A Place of Peace

Despite all the blogs and bloggers who have posted articles on the etiquette of commenting, too many people still don’t get it. Maybe they just don’t want to understand, because it isn’t so complicated.

I got a really nasty note yesterday from an individual who took issue with something I wrote. I think she didn’t even understand how rude she was. Another — even nastier comment — expressed displeasure with my failure to address his comment — 3 months ago. The original comment was insulting (which is why I didn’t respond). Today’s follow-up was much worse.

In both cases, the result was identical. Bye bye. You’re out of here. Don’t come back.

This is not a forum, public or otherwise. This is my personal blog, my website. My little piece of peace in a nutty, wacko cyber world. In this place, we discuss, but we don’t fight. If I don’t like your comment — for whatever reason — I can choose to not publish it, delete it, edit it … or call it spam and make it so you trouble me no more.

It doesn’t mean you aren’t free to disagree. You are welcome to disagree. Politely. Reasonably. Friendly. But if you feel like sniping, insulting me, calling names, think this is an opportunity to show how smart you are at my (or anyone else’s) expense? Bye bye.

If you do not appreciate what I have to say or how I say it, no one is forcing you to read it. You don’t have to look at my pictures, read my opinions, like me or follow me. Cyber space is infinite and you are welcome to be virtually elsewhere.

I do not have to take crap from you. Not here. In the rest of my life, I deal with all the stuff I don’t like. In this place, this tiny corner of the huge universe, I hold fast to an illusion of control. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

In this place, this space, we dwell in peace and harmony, even when we differ.

Waiting for Dystopia

I’m bemused and a bit bewildered at the furor over how the NSA is spying on American citizens. As a long-time faithful fan of NCIS, Law & Order and so many other cop shows, I’ve become familiar with how easy it is for government agents to get our phone and computer records. Our photos are easy to find on traffic cameras and security footage. It’s the meat and potatoes of television crime shows, so I can’t believe there’s anyone over the age of 5 who doesn’t know when someone is compromising evidence or has forgotten to wear his or her gloves at the crime scene.

Portrait of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. (no ...

Feared FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover – Rumor has it he wore a dress when he wasn’t accusing Americans of being Communists.

We know there are cameras trained on us everywhere we go. It’s even more intense in Great Britain and most parts of Europe, so this isn’t just an American aberration. It’s everywhere.

It must have been 20 years since we first learned about the trap door in Windows. You remember. That’s the security hole designed to let the government peek into our computers. All operating systems have holes in them. Any 14-year old hacker can find them, so surely the FBI can do almost as well. Did anyone think that the holes in our operating systems have gone away? Been patched up? Really?

Blaming one political party or the other, one president or another for extending and expanding the surveillance that’s been ongoing  for decades is pointless. It’s not going to stop no matter what they say or who is in the White House. The agencies that run the surveillance will merely improve their ability to camouflage their activities. Our governments are not going to stop monitoring our computers, telephones, bank accounts, or anything else. We can’t even stop Google and Facebook from having their way with us, so what makes you think we can stop the FBI or Scotland Yard?

It is wrong that governments spy on their citizens? Isn’t that a gross violation of our privacy? In theory I agree. They shouldn’t listen to our boring phone calls. I think it’s possible the cruelest punishment of all would be monitoring the phone calls of adolescent girls, but I digress.

My opinion is (a) it’s not up to me or you, and (b) we can’t have it both ways. We can’t demand more and better security yet expect the government to accomplish it without compromising our privacy.

So, we are faced with a theoretical (but not real) choice. Do we want security or privacy? As for the theoretical but not real aspect of the choice: it’s not up to us. In the United States, agencies of the government are in charge of national security. It’s their job. This didn’t start with Obama , Bush or even Regan. It goes back a long way, at least as far back as when J. Edgar Hoover was The Man and probably long before that too.

This is not an area on which we get to vote. It has been this way since before any of us were born and will continue to be this way after all of us are dead and gone.

Continuing to whine and bitch about it isn’t going to change anything. If you don’t want to be monitored, stop using the Internet. Give up your cell phones. Keep your money under the mattress. Live on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Grow your own food and generate your own electricity. Don’t have a mortgage. Pay all your bills in cash. Better yet, don’t have bills.

Don’t work a regular job and move frequently. Don’t collect social security, Medicare or for that matter, file an income tax return. Don’t register a car and don’t vote. Should you have kids, home school them. Even if you do all these things, if THEY want to find you, they will. Because sooner or later you have to interact with other people and people talk.

75-FireAndIcePoem

I have friends who are awaiting the end the civilization, if not the world. They are planning against the day when they will live in the Dystopia of their nightmares. They want to make sure they have enough guns.

Personally, I think lots of bottled water and canned goods would be more useful. And blankets, first aid supplies, and warm clothing. But I’m not expecting the world to end, and if it does, I figure it will just wither away. Not with a bang, nope, uh-uh. I’m leaning toward the long, tired whimper.

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Daily Prompt: Do Not Disturb — Through A Prism

Author John Scalzi in his blog Whatever posted what I think is a sane, intelligent answer to the uproar and outrage over “discovering” that the government is spying on us. The article is titled Hey Scalzi, Don’t You Have Anything Angry to Say About That PRISM Thing? He points out that we all know the government is spying on us. We certainly have to know that Google and Facebook are spying on us. Microsoft has been spying on us for years as has Apple and Amazon. Depending on the security level of your home network, your entire neighborhood could by spying on you. There’s nothing new about this and if you had for some weird reason assumed your government which has been ramping up surveillance activities for more than a decade is not spying on all of us, it leaves only one question: How naïve are you?

