain at dusk. Now the sky was clear. The stars were brilliant, and I could make out the faint crack of dawn across the mountain tops. The half moon hung to my right.

The night sky smelled clean and fresh.

I searched the horizon for the comet. I saw clouds and mist.

Somewhere in there is a comet.

We'd seen the comet around 5:15 on Thursday, but it had been so indistinct I hadn't bothered with photos. 

I thought Friday that perhaps we needed to be up earlier, but it was overcast. On Saturday, I hadn't really planned to wake up, I set no alarm, but my inner curious interloper had awakened me at the time I'd thought appropriate.

The breeze was cool but not cold, and the air was the sweetest it had been in days - I'd not been able to breathe outside well ever since that Sahara dust storm had crossed the Atlantic and found its way across the United States. The rain had cleared the air, and the stars seemed endless.

With my camera on its tripod, I swung it around for a photo of the moon.

Studying our big satellite through my camera lens, I thought how very intriguing it was that its other half was so dark, so indistinct, and so un-seeable. I knew it was there, I've taken enough shots of the full moon to fill albums, but here, at its half-way mark, it looked eerily magical.

My heart rate slowed as I stood there, occasionally pulling the binoculars to my eyes to scan the horizon, searching for the comet, hoping the mist might rise, wondering if I was too early to see it, or too late, even.

A bird chirped. Early riser, I thought, shifting so that the gravel of the driveway poked a different part of my foot through my thin moccasins. I heard a rustle in the leaves, then caught a whiff of skunk, somewhere to my north. Not close, I thought. Just out there, being a skunk, doing its skunk thing.

I watched the bright stars, trying to sort out which was the one I needed to locate the comet, trying to remember the maps I'd looked up earlier in the day. I checked the tree line where we'd seen the comet Thursday, moving the binoculars up, down, and side to side, trying to find the comet.

Mostly though, I stood there and took it all in - this great vast darkness spotted with bright tiny lights, this old world, working hard to shrug us off the planet, finally have had enough of us, and how in the end, we are all simply small and doing our best even when it looks like its the worst thing ever. I wondered if even the really bad people have a conscience, or are they a different species altogether, maybe, some oddly formed chain of DNA that looks like the rest of us but isn't quite, you know, all there, but mainly seeing and feeling the silence, even with the birdsong. 

I stood there with my camera and binoculars, still not finding the comet, for 45 minutes. I was alone but not, what with the sniff of skunk on the wind every once in a while and the bird occasionally whistling a brief tune.

Finally I turned and went back inside. I gave up on the comet. Instead, I found a bit of peace that had eluded me for quite a long time.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Facebook is Evil

Here are the first 15 things I see in my FB feed as I start to write this:

1. An article that says "Anxiety Makes People Clean Obsessively."
2. A political advertisement
3. An article from Bill Moyers that says, "John Roberts is Following Corporate America's Long Time Plan."
4. A post from "Empaths, Old Souls & Introverts" that is a quote about solitude.
5. Another quote that says, "Quarantine ain't over, get back inside."
6. A post from NBC news about the US Supreme Court about a ruling on voting.
7. A political advertisement
8. A picture of somebody's kid drinking a milkshake
9. A post with an article about a church
10. A post from WDBJ7 about a vandalized cemetery in Georgia
11. A post with a cartoon of #45 hugging the Confederate flag
12. An advertisement for masks
13. A post with a quote about parenting.
14. A post from about "White Fragility"
15. A post from PBS about how Independence Day should be July 2.

Was any of that relevant to me at that particular moment? No. And the thing is, I will never see that same stuff again. Facebook changes every time you open it, offering something new. 

It's part of it's allure.

I have 582 friends, and of the 15 posts above, two are things shared from friends. The rest comes from media pages or is advertising. None of my friends are unfollowed or anything. Maybe they don't post. But mostly I don't see it. I'm allowed 30 people to list as "see first" and none of those are posts I should see first. My "see first" list is mostly family members and close friends.

Not a single one of those first 15 things is from a family member or close friend.

Facebook is evil. I have been searching for something different, but there isn't anything else out there that keeps me connected to people, that allows me to ask for recommendations, or allows me to see things I might otherwise not see. (I have a twitter account but I don't like twitter. It's just a bunch of noise.)

As a (former) news reporter, being able to connect is important. But connection is not the end-all of life, and I'm starting to wonder if I wouldn't be better off without some of those connections.

