Monday, March 6, 2017

#223 - Anti-Social Aspects of Social Media

For several years, some have asked whether social media actually makes people antisocial. The New York Times first explored this question in 2010, visiting it again two years later.

The question of whether social media is making us more antisocial has been raised in places as diverse as car discussion forums and IBM. One informal poll on Debate.org shows 77-percent of respondents believe social media makes us more antisocial.

Most of these responses and articles focus on the always-connected nature of modern society. They contend that even when people get together they often spend more time looking at and interacting with their phones than they do with one another.

In the informal poll on Debate.org, some of the 23-percent who contend social media does not make us antisocial say social media "gives you a kind of boldness which is really helpful." They also cite the usefulness of social media in keeping track of distant friends and family members.

I can personally attest to both of these things. I have stayed connected and reconnected with family and friends through social media. However, I can also attest to the negative flip side of the "kind of boldness," which I don't see as being "really helpful."

My own belief, based on my own experience and anecdotal evidence from simply reading comments of others on Facebook, is that there is a sense in which social media makes us antisocial. I am not speaking of people always staring at their phones or their computers or their tablets.

The antisocial aspect of social media I refer to is the freedom it gives to people to say things to one another they would not say to another person's face. While there is a positive aspect to this freedom in that it allows everyone a voice, there are some downsides to this freedom as well.

For one thing, I personally believe social media has given rise to more questionable media/news sites, sites whose stories get more attention and are believed by more people simply because they get spread and shared on social media. As a result, trust in more conventional and mainstream sources becomes diminished.

Perhaps worse, is that people feel more free to ridicule others, call names, shame people, and even accuse them of being anti-American, anti-God, etc. simply because they see things differently. Since the election, I have been called any number of things I have never been called to my face.

Even when you know the person doing the name-calling, I think there is still a sense of anonymity (you see just the name, not their face), an electronic barrier between you and them that emboldens them (or you) to say things you likely would not say if you were in the same room together.

I recently unfriended someone on Facebook (for the first time) as a result of this sort of antisocial behavior. It was not because I disagreed with his views, although I do. It was because I was ridiculed for my beliefs and called things like "libtard," "crybaby," and "liar."

Social media makes it all too easy to get wrapped up in our emotions without the normal filters we use to keep from crossing that invisible line from passionate arguing to flat-out rudeness and disrespect. Most of us have either stepped on that line or stepped over it. I'm sure I have, although I try not to.

It is this aspect of social media that I worry about more than the image many conjure up of people always staring at their phones so as to not miss a tweet, a Facebook post, an Instagram message, or a Snapchat video. Perhaps this is a reflection of the society in which we live.

On the other hand, perhaps society has become more divided as a result of our reduced ability or willingness to filter what we say thanks to the power of social media to allow us to say whatever we want whenever we want to say it. I am beginning to lean in this direction.

For those of you who disagree and with whom I am still connected through social media, you are welcome to your opinions. Please just try to keep them civil.

Oh, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't always feel the need to scream out your opinions (through the use of ALL CAPS). Conversations are usually more fulfilling and more useful when they are two-way, and that cannot happen if one side is always yelling. My virtual ears thank you.


Monday, February 27, 2017

#222 - Time Keeps On Slipping, Slipping, Slipping

"I felt the beat of my mind go drifting into time passages, years go falling in the fading light" - Al Stewart "Time Passages"

In December, I marked a milestone birthday. For those unaware, a milestone birthday is one of those occasions you are mostly happy to have reached. At the same time, a part of you laments that another such day has come and gone, leaving you to contemplate the fact of aging and, if you are morbidly inclined, think about your own mortality.

To mark the occasion, I wrote a song I simply titled "Time." (You can view the lyrics here.) It addresses and references, I think, the typical things one thinks about as one ages - lost opportunities, wasted time, life sort of sneaking up on you and then past - you know, cheerful stuff like that.

I don't know whether it has or can be scientifically proven, but anecdotal evidence, along with my own personal observation, suggests that it is in fact true that time passes more quickly as one ages.

It is as if, rather than proceeding along a straight line, time follows an arc. It seems to climb uphill (and thus pass more slowly) when one is younger. How many of us when we were young would blurt out to our parents or some other adult "I can't wait until I'm old enough to move out and live on my own" or words to that effect?

When we are young, time seems to drag in a sense. It is as if some unseen hand is holding the reins, slowing us down to keep us from rushing too fast into our future.

As we enter adulthood, time's arc seems to level out a bit. There is still a slight uphill climb as we establish our careers, perhaps marry and begin a family. We hit a sort of pinnacle where we are somewhat established professionally and personally while still young enough to pursue new goals and dreams.