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Living where I live and doing what I do, I recognized long ago there is no “off the grid” for me. Unless we were to go live in a cave in the far northern reaches of somewhere or other — if you know Garry and I,  that’s about as unlikely a scenario as anyone could create — I’m no cave dweller. The idea of living anywhere without a high-speed Internet connection gives me the willies.

That the government is using its capabilities to keep an ear and an eye on our transmissions, just in case something sounds suspicious and/or terroristic not only doesn’t surprise me, it would surprise me if they weren’t doing it. Land’s End monitors my purchases and browsing to create advertisements likely to lure me to buy from them. So does L.L. Bean, Dell, Amazon and everyone else from whom I shop. Google probably knows what color underwear I put on this morning. They’ve got my email and every photograph I’ve ever posted. Moreover, like most of the rest of you, I have a blog. Everything I write, every picture I publish goes off into cyberspace where it lives forever. If I Google myself, I find that like a mosquito captured in amber, my previous identities are still floating around out there, unchanged by time.

Years ago I accepted reality. If I want to belong to the world, I’m will be exposed to and by it. If you think otherwise, you are in denial.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

All of those agreements we sign because if we don’t, we can’t use the software or that website, explicitly say we are granting permission to collect information, read our posts, access our applications and mine our data. I am mindful of what I post on the Internet. I write a lot, but I never post anything online that would embarrass me if someone announced it from the pulpit in church. If I have secrets, they stay secrets by the simple, primitive expedient of keeping my mouth shut.

Living out here in the middle of nowhere, we are less invaded by cameras and spy satellites than more heavily populated areas. It’s not because we aren’t as likely as anywhere else to be engaged in some kind of nefarious activity. It’s simply a matter of using available resources. There are only so many cameras and people to monitor them. We just aren’t worth the effort. Besides, if you want to know everything that is going on in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, drop by. Hang around the grocery store for a couple of hours. You’ll know everything and everybody in very short order.

The truth is that I don’t have much to hide. There’s stuff I did in my past that could potentially embarrass me, but it wouldn’t land me in jail. Probably my husband knows more interesting stuff than I do, but he was a reporter for a long time. And he isn’t talking. Not to me, not to anyone. He subscribes to the belief that a secret is something you don’t tell anybody. I’ve been trying to worm information out of him for more than 40 years. He just smiles and keeps watching whatever show is on TV. You have no idea how frustrating I find it, but comforting too. Because he’s not telling anyone my secrets either.

English: The logo of the blogging software Wor...

The government isn’t looking for me. I’m not buying guns, building bombs or selling drugs. I’m not traveling anywhere much, unless you count the occasional friend and doctor’s appointment. You could monitor my telephone traffic 24/7 and learn absolutely nothing because I don’t spend any time on the phone except when arguing with customer service reps, usually the cable company. And while it might be entertaining, it isn’t likely to be particularly exciting or enlightening. It certainly has nothing to do with anybody’s security, not even mine.

Spying? I’m more worried about Facebook and Google, WordPress and Amazon. They really do want to know what I’m doing so they can sell me stuff. They are very good at doing it, too. If the government were to question them, I guess the entire U.S. Government infrastructure would know my shoe size, what software I use to edit photographs and write, and that I still dress in essentially the same styles I was wearing 40 years ago. They’d know what dogs I’ve got, what food they eat. What food we eat, for that matter and probably what medications we take. I cannot imagine what use they might find this information. It doesn’t even interest me much.

This is the world we have chosen, designed and bought into. We have GPS units that broadcast our location to anyone who wants to find us. Virtually all of us have cell phones that are easily tapped and tracked. All of our bank transactions can be accessed by Lord knows how many people. If we are on Social Security and Medicare, the entire government is aware of our income, medical issues and who knows how much more. That would be assuming they are actually interested enough to look, which frankly, I doubt.

My office by window light

My government is not hunting for me. If they were, all they have to do is give me a call or drop by the house. They know where to find me. They know where to find you, too. That they can collect mountains of data is one thing. I very much doubt they have sufficient personnel to sift through more than an infinitesimal percentage of it. And if they are as efficient at mining data as they are at everything else, your guilty secrets are safer with the government than with your best friend.

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Daily Prompt: Freedom of Facebook – Serendipity’s my little world

I believe in freedom. I don’t just say that. I mean it. I believe everyone has the right to express his or her opinion, no matter how uninformed or stupid.

I do not believe our society should allow — or worse, encourage — the spewing of hate in public. Facebook has become the poster child for bigots, supporting the vicious outpourings of ignorant and mean-spirited people. When I first signed up for Facebook, there was much on it in which I was uninterested, but there were also many people expressing reasonable opinions, telling stories of their lives and the lives of others. It was a way to link up with people I hadn’t seen in years, find out what was going on in lives being lived far away. It was fun.

Freedom is meant to be a good thing, not all ugliness and hatred.

Freedom is meant to be a good thing, not all ugliness and hatred.

Then it changed. The 2012 Presidential election brought out the worst in many people. Diatribes and postings full of hate and threats (implied and explicit) of violence. I started blocking people. It made my stomach churn and still does. There is no room in my personal space for bigots, racists and hate-mongers. I frankly don’t care whether or not they have a legal right to spread their vicious invective. There is, above all, a thing we call “right and wrong” … and that stuff is wrong by any standards. Worse, the proliferation of this ugliness affects how the world perceives us — in a very negative way. It polarizes dialogue and keeps people and parties in their separate corners. You cannot have a functional body politic if people cannot speak to each other. If we hate everyone who is different from us, we don’t see them as human. That’s a terrible thing. I don’t see anything good coming of this.