For one thing, why do I see an ad every 5th post? That's a lot of ads.

The anonymity of Facebook is a problem, too. Even if people are posting under their own names, they are pontificating out into a space without regard for the people behind the names who might see it. 

People are mean on Facebook. I have blocked a lot of people I don't know. They are people whose comments under articles are horrific. They call names, they are evil, they offer nothing of value. I block them so I never see them again.

Yesterday, I nicely asked someone who was sending me stuff on FB messenger quite frequently to stop. Here's my request and her response. 

Then she unfriended me.

Bye bye. No skin off my teeth, although she might have a hard time explaining to my brother why she unfriended me at some point, since that was our connection. Or not. Who knows.

And yes, it stung a little even though this person did this for no reason but spite, I guess. (This goes back to a conversation I had last week, wherein it was determined that I am a people pleaser and part of the reason I haven't finished a book is because I'm afraid someone won't like it. Or me. And maybe that's true. But this morning the sting of the "unfriend" is gone and replaced mostly with amusement and a bit of a wry, "Fuck you" attitude. I'm working on the latter as a default. Topic for another day.)

Back to my point. Facebook is bad for us. By us, I mean all of humanity. Actually it isn't only Facebook, it's the whole of social connectedness on the Internet. If all we had on the Internet were resources, as if it were one gigantic encyclopedia where we looked things up, then the Internet would be great. But this push for "connectedness" is the problem.

Because the connection has become the value, not the people making up the connection. When humanity is not valued, when we stop recognizing there are people behind the names, folks with real feelings and pain, then we're lost.

Facebook manipulates. It does this solely for the sake of revenue. Facebook's algorithms don't care if a person is good or bad. It sends that person what it thinks the person wants to see. I get weird ads because I am curious about many things and I think Facebook can't decide whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat. I receive ads for both, because I try to read stories from both sides of the fence.

But Facebook and other companies like LinkedIn, for example, are driven by profit. They need us to engage, to like, to click. Every click helps the software understand what we like and want to see more of. This helps them target advertising, and Facebook in particular doesn't care what that advertising is. If someone wants to target "witch haters" there's a category for that, I suspect. If someone wants to target "witch lovers," same thing.

It goes like this: 
I react to a post with a thumbs up.
Facebook decides I like that kind of stuff (kitties, Lord of the Rings topics, guitars, whatever)
Facebook sends me more stuff like that.
The company uses its knowledge of me to send me ads that it thinks I will like, hoping I will click on them.

Because of all of these ads, Facebook is the world's largest marketing company. It can pinpoint, with some accuracy, what a person wants to see and what companies want me to see their product. Facebook makes money from the ad clicks.

Facebook is collecting tons of data every time I open up my FB page, or leave it sit open on my computer. (I refuse to put FB on my phone.)

The only choice I have in the use of this data, really, is whether or not I use Facebook. If I use it, I lose control of the data the minute the account is created.

That leaves tons of personal data, most of which I am not even aware I've imparted, in the hands of a massive corporation that sees me not as human being, but as a data set. I'm just a bunch of 010101s in their eyes, and the way that data is manipulated equals how much money I make them.

Because we live in a capitalistic society that worships money and does not give one damn about humanity, either in aggregate or as a sole entity, Facebook can and will use this data any way it wants to make as much money off of my data set as it can. Never mind if the ads hurt my feelings, or manipulates me into something I otherwise would not have been manipulated into.

If Facebook uses my data for nefarious reasons, it might show me content to try to change my mind on something. Theoretically, it could try to make me fall in line with whatever agenda is most beneficial to it - and maybe that's a political stance, or maybe it's just a lot of ads that Facebook is good so I'll keep using it.

Unfortunately, Facebook has actually experimented on its users to see how people react to things. In 2014, an article published by Forbes described a “massive psychological experiment” Facebook created to test reactions to emotional content. The result? Users created similar content that reflected the emotions Facebook was throwing at them. This is called "emotional contagion." I feel sure they do such tests regularly, and we don't know it.

This means Facebook has the power to manipulate me, no matter how intelligent I may think I am. 

I think this is evil.

The more I am on Facebook, the more exhausting and useless I find it to be. I don't post much, and I try not to post too many political items on it because of my work as a writer.