Then we hit middle-age. The downhill portion of the arc begins. Our children, if we have them, seem to grow up overnight. Our careers, perhaps, no longer hold the allure they once did. Or other thoughts begin to compete for space - travel, retirement, grandchildren. We begin to lose friends and family to illness or age at a greater rate.

This is not to say that we all take to our rocking chairs and simply wait for the end to come. It does mean that we begin to recognize that there is an end point. Perhaps we try to cram in things we thought of doing when we were younger but never got around to for one reason or another.

In my case, that thing has been music. I've always enjoyed singing, and when I was younger, I thought I had a decent voice. So, I began taking voice lessons. For the last few years, with the help of my wife, I have been regularly singing around town.

For years, I wrote song lyrics as a way to express my emotions and dreams. As I've gotten older, those efforts have improved to the point that I wanted to share them with others. Again with my wife's help, I have been able to set a number of those lyrics to music. In December of 2015, we put some of those songs on a CD for friends and family. This summer, we hope to put out another CD.

Last fall, I also began taking guitar lessons. At this stage in life, I have no illusion or aspiration of becoming the next Chet Atkins, Mark Knoffler, or Carlos Santana. However, I hope to learn enough to be able to arrange some of my own songs and perhaps even accompany myself on occasion.

I do not know exactly where on time's arc I currently reside. I know I am on the downhill portion of the arc (unless our average lifespan suddenly increases to 150 years or more). I also know there is still plenty I want to do, some of it an attempt to make up for lost and wasted time.

Some people say it is never too late to pursue your dreams. Well, technically, at some point it is too late. (Death comes to mind.) However, I have not yet reached that point. So, I keep on dreaming, and I keep on chasing.

"Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight." - Al Stewart

Friday, February 10, 2017

#221 - Done Trying To Understand

"You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!" - Rod Serling's opening narration

I have felt as if I were living in the Twilight Zone since January 20, and it has only become more surreal in the three weeks since The Donald took the oath of office and became our 45th President.

I have to wonder, though, whether the man (or his wife or any of his advisors) actually listened to the words of that oath as he repeated them. Because since that day, it seems as if Trump has spent more time tweeting in response to things said about him than he has actually governing.

Trump has railed against a retailer for making a business decision to no longer carry his daughter's line of products due to poor sales. The fact that he doesn't seem to recognize the need to cut your losses by dropping product lines that aren't selling might help to explain his four bankruptcies and the fact that he owes hundreds of millions of dollars to his creditors. (If he were a nation, he would almost make the United States look solvent.)

A key Trump advisor, Kellyanne Conway, also spoke to the decision by Nordstrom to discontinue the Ivanka Trump line in a clear violation of law. (Not to mention her repeated mention of a terrorist attack that never took place. #rememberBowlingGreen)

Trump's wife is suing a British newspaper, claiming among other things that its stories have harmed her ability to profit from the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that comes with being First Lady. Are we next to see the Trump Hotel brand proudly brandished above the portico to the White House?

None of Trump' supporters seem concerned by these blatant conflicts of interest. They continue to delude themselves into thinking that Trump is going to "drain the swamp" when, in fact, Trump is himself a swamp creature. Instead, they shout "Benghazi" and complain about protesters not giving Trump a chance, all the while failing to accept or acknowledge that millions of Americans are concerned about and opposed to the actions of this President.

I have friends and family who say they don't care how another person chooses to live his or her life. In the next breath, however, they voice their opposition to gay marriage or abortion. So, they actually do care; why don't they admit it?

They talk about turning this nation "back to God" (i.e., a return to Christianity) and have no problem in banning a different faith. They conveniently forget the fact that the Constitution prohibits establishment of a national religion or of laws regulating the practice of religion (or non-practice).

They then turn on those of us opposed to Trump's immigration ban, wondering how we can support a religion that marginalizes women while forgetting that there are Jewish sects in this country where women do not have equal standing with men. They also seem to forget that not all Muslims share the antiquated views of some more radical members with regard to women, just as most Christians no longer support slavery or stoning for eating shellfish, both of which were accepted in the Bible.

Regardless of where you stand on gay marriage or abortion, the fact is that legalizing both does not force you to do either. Whereas criminalizing both forces people to live their lives in secret and/or resort to desperate measures. It's the old "out of sight, out of mind" approach.

These same friends and family argue that they are not racist, yet they have no problem with Steve Bannon being the key advisor to Trump or with Jeff Sessions being Attorney General. Both men would be right at home in a Ku Klux Klan meeting. Instead, they point out that Democrat Robert Byrd was a Klan member for a short time in the 1940s, as if that justifies the views of these two men. Last time I looked, two wrongs did not make a right.