My blog is my world. I own it. I have control over it. I do not allow argument for argument’s sake. The trolls will never control my website. I do not allow personal attacks of any kind and the mere hint of racism will get that person banned forever. I may not be able to control Facebook, but I can control this space and I do.

My opinion of Facebook? It is what it is, the populist bulletin board for the world. I go there to play a few mindless games and see what some of my friends (the real ones) are doing. See who has posted pictures of family, babies, friends, dogs and all that stuff. I cross-post my blog to Facebook, so technically I guess I’m considered active, though I very rarely post anything directly there.

It’s a good place to go and find out what people are yelling about these days, what the current hot-button issues are. What kind of craziness is currently afflicting our world. The people who rant on Facebook would no doubt rant somewhere else if they didn’t have Facebook so perhaps it’s better that they have it — a public venue — than to be forced into the dark corners where they would fester and become even more evil than they already are, though that is hard to imagine.

Should Facebook enforce their own guidelines? They should. Morally and ethically, they should. They aren’t strict guidelines and are only likely to weed out the most extreme of their clients.

Will they? I doubt it. They’ve gotten too big. They lack the personnel to monitor their site. It’s become a monster. I suspect eventually it will self-destruct.

In the meantime, it’s the place where the crazies hang out. Like wild dogs, maybe they will eat each other and leave the rest of us alone.

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Daily Prompt: Goals – None are so easily achieved!

I started blogging because people kept telling me I should. All my friends. My husband. My family. I’ve always been a writer, professionally and personally. I’d been sick a lot and for a very long time. A decade of being on the edge of dying is a lot of dying time and I was finally beginning to be a person again. The siege was lifting.

Facebook never did it for me. I never liked the format, the scattershot nature of posting. I have so many connections that aren’t friends, just people with whom I played various games. Even my circle of “friends” wasn’t a natural audience.

I had been following a WordPress blog for some months, ATMTX PHOTOGRAPHY BLOG. Every time I wanted to comment, I had to go through an annoying identification process unless I registered. One day, I registered. I picked a name for a mythical blog I might want to write. I chose Serendipity because I’m a serendipitous kind of gal. I had absolutely no intention of doing anything with it, but it made following other peoples’ blogs and commenting easier.

That was January 2012. In February, I put up an “About Me” page and posted a photograph because as an enthusiastic amateur, I have a great many pictures. Thousands, though many are not good enough to post anywhere but a family album. Still, there were some I thought someone besides my husband might enjoy. It was more than a month before I posted anything else. In March, I posted once, maybe twice. In April, not at all. In May, I found myself posting a couple of times a week. It was like writing letters. I wrote about whatever was on my mind or had caught my interest in the news. The presidential campaign was heating up, though it wasn’t red-hot yet.

Summer was slow. Vacation kept me away a lot. I posted, but it wasn’t particularly interesting or exciting material and my numbers reflected the ho-hum quality of the work.

And then, it rolled into August. Political hell broke loose. America became engulfed in a civil war of words on the Internet. I jumped in too. My numbers soared overnight. When Sandy, the Monster Storm, hit in September, it gave me plenty to write about. October was all-out class warfare. November. Election and aftermath. A tsunami of opinion, violence. Craziness everywhere. It was my biggest month, bringing in numbers I haven’t matched yet.

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By then, I was posting daily, more than once a day. I was reblogging other people’s work. I had found friends and colleagues on the Internet. We used each other as sounding boards and still do. The sense of community was not theoretical. I was part of it and I loved it.

The months have rolled on. I still have no goals. The question keeps coming up and I really think about it, but no matter how long and hard I ponder the question, I can’t find a reason better than my original non-goals. I love to write. I have a lot of opinions. And blogging gives me my own space to post photographs where people other than my immediate family can see them.

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I’ve achieved much more than I ever imagined because I never imagined anything at all. I’ve gotten close to 73,000 hits and although I’ve never been Freshly Pressed, apparently there are people who think I’m interesting enough to follow. I’ve made a difference to a few lives.

To know I’ve actually made a difference is a great feeling. Addictive.

Apple Blossoms

I have a focus for my time, a way to use the words roiling around in my head. In my working years, I always wrote for a defined goal and was paid for it. Now, at last, I can write about anything. I have no boss, no word limit, no corporate guidelines. Sadly, I don’t get the paycheck, but I have freedom. That’s worth a lot. And I’ve got a reason gear up, grab my cameras and go take pictures.

I’ve gotten much more than I ever imagined or expected.

Goals? What more could I need or want? Oh, I know. Send money? Please?

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Prompts for the Promptless – What’s A Litmus?

Does anyone remember for what litmus paper actually tests?

From the ubiquitous source of all knowledge and frequent misinformation — Wikipedia — comes this enlightening but incomplete (please feel free to conduct your own research) definition:

Litmus is a water-soluble mixture of different dyes extracted from lichens, especially Roccella tinctoria. It is often absorbed onto filter paper to produce one of the oldest forms of pH indicator, used to test materials for acidity. Blue litmus paper turns red under acidic conditions and red litmus paper turns blue under basic (alkaline) conditions, with the color change occurring over the pH range 4.5-8.3 at 25 °C. Neutral litmus paper is purple. Litmus can also be prepared as an aqueous solution that functions similarly. Under acidic conditions the solution is red, and under basic conditions the solution is blue.