My last 15 posts?
1. How to watch the "Buck Moon" lunar eclipse
2. A personal post about my heat pump dying and the good service I received.
3. A quote from The Lord of the Rings
4. Sharing of an article about #45's decisions on the coronavirus and how poorly the federal response has been to this pandemic.
5. A quote from the mayor of Edisto Beach, SC, about wearing masks.
6. Shared a post from Carilion Clinic about its "Art as Healing" program
7. Shared a video of a priest dancing to "Oh Happy Day."
8. Posted a photo of my mother on her birthday and suggested folks donate to pancreatic cancer research foundations.
9. Shared a post about Ian Holms' death (he was an actor in The Lord of the Rings movies)
10. Posted a photo about maintaining social distance that I thought was novel.

11. Shared Roanoke Fire-EMS's announcement of my husband's retirement.
12. Shared a survey about responses to the pandemic and mental health
13. Posted a request that people who live around me report to APCO if they were having power outages.
14. Shared a story about how Germany responded to the pandemic.
15. Thanked people for wishing me happy birthday.

I have no idea what any of that says about me, other than I think the US response to the pandemic has been poor (which is obvious to anyone who can read), I like Lord of the Rings, astronomy, and had a birthday.

But all of that can be used against me, somehow or another. I guess a Lord of the Rings hater could come after me with gusto if he/she wanted.

Let's face it. Facebook is bad. It's only grown worse. It's irritating. It is no longer just a place to share stories about pets. I've been on Facebook for 11 years. When I look at my friends list, I honestly don't know who a lot of these people are. Many asked to be my friend when I was writing for the newspaper. Some I went to high school with and have no desire to ever see again.

If I haven't talked to someone in three years, do I really need to see photos of his or her dinner in my Facebook feed? Do I need to know that they are Republican or Democrat? 

It's really better if I don't know, to be honest.

My news feed doesn't do me much good anymore, aside from updates on the weather and occasionally local news. The algorithm has gotten out of hand. Facebook now knows so much about me that it belches out everything it can at me, regardless of my stance on various issues. Since I'm a curious person who does a lot of online research, I see some bizarre things sometimes.

How do I fix this, if I want to stay on Facebook? Sometimes I unfollow someone for 30 days - put them on "snooze" - if they're posting things constantly that I find ridiculous. Or if I realize I don't know who someone is and don't care if I ever see anything from them again, I could unfollow them. I could even unfriend the people I recognize only as names.

Then I'd end up with a feed full of news, I suspect, because I also follow various newspapers and other news media. I used to be a reporter. Of course I wanted to see the press releases of obscure crap when I was writing for the paper. But I'm not so sure I want to see it now. Why did I see a story about the Buck Moon first thing this morning? Because Facebook knows I follow NASA and am interested in eclipses.

So then a valid story becomes propaganda, doesn't it? Doesn't that reinforce my "like" for things not of this earth?

Is Facebook still relevant to me in my life? I don't know. 

I do know I don't want to know that neighbor-so-and-so thinks #45 was anointed by God. That just gives me the creeps and it isn't information I can do anything with. 

I do want to know if my friend fell down and hurt herself, so I can offer to help, or if my local county government has done something that would affect me. Some information is important to me.

But I think most of it is not. Not anymore. Facebook has now tied me to people I'd just as soon not be tied to, really, and I know more about them than I want to know. I try not share too much personal information on Facebook (see above). But of course I do. It's what it's there for. I want my friends (my real friends) to know my husband retired. I want them to know there's a lunar eclipse at midnight on July 4 because I think that's interesting. But politics? Religion? The things we were told not to talk about when we were younger?

Maybe most of that stuff needs to stay where it used to be, between close friends who meet for tea on the back patio on a warm summer's evening.

Facebook is about connections. Sometimes connections aren't good. I see posts all the time with pictures saying "This person did thus and so . . . let's make this go viral." This is to punish the person for whatever they did and I never, ever post those. This kind of thing is how the governor of Michigan ended up with a bunch of white rednecks with AR-15 style rifles in the state house, bitching about wearing masks.

It is how wearing masks became political.

Not all connections are good. When a company creates connections and sees those connections only as data, it can and will do whatever it likes with the information. You can do anything you want to data. You can do things to data that you'd never do to an actual human being.

Maybe it's time to let Facebook go, or let it just be a news feed and not a social connection.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Drank 'til I was Thirsty Again

My husband often says that I was the happiest when I was in college. I worked and went to college part-time. It took me eight years to finish a bachelor's degree at Hollins, and that doesn't count the four years it took me to finish my A.S. degree at Virginia Western Community College.