Do I believe everyone who supported and voted for Trump is a racist? No, not yet, but I do believe Trump is at the very least a closet racist. He is definitely a bully. He is definitely mean-spirited, and he is certainly thin-skinned.

For eight years, I watched as friends and family ranted about the lack of experience of Barack Obama before he became President. Yet these same people have no problem with Trump's lack of experience in government. Nor are they concerned that Betsy DeVos' only qualification to be Secretary of Education is the fact that she and her family donated millions to Republican political campaigns.

I admit to having a hard time understanding how supporters believe Trump gives a damn about middle-class Americans. He has never been middle-class in his life, and his Cabinet is made up primarily of rich white men.

I am convinced that if Obama had said or done half the things that Trump has said or done so far, conservatives would be screaming for his head on a platter. For some reason I can't (or maybe don't want to) comprehend, they are okay with Trump doing and saying these things and can't seem to understand why some of us are not okay with that.

Since these people can't seem to understand or seem unwilling to try to understand, I've decided I'm done trying to understand their views. I accept that there are serious problems in this country. I do not accept that they were all the result of one man's actions (Obama). Nor do I accept that hatred, fear, isolationism, dismantling of environmental protections, or daily tweets on Twitter are the path to a solution for any of these problems.

With each passing day, I grow angrier at having my patriotism questioned because I disagree with Trump's actions and his supporters. Dissent is, perhaps, one of the most patriotic acts a person can engage in. In fact, this nation was born out of dissent. Slavery was eliminated because of dissent. Women gained the right to vote because of dissent. Workers gained better wages and safer working conditions because of dissent.

Now, however, Trump supporters simply want me to shut up while it remains okay for them to belittle me because I disagree. Well, this "snowflake" does not plan to comply with their wishes. Just remember, with enough snowflakes, you get a blizzard, and I suspect it's coming.

Friday, January 20, 2017

#220 - Does Anybody Really Care?

"Does anybody really know what time it is?" - Chicago

As I write these words, we are roughly two hours away from Donald Trump taking the oath of office as this nation's 45th President. This fact makes me angry.

What makes me angrier is the fact that less than half of those casting votes actually voted for the new President, yet his supporters think that gives him an absolute mandate to change things. It does no such things. It tells me Trump needs to find a middle ground (something he's never shown much ability of doing) and fast.

What makes me angriest is that roughly half of all Americans who could vote in this past election didn't care enough to do so. That means the new President was chosen by 25-percent (or even a little less) of the people. Hardly the people's choice.

In baseball, only getting a hit 25-percent of the time makes you a marginal player at best. In football, only converting third downs 25-percent of the time makes it highly likely you will lose the game. Yet Trump supporters view his getting 25-percent of all possible votes as a sweeping victory. Seems a bit delusional to me.

To those who didn't care enough to vote - in my eyes, you are even worse than those who voted for Trump. You didn't like Hillary. Fine. Most, if not all states had other options. Me, I nearly voted for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.

Sometimes, a protest vote is important. It registers unease, concern, even anger. Not voting registers just one thing. Apathy. It is obvious to me at this point that most people really don't care about politics. I see it all the time on Facebook.

With that in mind, I am proposing a new third party, the Apathy Party. I am willing to be the party's first presidential candidate if need be. I believe I am capable of caring as little as the next person. However, I am willing to make way if another candidate comes along who cares even less. I don't care. Just let me know. I'll get back to you. Or not.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

#219 - Dawn of a New Era or the Eve of Destruction

"Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction." - Barry McGuire, "Eve of Destruction" (written by P. F. Sloan

By this time tomorrow, the United States will be led by the 45th President, Donald Trump, arguably one of the most divisive incoming Presidents in American history based on his incoming approval rating, the lowest of any new President in history.

There are those who might also argue that the new President is perhaps the most egotistical and narcissistic man to ever occupy the White House. In the immortal words of The Eurythmics, who am I to disagree?

For most of the nine years I have irregularly posted to this blog, and for most of the previous 217 posts I have published, I have stayed away from politics and religion. While I will likely continue to leave religion as only the rare and occasional topic, I expect politics to become more prevalent, and the reason is the new man behind the curtain, Donald Trump.

I recently read an opinion piece in The Atlantic that argued the possibility that Trump may end up as one of the most corrupt presidents in our history. That notion could be dismissed as mere hyperbole were it not for the fact that it was written by John Dean, the man who served as counsel for the only President ever to resign from office, Richard Nixon.