I’ve yet to determine the “litmus test” for Freshly Pressed. Whatever it is, I have flunked. I don’t measure up. Not clever enough? More clever than socially acceptable? Overly sarcastic? Insufficiently witty? Excessively eclectic? Irrelevant? Too topical? Too vague? Too pointed? Unable to follow simple directions? Failure to be a team player?

“Marilyn does not play well with others. She runs with scissors.”

I hade my face because I cannot bear the shame. Oh the horror!

I hide my face because I cannot bear the shame. Oh the horror!

Too many typos? Ouch.

“I plead guilty, your honor,” she said sadly, baring her soul for punishment. “I just don’t see them. I am a pathetic failure, dishonored, disgraced. Tear off my buttons. Break my sword. Rip the epaulettes from my shoulders. I deserve no less. Pass the yellow feather of shame.”

Despite the deep anxiety engendered by my un-freshly pressableness, I keep writing. Doggedly and with determination. Sometimes I’m so dogged I write about dogs.

As for litmus testing, I’m pretty sure I have a pH. If an actual litmus test were applied, I would definitely pass. Everything and everyone passes a litmus test because … (drumroll, trumpets) … you can’t fail a litmus test. There’s no correct answer and no passing grade. (Throw that bum out! His pH is way too low!) If my mother was any kind of judge, I’m too acidic, though there are days when I feel distinctly alkaline. I think this is one of those days.

Since I have recovered from my brief fling at being young, I have many opinions, but I don’t test. I have standards. Does that count? I don’t hang with racists. I don’t argue with stupid people by which I mean those delightful, heartwarming folks who combine blissful ignorance with strong opinions. I suppose there are a few other points, political, intellectual and social (don’t chew with your mouth open), but there’s no test. I like’em or I don’t. As with books and movies, I like what I like and don’t know why. Shameful. 

I don’t necessarily believe anything or anybody except my husband. He is an epic truth-sayer. If you ask him if that dress looks good on you, I hope you really want the answer. Because he is going to tell you. He will tell you with grace, charm and tact, but tell you he will.

I’m not litmus-test friendly. Worse, I’m completely out of touch with whatever is au courant. I wouldn’t know what to test for, much less whether or not someone passed, failed or whatever.

Does that make me a loser? Or, to put it in Facebook-ese, a LOOSER? I’ll bet my problem is I do not allow having nothing to say stop me from saying it anyhow. That’s gotta be it!

Tighten up, bitch. Get your act together! No looseness! Stand up straight! Button that uniform! Yes SIR!! Maybe if I get really tight, I’ll be Fresh enough to be Pressable!

Blogging Part 4: Etiquette Part II

Marilyn Armstrong:

I try hard to answer every comment, at least to acknowledge that I’ve received it. It’s courtesy and it’s also the only way to have a dialogue with ones readers and get to know them (and vice versa). I think it matters. Others obviously don’t agree. Because I know that the response rate to my comments is no better than 50% across the board.

Originally posted on MikesFilmTalk:

That little badge of excellence.

That little badge of excellence.

Metaphorically strolling through the recent entries on the Freshly Pressed page, I noticed a disturbing trend. Some of these recent winners of that coveted page placement aren’t responding to their comments. They are responding to a few, but not many.

When I got Freshly Pressed last year, I tried my damnedest to answer every single person who commented. I would have continued doing so if I hadn’t had a heart attack and wound up in hospital and almost dying. At that point my blog and getting Freshly Pressed was forgotten. I think it would be safe to say that the only things that existed in the world for me at that point was the hospital.

If I remember correctly, when I came home four days later, full of scars, stitches and medication, the first thing I did was to check my blog and answer comments.

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Improbability Drive Powers WordPress Statistical Base!

PanicIn the wake of my cogently worded suggestion that WordPress make some alteration to its “followers” calculation, I did not receive a direct response, but I know they are listening. They apparently heard my plea and have responded above and beyond my wildest hopes for a solution.

They doubled the number of followers they say I have on Facebook.

From yesterday’s absurd calculation of 1313 Facebook followers, at midnight, WordPress recalculated my numbers and informed me — and I suppose the rest of the world too — that I now have 2,628 followers on Facebook. I admit I added one friend, an old pal from college who looked me up (Hi Charlie!) and asked to connect. I said golly, haven’t talked to him in a dog’s age and gave him the green light. That must be what triggered the WordPress engines to leap on my growing Facebook coterie and send it to new heights.

Talk about a responsive organization, what could be more reassuring than this? I officially, as of this writing, haven’t the slightest idea how many followers I really have. The math has just gotten too complicated for me. Math has always been my worst subject, but I swear that the folks at WordPress have taken a page out of Douglas Adams‘ playbook and are now using Bistromathics to calculate my numbers.

Bistromathics (from Hitchhiker’s Wiki)

Bistromathics is the most powerful computational force known to parascience. A major step up from the Infinite Improbability Drive, Bistromathics is a way of understanding the behavior of numbers. Just as Einstein observed that space was not an absolute, but depended on the observer’s movement in time, so it was realized that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer’s movement in restaurants.

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Nonabsoluteness

The first nonabsolute number is the number of people for whom the table is reserved. This will vary during the course of the first three telephone calls to the restaurant, and then bear no apparent relation to the number of people who actually turn up, or to the number of people who subsequently join them after the show/match/party/gig, or to the number of people who leave when they see who else has turned up.