But I loved the learning. I loved the smell of it, the atmosphere of it, the taste of it. I loved my philosophy class, where I learned about Sisyphus, and I loved my English classes, where I soaked in John Donne and Virginia Wolfe and countless other poets and authors.

Learning has always been my drink of choice.

As a child I was one of those inquisitive youngsters who asked, "why" all the time. My mother told me once I drove her crazy with questions.

"Why is the sky blue?"

"What are clouds?" etc. and I didn't want cheeky answers, either. I wanted real answers, even if I couldn't understand them. "Because God made it that way," was no answer in my book. If I received that answer, that demanded another, "Why would He do that?" inquiry.

By first grade, I was reading the newspaper. Not just the comics, but the entire thing. I remember my grandparents arguing over it one evening as I sat at the dinner table reading the headline news. My grandfather thought I was too young to be looking at the horrors of the day. I imagine they were horrible, too, as we were in the Vietnam War at that time, and the peace movement was all around, and things were unsettled.

Seems like things are always unsettled here in the U.S.A., don't they?

Fortunately, I was taking in some of it, but not all of it. I was too young to understand death or the horrors of war.

I read all the time. My mother once punished me for reading too much. I couldn't help it. I read the papers, the backs of cereal boxes, the True Story and True Romance magazines my mother brought home, the versions of Readers Digest Condensed Books that my parents bought. When I was six years old, I read Bambi. Not the Disney version, the novel by Felix Salten. I sobbed when Bambi's mother died. I think that was when I learned the power of a good story.

By the age of 10, I'd read Wuthering Heights. I envisioned a sour soul mourning the loss of his beloved as he walked across the moors (whatever they were). I devoured not only the classics but also Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and whatever I could bring home from the school library.

I wish I'd kept a list. It would be quite long. If I added magazines, it would be lengthy indeed.

Learning still draws me. I like to learn new songs on the guitar. I like to learn new skills on the computer. I like to learn about different things and I read many things online. I read The New Yorker, the Atlantic, The New York Times, loads of articles about literary figures, and pretty much anything else that catches my attention.

I've subscribed to several of The Great Courses to continue my learning efforts.

Ted Talks entertain me while I am fixing dinner, courtesy of Alexa.

To learn is to live, if you ask me. When people stop learning, they stop living. Or they're merely automatons, just breathing and going through the motions. I want to be reading something intriguing when I draw in my last breath.

I want to learn and learn and learn, until the learning is all I am.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

The Evils of Social Media

I do not actually do a lot of social media. I have my blog, a Facebook account, a LinkedIn account, and a Twitter account.

I check the Twitter account probably less than once a month. I'm just not a fan of it. I can't remember the last time I looked at my LinkedIn account.

My blog I consider my personal space. If you want to read it, you come here. It's not in your face or anything. I think it is the best way to air my feelings and to say things I want to say. If you come here and read it and don't like it, you don't have to remove from your newsfeed or anything. You just don't come back. If you don't like my politics or my religion or whatever, then simply move along. I don't need you to tell me how awful I am and that you're never coming back to my blog. Just go. I know of people who no longer read me for whatever reasons, and while I initially wondered what the problem was, after a while I no longer missed them. I doubt they miss me.

Facebook is difficult. I look at it but don't post a lot. I read what other people are doing, although in the last three years more and more people have been "unfollowed" than I ever thought I would think about doing that to, because they've proven to be racist bigots in their political posts. Sometimes I go back and re-follow everyone, but then my FB page fills up with some pretty vile stuff, so off they go again.

I've also blocked a lot of people I don't even know because I saw something they wrote in comments on a newsfeed page. Yikes. Some folks are just downright nasty.

My point, and I do have one, is that there is someone on the other end of your nasty email or your nasty post or your nasty feed or your nasty blog or whatever it is. Your words might be breaking someone's heart. 

I don't write nasty blog posts. I might write that I disagree with the current administration and I wish things were different, but that's opinion, not nasty.

Nasty is calling the Obamas monkeys, or saying that black people get what they deserve, or saying that the Superbowl half-time show was unAmerican because it had Latinos in it (I saw several people say this. Good grief.). Sorry, but we're a melting pot. You get to have your opinion but I don't have to read it the next time, because I may have unfollowed you if you say things like that in a particularly vile way.