According to Dean, Trump and Nixon share some of the same authoritarian tendencies. The difference being that Nixon held many of those tendencies in check. The early indications are that Trump does not have that same level of self-restraint. From the article:
To Dean, these moments suggested a functioning sense of shame in Nixon, something he was forced to wrestle with in his quest for power. Trump, by contrast, appears to Dean unmolested by any such struggle.
Dean goes on to suggest Trump may find himself embroiled in a Watergate-style meltdown similar to the one that forced Nixon from office. Says Dean, “he’s carrying loads of potential problems into the White House with him.” He goes on to say: “I don’t think Richard Nixon even comes close to the level of corruption we already know about Trump.”

So, those who feel Trump will be a disaster as President can look forward to an early end to the Trump Presidency, right? Not if Dean is correct in his assessment of how things have changed in America since Watergate.

According to Dean the checks and balances system has been weakened by "partisan paralysis." For evidence of some of this paralysis at work just look back to the government shutdown and near shutdown, along with the constant gridlock in Congress over the last several years.

Much as many argue we have become desensitized to violence by the plethora of video games, Dean believes we have become desensitized to political scandal. After Watergate, Dean says America was on high alert. But now, according the article, "that culture of vigilance has so eroded that it’s nearly impossible now to envision a sin so grave, or a revelation so explosive, that it would lead to the ouster of a sitting president." Says Dean, “the Trump campaign is an interesting measure of how high the tolerance has gotten for a public figure’s misbehavior.”

An indication of how little we seem to care about even the possibility of impropriety with regard to a Trump presidency can be seen in the reactions of many to the choices put forth for Trump's Cabinet. The fact is that few, if any supporters are concerned by the fact that most of the nominees either have worked against the agencies they are now supposed to lead or are rich, like Trump.

The proposed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has sued the EPA a number of times on behalf of companies opposed to EPA regulations even though ten-percent of the children in his state suffer from asthma, a condition exacerbated by pollution.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, Trump's proposed Secretary of Energy, wants to shut down the agency. Secretary of Labor nominee Andrew Puzder has opposed labor regulations designed to protect workers (and also seems to be a fan of gridlock, saying "the less Washington does, the better". Secretary of Education nominee Betty DeVos supports voucher programs that divert taxpayer money from public schools, has no idea or apparent decision on the decades long proficiency vs. growth debate with regard to assessment, and does not appear to believe in uniform enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Other nominees, such as Housing and Urban Development nominee Ben Carson, who has criticized regulations designed to combat segregation in housing projects, seem equally dangerous. (This op/ed piece in The Baltimore Sun outlines Carson's criticisms and the arguments against those criticisms.")

For me, the biggest danger of a Trump presidency may not be Trump himself but those who seem to blindly follow him. Many of them profess to be Christian, yet the man they support is no more Christian than a pine tree and possibly less so.

One comment I read this morning on Facebook is indicative of the support that concerns me. It read, "I thank God he chose this man to help save this country, and saved us from doom." After reading that, all I could think was a) God really does have a sense of humor (something I've long suspected since learning Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Lee Lewis belonged to the same family tree), followed by b) God must really hate us, before concluding with c) we can't blame God for Trump. This is on us.

These same Christian Trumpeters seem to conveniently forget one of Christ's most important teachings, "love thy neighbor as thyself." Either that, or they are full of self-loathing.

To my mind, there is nothing inherently Christian about any of Trump's Cabinet nominees. "As you do unto the least of them, so you do unto me" seems to fly in the face of the positions these nominees have taken. The Catholic church teaches that we are supposed to be stewards of God's creation. Among other things, that seems to mean protecting the environment, not opening up federal lands to additional energy exploration.

The next four years promise to be divisive, confrontational, controversial, and contentious. They will, however, get off to a rousing start on Saturday with the Women's March on Washington and the affiliated marches in the individual states.

The battle lines appear to be drawn. They are not, however, drawn along the moral lines many religious people would have us believe, at least not in the way they think. The lines are moral, but they are drawn along the lines of right and wrong, as in what is right for all people, what is right for the environment, what is right for the children, what is right for all faiths, and what is right for the least of us.

Instead of fighting to "make America great again" (a slogan Trump took from Reagan, by the way), perhaps we should focus on keeping America great, part of which includes celebrating diversity, promoting fairness, working to help the elderly and the poor, ensuring all Americans have access to and receive affordable health care, and not providing additional wealth and tax breaks to those who already have the most.

If America is to be and to remain great, the majority of people must benefit, not just a handful at the top. Putting a billionaire in charge and appointing a handful of wealthy people as his advisers and Cabinet members does not seem the best way to ensure that the greatest number of people possible benefit.

Let the battle begin.