The second nonabsolute number is the given time of arrival, which is now known to be one of those most bizarre of mathematical concepts, a recipriversexclusion, a number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself. In other words, the given time of arrival is the one moment of time at which it is impossible that any member of the party will arrive. Recipriversexclusions now play a vital part in many branches of math, including statistics and accountancy and also form the basic equations used to engineer the Somebody Else’s Problem fieldDouglas

The third and most mysterious piece of nonabsoluteness of all lies in the relationship between the number of items on the check, the cost of each item, the number of people at the table and what they are each prepared to pay for. (The number of people who have actually brought any money is only a subphenomenon in this field.)

Numbers written on restaurant checks within the confines of restaurants do not follow the same mathematical laws as numbers written on any other pieces of paper in any other parts of the universe.

(Excerpt from the Hitchhiker’s Wiki)

Anyone else want to weigh in on this? It’s the same poll as yesterday. So far, there’s 100% agreement that this is an absurd number. Now that WordPress itself has made it clear that they know how absurd it is by making it even more absurd, I think they may have already had the final word, but give it a go anyhow.

I thought it was important to maintain an honest relationship with readers, but that was before I realized we were actually on a space ship piloted by crazy aliens, powered by the world’s first Improbability Drive. Now I know there’s never going to be a fix because the whole issue is swathed in an S.E.P. (Somebody Else’s Problem) field and it is invisible! Hail Douglas Adams! You did not die in vain!

Note: If this trend continues, we will move from the Douglas Adams paramathematical realm to the Humpty Dumpty College of Astrophysics where “a word means what I say it means” and so do numbers. Just saying.

Faux Figures from WordPress — Oh no!!

WordPress

WordPress is a great organization. Really, lots of support, recognition to many people. Not to me, but lots of other people. And most of it is for free. From templates to tech support, I get more service from WordPress than I would get from most blogging services at any price. But I think this time, WordPress has made a serious mistake and they need to rethink this thing.

Followers. Imagine my astonishment to discover that from my previous day’s statistic that counts my number of followers — 280 — I am now showing the world that I have 1,605 followers. I know I had a good day Wednesday, but I don’t think I gained more than 1,300 followers between Wednesday and Thursday. If I have that many followers, where are the hits?

Even if a mere 10% of them dropped by, that would give me a base 160 hits per day, and while I do get more than that (usually, but not always), WordPress also kindly does a pretty thorough breakdown of where all my hits come from.

So how did they get this astonishing calculation of my followers? What happened?

WordPress is now counting my Facebook “friends” as followers through Publicize. All 1,313 of them.

Most of my connections on Facebook are people I don’t know, but with whom I play games, especially Metropolis, a game that requires a lot of connection. There’s virtually no interaction between players. We post jokes on each others’ walls and silly stuff like that, but we don’t hang out or share our lives, virtually or otherwise. We ignore each others’ posts because we aren’t really friends. So from this number, let us now subtract about 1000  – because that’s how many of my Facebook association are attributable to Metropolis. About another 100 or possibly more, are associated with me via some other game, and a few of them, several games. That’s okay. That’s one of the things that you can do with Facebook. Although some of these connections might occasionally take a look at something I’ve posted, they do not participate in my virtual or real world.

The remainder of my Facebook contacts are people with whom I have or had some kind of relationship. Maybe a few dozen are friends or family. The rest are people I’ve met, worked with, used to know from my traveling days, or had some other brief association based on some shared interest and with whom I may have intermittent contact.

Yesterday, I got 216 hits. Because of WordPress’ excellent statistical analysis, I know exactly how many of these hits originated on Facebook.

The answer? One. Just one. Sometimes I have gotten as many as half a dozen, but never more than that, so counting it as 1313 followers renders the statistics not merely meaningless, but embarrassing. A joke, not a statistic.

So the follower figures are not just a little pumped. They are ridiculous. WordPress, you need to rethink this statistic. It is misleading and unfair to actual followers who did sign on to follow me. And it’s unfair to me, too,  because I have to subtract all those bogus followers to get a meaningful number. No one has anything to gain from this. To be counted as a follower, a person should be required to do perform an act of will, for example, say he or she wants to be your follower, not just a wholesale raking in of everyone on a list. That really would be like assuming that all the contacts in my email contact list are also followers, which I assure you, they are not.

I don’t mean to be ungrateful for all the services WordPress provides, but this needs to be undone as quickly as it was done. You just can’t call every Facebook “friend” a “follower” and have the term follower continue to mean anything at all.

Anyone else want to weigh in on this?

Let WordPress know that pumping up our statistics just makes them meaningless. In the meantime, I’ve removed the follower statistics from the “Follow Me” box. I’ll happily reinstate it if this gets fixed. Otherwise, it’s  too much of a lie. I don’t want to be a liar all over the Internet even if it makes me look good. It also rewards those of us with Facebook accounts and punishes those who don’t. As far as I know, Facebook is not connected to WordPress … or is there something I don’t know about?

I think it’s important we maintain an honest relationship with our readers. So in the meantime, I won’t post that statistic. I’d rather it didn’t exist, but I’ll settle for not being part of the scam.

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A Half Hour Radio Show

See on Scoop.itBooks, Writing, and Reviews

This site hosts the original broadcasts of the cult radio comedy show “A Half Hour Radio Show,” syndicated around the US in the early 1990’s.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

When I was in college, I worked at the radio station. This show was a very big hit at the time. Since then, it has gone through a lot of iterations, refinements, rewriting … and it’s still hilarious. Take a trip in time. Enjoy a type of entertainment that used your imagination instead of special effects. Fall in love with radio!