I have always been a nice person and tried to play nice and by the rules. It is true what they say, that nice girls finish last. I'm ok with last. I can sleep at night, I don't have to worry which lie I told to which person, and I know in my heart that I've done everything I can to ensure growth and prosperity not only for myself and my family but for others. I know that I used my forum on the newspaper to try to educate and promote goodness and kindness. I can't help it if people could not or did not read or comprehend. (Would newspaper writing be social media? Maybe so. Never thought of it that way before.)

Anyway, the nasty words people write to others can leave hurt feelings, broken hearts, and total dismay in their wake. I presume the people who write these things don't care. Political correctness, after all, has become a bad thing, but I'm talking more about manners and graciousness in general. You know, being polite, which is something that many United States citizens are not very good at.

You, dear reader, always welcome to read what I write and to disagree. That doesn't mean I have to approve of your disagreement or that I will leave your comment on my blog. It doesn't mean you have to follow me on Facebook - you're welcome to unfollow me or even block me and unfriend me if you want. That is your right.

But please do remember that words have consequences. If what you say might hurt someone's feelings, then is there a reason to say it at all?

I would like a nice world. This current one, where to me it feels like bullying and meanness is the rule of the day, is pretty scary.

Some of the rules I grew up with:

  • Mind your manners.
  • Play nice with the ball.
  • Be kind always, because it is harder to be kind than to be mean. Mean is the easy way out.
  • Find your inner goodness, let it shine.
  • If you have to stand up for something, stand up for something that makes the world better, not tears it down.

I wonder what happened to those soft little rules.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Welcome 2020!

Happy New Year!
Boy, was 2019 something or what? Glad that one is in the books. Time to move on. I wonder what 2020 will bring?

Where's my crystal ball?

:::cue glossy eyes and foggy setting as we drift around to see the future :::

Time for some prognosticating!

In the next year, we'll see some kind of something from North Korea smash into the United States, possibly hitting a big city. Or maybe some non-existent place in Alaska. At any rate, it will certainly put the kibosh on the love-letters between Kim Jong-Un and #45. Will it bring war? Stay tuned.

The economy will begin to erode, but the crash won't occur until after the 2020 elections. You've been warned. Take a look at your portfolio in the next six months and make adjustments.

Medical science will increase its research into pancreatic cancer, not because it's such a deadly cancer, but because it is striking so many public figures. Nobody cares much if it kills your mom or your husband's aunt, but they sure care if it messes with Jeopardy!

We still won't have a viable national health care plan. Things will continue to meander along as they are.

Deregulation by the EPA will increase the smog index. Cases of asthma, COPD, and other breathing-related health concerns will skyrocket.

Mass shootings will occur in 15 different states. Or maybe all of them, except for Rhode Island.

A communications satellite will fall from the sky and hit a major city. It will hit with the force of a small asteroid and level a city block.

Scotland will become independent of the United Kingdom, and join the European Union. Ireland will also attempt this, but fail, leading to bombings and terrorism plots.

A long-dormant volcano in a major metropolitan area will blow its top unexpectedly, killing and wounding thousands.

The discovery that a certain tree in the Amazon provides a cure for Parkinson's disease will cause a pause in deforestation, but only until scientists figure out how to grow the trees in a manmade groves.

Drones will make deliveries in all areas of the country, and be particularly useful in rural areas.

The year will be the hottest on record. Wildfires will reach record numbers in all areas of the world. Glaciers will continue to melt. The ocean level will rise by an inch.

And close to home:

The county will bring in another pollution-maker to its favorite industrial park.

Taxes will remain the same.

We will have three murders in my county; 12 in the nearby city.

Someone will sue the county officials over Freedom of Information Act violations.

The county will make a major land purchase to create another industrial park.

When renovations to the county's courthouse prove too expensive, a new courthouse will be planned. Historic-minded citizens will revolt.

Someone will apply to build a windmill farm on Tinker Mountain.

One of the county's remaining diary farms will shut down.

There will be a major weather event - flood? high winds?

I personally will see lots of deer and turkey, and take a great picture of a bear.

:::the fog is lifted, I can see the future no longer :::

What do you think? Is my crystal ball broken?

(I shouldn't have to say this, but this was all in fun and I have no idea what is going to happen. But everything needs a disclaimer these days. This blog post is not meant to be taken literally.)

