Friday, October 23, 2015

#191 - Falling Deep Into Autumn

Now that we are into the home stretch of October, fall has hit the area like a sledgehammer. A few weeks ago, temperatures pushed into the mid-80s; as I write this on a Friday morning, the temperature outside is a balmy 35-degrees.

If I have to pick a favorite season, I suppose fall/autumn is it, at least until it gets closer to the start of winter. Daytime temperatures are usually comfortable, mid to upper-70s, allowing a wide ranging of clothing options, while mornings are crisp but not frigid.

In addition, the color palette chosen by the Master Artist for autumn is, to me, the most vibrant of that used in any of the four seasons. Reds and golds and greens and browns all compete for place of prominence on the earthly canvas, while the skies above stake their claim with a mixture of vibrant blues and dazzling whites, mixed with the occasional gray tones.

Autumn is also in many ways the most complete season in terms of the cycle of life. Even as leaves give up their tenuous hold on life and flutter noiselessly to the ground, new life begins its uncertain journey as seeds fall and blow on the capricious wind to who knows where, and those amongst us with green thumbs plant fall bulbs in hopes of seeing springtime flowers.

Fall has it all, life and death, endings and new beginnings, a microcosm of existence played out upon this natural stage. Mother Earth gives and she takes back, autumn being the season of tallying and re-balancing the eternal equation.

This, even more than the traditional travel season of summer, is the time of year when I most think about being on the road. Autumn is when the nomadic pull in me is strongest. I long to be on the road to somewhere, anywhere, to see new things, new people, new places. This is the time of year I think about places like New Mexico, Arizona, southwest Texas, Maine, the Carolinas. This really is the time of year when I am going to Carolina in my mind (apologies to James Taylor).

Of course, the trade-off to the richness of the autumnal color palette is, as Dylan Thomas might put it, the dying of the light, as days get shorter. Soon, many of us will settle in for our long winter's naps, going through the motions of getting through each winter's day in a form of semi-hibernation, as we wait for the coming of spring and the beginning of another cycle, another chance to dance.

What is your favorite season and why? Please leave me a comment below.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

#190 - Football, Flag Waving, and Facebook

A discussion on Facebook with a family member about Monday night's football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Detroit Lions got me to thinking, and that thought process led to this post. (Warning: Some may feel insulted or slighted by this post. That is not my intent. I am merely sharing my own imperfect observations.)

The vast majority of my family are devout, even fanatic Seahawk fans. Based on some of their Facebook posts, I suspect they think every announcer and every referee is biased against their team. I know of no empirical evidence to support or refute such a stand, but based on my game day Facebook News Feed, I have to conclude that is the general consensus of at least my more vocal family members.

The discussion about Monday night's game centered on the announcers post-game discussion of a controversial non-call near the end of the game. (The level of controversy no doubt depends on whether you are a Seahawks fan, a Lions fan, or a somewhat neutral observer.) The non-call centered around the apparent batting out of the football out of the back of the end zone by a Seahawk after it had been knocked loose from a Lions receiver.

According to the rules, deliberately batting the ball out of the end zone is supposed to be penalized, in this case by giving the ball back to the Lions and penalizing the Seahawks half the distance to the goal. That was not done, even though the NFL's own Vice-President of Officiating later said it should have been.

Because the announcers (with the help of a former NFL official) discussed the rule and the non-call, they were seen by some in my family as biased. However, being a fan by definition means that you are biased, so I suspect that filter would affect any interpretation of views being expressed (i.e., an announcer biased in favor of your team might be interpreted as being non-biased, and so on).

Our discussion (and the flavor of a political discussion it began to take on) got me to thinking again about Facebook in general. As I always have, I continue to have mixed feelings about Facebook.

On one hand, I think Facebook has been one of the great technological developments of the last 25 years. It has allowed me to stay in touch with family, find kindred spirits (in terms of my views), and reconnect with many of the people who have been a part of my life throughout the years (people I worked with and went to school with who are now scattered across the country). In this respect, Facebook has been a Godsend and perhaps even a life saver.

On the other hand, I think Facebook has been one of the worst or most dangerous technological developments of the last 25 years. It has made it even easier for us to speak without consideration or thought and, based on some of the hateful posts I've read, say things we likely would never have said in the days before Facebook to another person's face.

Facebook has helped to enable and embolden us to say things and express thoughts we would have previously kept to ourselves. Some might say Facebook has allowed people to be more honest and true to themselves, which may be true. At the same time, I believe it has allowed and even encouraged us to say things without thinking them through, things we might not even believe once we really examine them. It then all but forces us to defend those thoughts once someone responds.

So, football got me to thinking about Facebook, which got me to thinking about the political discussions, stories, posts, and feeble attempts at humor I see on Facebook. I think what I find particularly insulting is what I call "flag-waving" (so-called patriotic posts) from my conservative friends that insult moderates, liberals, and progressives and seem to imply that only conservatives are patriotic and that anyone else is a communist who hates America.

A number of these posts and shares involves some Internet meme that later turns out to be false, but because one person posted it and others shared it, it takes on the power of fact. It reminds me of the quote toward the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, when the newspaper editor says to the Jimmy Stewart character, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." One of the good and bad things about technology is that, once something is said, once it is out there, it is out there forever and cannot be unsaid.

Some time ago, I made the argument that Facebook is not the place for serious, thoughtful discussion. I find that still to be true. Although I have seen and been able to take part in some serious and thoughtful political discussions on Facebook, for the most part, I find the conversation to be more often than not talking at one another at best and talking past one another at worst.

Insults and name-calling seems to be the norm rather than the exception, and as we get closer to 2016, I suspect it is going to get worse. Our nation is devolving into one of extremes. As the extreme right gets louder, it pushes many others further to the left. The middle, once squeezed out by the two ends of the political spectrum, now seems somewhat vacant (much like the vanishing middle class). The result is a black or white divide where no gray area is allowed to exist.

One area where this divide is most evident is in the controversial arena of gun control. Calls for stronger background checks and better regulation of gun shows are interpreted as the government coming to take one's guns. People who own guns (or at least who own more than one) are increasingly seen by some as fanatical and dangerous.

I am somewhere in the middle on gun control, as I suspect most Americans are. If we could remove the National Rifle Association's hype machine from the equation, I suspect most Americans could have a rational conversation about guns and regulation. I do believe stronger background checks are needed, and I don't believe gun shows should get a pass. I believe private sales should be reported so that some kind of check might be possible. On the other hand, while I don't always understand the need or desire to own guns (especially more than one or two), I have no desire to outlaw gun ownership entirely. I do question the need to own certain types of guns, but I believe that is and should be a separate discussion to background checks.

One thing I do find ludicrous is the continuing argument from some conservative gun owners that regulating guns means that only criminals will have guns. By that logic, we should eliminate speeding laws and speed limits, auto insurance requirements, driver's licensing, and building regulations. None of these things prevents bad or even criminal behavior, but they increase the possibility that only qualified people are allowed to participate in these activities. They are there for protection and guidance as well as prevention, and while they are not 100% effective, I do think they beat total anarchy, which is the alternative.

My own conclusion based on what I see and read on the Internet? Where we were once a nation where two sides compromised to get things done, we are now a nation where two extremes prevent things from getting done. As the right has moved further right and become more strident, I have moved further left. Others, I suspect, refuse to be aligned with either side and have dropped out altogether. Based on what I sometimes read on Facebook, it is tempting to join them.