See on captclerk.podbean.com

Taming the Techno Beast

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of posts focusing on how civilization is disintegrating because of technology. The loss of privacy, clearly because of websites like Facebook. The prevalence of moronic rumors on the Internet that for incomprehensible reasons, people actually take seriously. And of course, the loss of language and relationship skills by young people who communicate entirely by texting in code that no one over the age of 18 can decipher not to mention the pernicious effects of electronic books replacing paper and ink. And finally, my personal favorite, the paranoid belief that mobile phones are scrambling everyone’s’ brains and are probably responsible for the epidemic of worldwide stupidity.

I’m not convinced we had any privacy to lose. If you weren’t a recluse living in a cave, then you lived amidst people. In towns, villages and cities. In tribes, settlements and family groups. In metropolitan areas, we form villages within the larger population. We call them neighborhoods. You don’t come from New York or Boston.

You come from Park Slope or Southie, Roxbury or Astoria. As long as we live in and around other people, they know all about us. They know a lot more than we wish they did. You sneeze and your neighbors say a collective “gesundheit.” Have a fight with your spouse and everyone knows every detail the following morning. Gossip is the meat and potatoes of human relationships. Call it networking or whatever you like: we talk about each other all the time. Privacy is an illusion.

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The big difference is you can use your own computer to tell total strangers everywhere in the world all your personal business. But that’s your own choice. It’s entirely voluntary, but millions of people do it every day. I suspect — on the whole — we care a lot less about privacy than we say we do. Sure, we want to protect our bank accounts and credit cards from being stolen, but otherwise? How much do you really care who knows what’s going on in your life?

We are herd animals. We are nosy. We gossip. Knowing your neighbors’ business doesn’t require technology,  just eyes and ears. For broadcast purposes,  a mouth works as well any other device.

One of the more common assumptions about technology is that this stuff is more important to young people than older folks. Older people are supposed to resist new technology, to be stuck in our ways and refuse to move on.

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I recall thinking along the same lines when I was young and stupid. Young people underestimate their elders. Maybe it helps them gain the courage to face uncertain futures, but as one of those Old People, I find it annoying.

People my age have not rejected technology. Au contraire, we embrace it with enormous enthusiasm. Technology has impacted us more than any other age group. Computers give us access to the world, let us to remain actively in touch with scattered friends and family. It helps us know what people are thinking. Digital cameras with auto-focus compensate for aging eyes. Miniaturization makes more powerful hearing aids so that people who would be condemned to silence can remain part of the world. Pacemakers prolong life; instrumented surgeries provide solutions to what used to be insoluble medical problems and lets us keep active into very old age. Technology has saved us not only from early death, but from losing touch.

We can watch movies whenever we want, the old ones from childhood and the new ones just out of theaters. We can view them in comfort on huge screens as good as the movies, but with better sound and cheaper snacks … plus a convenient “pause” button if you need to hit the bathroom or kitchen.

Virtually every one of us has a cell phone, uses electronic calendars as well as a wide range of applications to do everything from post-processing photographs and balancing our bank accounts,  to cooking meals.

My generation consumes technology voraciously, hungrily.

Unlike the kids, we don’t take it for granted. We didn’t always have it. We remember the old days and despite all those nostalgic postings on the web, most of us are glad we don’t live there anymore.

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We can’t all repair a computer, but neither can the kids. They know how to use them … my granddaughter was using a computer when she was three … but she has no idea how a computer works and would be hard put to explain the difference between the operating system and an application. Most of her friends are equally ignorant. They are on top of the world when things work but  if anything goes wrong, suddenly Granny transforms to Computer Guru.

For teenagers and young adults, technology is no miracle. They don’t need to understand it. They feel about computers the way we felt about electricity: we didn’t need to know how it worked. We just put the plug in the socket and turn on the lights.

There is a down side to technology as there’s a down side to everything. An hour’s power outage and we are lost. Dependence is not what worries me. I’m no survivalist. Without modern technology, I wouldn’t make it through a week.

I worry that young folks are not learning how to talk to each other and will have a hard time forming relationships. Not that we did all so well ourselves, but at least we talked to each other.

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The ubiquitous availability of social networking gives kids the illusion of having lots of friends … yet many of them have no real friends … not the kind of friends you can depend on and who will hang on through a lifetime.

I don’t want anyone to give up their electronic goodies … but it would be nice if there were more direct communication, human to human. I have watched groups of teens sit around in a room, but instead of talking, they send texts to one another. Good relationships need a more touchy-feely approach.

All of us have gotten a bit lazy about relationships. We send an email when we should pick up the phone. We pick up the phone when we should make a visit. There’s nothing electronic that can replace a hug.

Yet I believe civilization will endure. Stupid people were always stupid. They always will be. Those who believe nonsensical Internet rumors without bothering to learn the truth would never have been truth-seekers anyhow. Before we had Internet rumors, we had plenty of regular rumors. They didn’t travel quite as fast as they do on the Internet, but they got the job done. The problem isn’t computers; it’s people.

I don’t get why people have a problem with electronic books. As far as I am concerned, reading is good no matter what form the words take. For me, electronic books are a dream come true. I will always love the smell and feel of paper and ink, but I am glad to not need more space for books. I’m love my Kindle. Nobody had to slay a tree for the book I’m reading.

I  will always love bookstores, the feel and weight a book, the smell of ink on paper, the gentle crack of the spine when you open a new one, but I only buy special books, first editions, reference books.

The good old days weren’t that terrific. There were good things, but plenty of bad stuff. Ugly stuff. Institutionalized racism, a gap between classes far worse than today. Real oppression of women, so if you think we don’t get a fair shake now, you would never have survived growing up in the 1950s. Help wanted ads in newspapers were divided by sex; we had to wear skirts to school, even in the dead of winter.