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Money Obsessed? Maybe. Maybe Not.

The question today: If you had to be obsessed with money, sex, sports, religion, or food, which one would you choose?

Sigh. Ok, maybe picking questions out of a book isn't a good idea, but it's what I'm doing for the moment.

I don't watch sports or care much for sports, so that one is out immediately. Sex - hell, I'm too old to be obsessed with that. That leaves money, religion, or food.

Apparently I'm already obsessed with food, since I am overweight and have trouble dieting. So I think the choice there maybe is already made. I eat sometimes because my mouth is lonely. If that isn't obsession, I don't know what is.

But money - isn't every citizen of the United States obsessed with money? Isn't that the American way, to want more more more of the green stuff, so we can buy more more more of the useless stuff? Do we even know when "enough" money is "enough" money? That should differ for everyone, I guess - a person with six children will need more money than I will, or so I would think.

What would we be like as a people if we weren't obsessed with money? Would we be kinder? Would we be nicer? Would we score higher on the happiness charts?

We score pretty low on the happy country charts:

This comes from this report called World Happiness Report. There's some interesting reading in that document if you've an open mind. There are reasons why we score 19th and Finland is number 1.

So money is not my choice, but it is the choice of where I live and, I suspect, the choice of most of the people who live in the United States.

I already know I'm obsessed with food, apparently. That leaves religion, which I am not obsessed with. I do have an interest in spirituality and in learning about various religions, but I am not obsessed with any particular religion or even with learning about the religions. It's something I do sometimes when I'm in "seek" mode. I never know what will strike me as being a good thought at any particular time.

Honestly, I would rather not be obsessed with any of these choices. I'd rather be obsessed with music, with learning in general, with healthy eating (maybe that is still a food obsession, I don't know) and exercise, and with living the best life I possibly can. I try to do the latter but I strongly suspect that's a fallible goal.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Would I Rather Lose a Hand?

I have a new version of The Book of Questions, by Gregory Stock, Ph.D. These are questions that make you think, contemplate your morality, and give your brain a workout.

The first question asks if you would rather "lose the use of all motorized vehicles, all telecommunication devices and computers, or one of your hands?"

This seems easy to me. I would lose all that stuff before I'd lose a hand. Good grief. I rather like my body parts, or at least the use of them, and hands are especially important. I remember how my husband was lost when he put his arm in the hay baler and couldn't use his hand for a long time. He still doesn't have full use of it - he can't pick up fine, tiny things, like a needle or small nail or something.

The question does force me to contemplate dependence upon certain things. For one thing, we live in a society where I drive to the grocery store once or twice a week. Sometimes that's the only place I go, but still. I don't grow a huge garden and can beans or otherwise worry about keeping a huge stock of food on hand. I keep enough things in cans here to get us through a week to 10 days in the event of bad weather or some other issue, but not enough to last a winter. Without a vehicle, we'd starve as it is a long walk to Daleville. I couldn't walk it, I don't think, although I suppose if I had to I would, pulling a little wagon behind me. But it would take a full day or longer. We don't have a horse and I can't ride a cow. Well, I've never tried but I am pretty sure that would be a failing effort.

To my mind the loss of a vehicle would be the greater loss of the things mentioned. I lived without a cellphone for years, and I don't need a computer. I could get by without a telephone at all, if I had to, and a computer. But a car? When I live far from a grocery store, a vehicle becomes a necessity.

That said, I spend a lot of time at the computer. I work on it, using it to write and make a living. I also play video games on it, use social media to keep in touch with people, and otherwise avail myself of the things it offers. I use the phone to talk to my friends, keep in touch with my husband when he's at work, and to check on my mother-in-law and other folks occasionally. Life would be lonelier without a telephone, for sure. (I still talk on the phone and don't simply text on it. Imagine!)

I do not watch a lot of TV, but TV wasn't mentioned specifically here. Is it considered a telecommunication device? How about a radio? I enjoy listening to music. It helps the day go by more quickly sometimes.

But in any event, none of these things are more important to me than my hand. Nor would I ask anyone else to give up a body part so that I might have these things.

In all honesty, this is a bad question. Losing your hand really has nothing to do with the items in question, except you use your hand to type or hit the keys on the phone. It's an either-or question that at its heart is irrelevant, unless you stop to analyze it a bit.

Not a good start, but we'll see what else is in the book.