Today, our houses are heated better. Basic household goods are relatively inexpensive. Wal-Mart sells cheap underwear. Don’t knock it: I hate spending money on underwear!

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If you want an education, you can get one … no matter what your color or ethnicity. The  legal barriers to individual development have been lowered. The world and the people in it are imperfect; there’s more than enough hate to go around and we’ll never see the end of war, but at least the law is changed. That is not a small thing. Human beings are good at hating. Laws can change the rules, but not human nature.

I wish the quality of entertainment was better and I wish they taught grammar in schools, yet I was never taught grammar and I’m reasonably literate. Those who love words will learn to use them by reading, listening and absorbing the music of language.

Language will continue to evolve but it has always been a moving target. It’s not changing because of computers. We don’t talk as they did in Olde England and future generations won’t talk — or write — like us.

The basic nature of humans hasn’t fundamentally changed. We have a savagery embedded in our DNA.  I doubt anything will erase it. Will we evolve to the point where we are truly civilized and the hidden beast is gone? I doubt it. I believe we would lose our humanity along with our bestiality. It is our never-ending battle to tame our baser instincts that defines civilization.

That, and having a really fast Internet connection.

Dogs and Doom

We have two dogs. We have had as many as five, but time and age have reduced the size of the pack. Our current crew consists of our two terriers — Bonnie our gallant Scottie lass, and Nan, an attractive older Norwich terrier.

Bonnie is just 5 — playful, smart and very funny. I am convinced she has her own Facebook account, thousands of fans, and is on my laptop the moment my back is turned. She is atypically an extremely friendly, outgoing little girl. Although she is the dominant dog in the household, she’s so charming, other dogs don’t mind that she is a bit bossy.

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We only got Nan last Autumn. She’s heading towards 11 years old and her owner didn’t want her any more. She thought we’d give her a good home and so we have, though I dread knowing that she doesn’t have a long life ahead of her.

She has attached herself to me as no dog ever has before. I sometimes think she isn’t sure how she wound up here. She clings to me because, after 10 years in one home, she is displaced. I wish I’d had her when she was younger. We’d have made her happy. Now, she is my velcro girl. She follows me everywhere, sleeps at my feet in the office and by my side on the sofa. She follows me into the bathroom, sits politely and waits for me to finish, wash my hands, then trots with me to wherever I’m heading. Except while we sleep, she is never more than inches away from me.

All the dogs follow me to the kitchen. Dogs are such optimists. They’re always sure if we are near food, some is sure to fall their way. I’m a sucker, which means they are often right.

For a very long time, when both of us were working full-time, we had cats, then we had a cat and two ferrets, then we had the same cat and one, then two dogs. Then Big Guy, our cat, passed away. We moved to the country and the number of dogs kept growing … and then time started to reduce their numbers. I miss the pack, but we are so short of money that we can no longer afford to maintain so many dogs and even the two we have puts a serious strain on our so-to-speak finances. Every trip to the vet is terrifying on two levels … lest we discover one of our dogs is ill and whether or not we can afford whatever medical care might be involved.

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This sequester that everyone is making fun of and ignoring is going to make our already difficult lives much worse. It’s going to put a lot of people out of work. It’s going to reduce access to medical care for older people living on Medicare. We aren’t going to get through unscathed and just because nothing seems to be happening, don’t believe for a moment it won’t. A lot of people are going to lose their jobs. Not only is our personal security going to suffer, but national security is going down the tubes too. When you have to furlough the army and empty the jails because you can’t afford prisoners, it doesn’t bode well, especially after you lay off the police, teachers, and all the other guardians of our quality of life.

Meanwhile, because I can’t worry about everything, I worry about the dogs. Ourselves too. Our future, such as it may be. Wondering if we really have a future or if we are looking at the end of life as we know it.

In Washington D.C., our elected officials have nothing to worry about. They’ve got medical benefits, guaranteed wages. They have all the things they think we should do without because we aren’t nearly as important as they are. The worst thing that’s going to happen to them is they will lose the use of government jets for junkets! Wow, that’s harsh.

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All this is happening because the people who are supposed to take care of us are more interested in maintaining their political principles than in what happens to us, the folks they are sworn to protect. It’s going to get ugly. We will cling together and hug our dogs against the darkness.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m scared.

You get what you pay for

There is a lot of internet discussion about kids having no manners, offspring who display a complete lack of civility towards adults in general and their own families in particular. I hear a lot of squawking from families how “they didn’t learn this from us!” which I find amusing. They learned it somewhere, so I’m guessing home is exactly where they learned it.

The way you treat your children, each other and the rest of the world is going to be exactly how your offspring will treat you.

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When we were younger and on predictable schedules, our extended family had nightly (or nearly so) family meals. As we’ve all gotten older, I got tireder. I stopped being able or willing to cook for a crowd every night and figured there was no reason I should. I’ve been cooking family style for more than 40 years. I’ve served my time (yes, it’s punny). These days, I try to keep life and meals simple. Garry and I eat differently than the kids. My son hates fish, mushrooms and other stuff that Garry and I love. My granddaughter won’t eat anything with even a hint of hot spice. My daughter-in-law won’t eat steak. Bottom line? It’s easier and more fun to cook things Garry and I like. Nowadays, making us happy is my priority. The younger generations are welcome to do the same for themselves. It doesn’t exclude communal family occasions, but it shifts the responsibility for making it happen from me to them. Fair? I think so.

My husband and I eat together, mostly in front of the TV, because the tray tables are cozier than the big dining table. When the whole family sits down together about once a week, it’s pleasant but everyone is off in a different direction as soon as the last bite is chewed. It’s not so terrible. Everyone has their own schedule, especially “the baby” who at 16, is a young woman and wants to do her own thing. It would be odd if it were otherwise. I was much the same and I think I turned out alright.

Despite no longer dining together, we are reasonably nice to each other. We have our beefs, but “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” and similar expressions are normal parts of conversation. Our ability to get along isn’t tied to the dinner table. If it were, we’d be in serious trouble.

Not having family dinners has not turned us into barbarians nor did having them make us civilized.

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I keep reading posts deploring the loss of family dinners. It’s apparently the clearest sign of the end of society, of civilization itself. I don’t agree. Society’s disintegration is a lot more complicated than that.

All over the Internet you hear it. The younger generation has no manners! Hot flash! The older generation is incredibly rude too. As far as I can see, out in the big wide world, parents talk to each other and their children without so much as a pretence of civility. They order the kids around like drill sergeants or ignore them except to complain about them. They threaten them with dire punishment, shout at them until they are hoarse. The kids don’t hear them and eventually ignore them. The shouting combined with toothless threats becomes background noise. This is true with kids and pets. If you always yell at the dog, the dog ignores you too.

And of course there are all those posts promoting spanking as the ultimate solution. Spanking teaches only one lesson: whoever is biggest and strongest wins.  What could possibly go wrong with that?

Eventually, all offspring rebel. It’s normal, natural, inevitable and healthy. They should rebel. However, if their entire upbringing consisted of being alternately yelled at, nagged, bullied and threatened, interspersed with an occasional hug, they aren’t going to rebel then come back. They’re gone. Mom and Dad figured a bit of hugging and an occasional “I love you” would fix everything and make it all better. They were wrong.

Kids become teenagers, so now their folks want civil behavior and (drumroll) respect, but it’s a bit late. Their children don’t respect them and don’t see any reason they should. Respect isn’t something you can demand. It was and remains something you earn. You can make them fear you, but not respect you. Why would anyone expect respect if they’ve never shown any?

“My kids never talk to me.” This classic is right up there with “I don’t get no respect.”

What are they supposed to talk about? If you have some interests in common with the young adults your kids have become, it would help. Most parents are only interested in what their kids are doing so they can stop them from doing it — something of which the kids are well aware. Their folks have no interest in their world. If they aren’t outright scornful of it, they are completely disinterested and ignorant . You don’t have to love everything the younger generation does, but it doesn’t hurt to know something about it and what it means. It is a very different world than the one in which you or I grew up. No need to be proud of ignorance.

They tell the entire world how much they don’t like their kids’ movies, music, games, personal habits and relationships. They announce with enthusiasm via Facebook, the modern intra-family bulletin board, how clueless the kids are.

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The kids may be clueless but so are their parents. To coin a phrase, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. I doubt most of them have made any effort to understand the world their kids live in. Why are they surprised the disinterest is reciprocal?

Kids learn by experience. They treat others as they have been treated. You can’t expect respect from kids who have never experienced it, nor good manners from youngsters whose parents wouldn’t know manners from a tree stump. Your children are unlikely to make an effort to understand you when you have never tried to understand them.

If you think you don’t need no stinkin’ manners when you talk to your children, husband, friends and strangers, your children probably agree. Why should they be nicer than you were to them?

Raising kids is the ultimate example of “you get what you pay for.” Or less.

Inauguration Day 2013

While I was deep into the A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time), the final volume of Robert Jordan, now Brandon Sanderson‘s epic story of good versus evil, Garry was watching the Inauguration. I had forgotten today was Inauguration day but he had not. My bad.

When you aren’t working or going to school, it’s easy to not know what day of the week it is, much less if it’s a holiday. I often don’t know what day of the week it is, though because I blog and pay bills, I’m pretty aware of the day of month.

Inauguration on Capitol Hill

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As much as Garry dislikes political mud-slinging, he loves the ceremonies that mark America‘s traditions. For him, an inauguration is not the inauguration of a Democrat or a Republican … it’s the inauguration of an American President and he enjoys it, even if it isn’t a candidate for whom he voted. It’s American, not political.

He wrote something about it on Facebook and at least one person went into a political tirade about how he voted for Obama but wished he’d had another choice. Garry pointed out this wasn’t political. It was a celebration, the peaceful affirmation of our power that is far more American than apple pie.

Granted that other countries now have peaceful transfers of power, but only the U.S. from its birth made this a symbol of what we are as a nation … that no matter how hard-fought the campaign, when the votes are counted, the winner takes his place in the White House without violence or bloodshed. The ballot box is where we settle our differences, not the streets and not with weapons.

My take on this is simple: there are far too many people who have forgotten how to be Americans. They are so wedded to party politics, to a set of “positions,” that they are incapable, even for a single day, of just being Americans.

It seems that these folks are constantly gloating (“my guy is IN and your guy is OUT nyah nyah nyah!”) or whining (“We wuz cheated!”). Whether you fall on the side of the gloaters or whiners, if you want to make any claim to being an American or any kind of patriot, you need to be an American first and foremost, with your political affiliation secondary.

If you cannot do that, you really have no idea what this country is about.

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Words of Wisdom

Marilyn’s Words of Wisdom:

The light at the end of the tunnel is always the headlight of an oncoming train.

There’s no point in worrying. What will happen will happen whether you worry or not.

The worst thing you can think of isn’t going to happen. Something else, equally awful, will happen instead and amazingly, you will survive it.

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