Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Can Instagram Make the Internet Nicer? Should it Try?

© San Pedro Sun

Last night I watched a segment on CBS's On Assignment program about how the CEO of Instagram is experimenting with the elimination of negative comments on user posts. Some critics say this is the first step down a slippery slope of censorship. Are they right? Can we collectively agree on any limitations of "free speech?"

The current target of the Instagram clean-up campaign seems to be online bullying, not quashing dissent, or opinions on the issues of our time. I find it hard to argue anyone, or any company, in the communications industry, who wants to stop enabling the abuse of the First Amendment as it applies to personal attacks. To my untrained information technology eye, it would appear easy to craft code that blocks a person's name, plus derogatory, libelous, defamatory, and hateful words, from making it online in social media. Does this stop the hate itself? Of course not, but again, social media is currently enabling those who intend to inflict emotional terror on others.

You argue that it should not be the responsibility of a media enterprise to edit and police its users. It is up to the victims of abuse to fight back. How, exactly? What if it is not in your nature to retaliate? How do you know that fighting verbal fire with fire will not escalate into physical abuse? I would argue that any tools available to diminish personal attacks on others should be deployed in the interest of a calmer public. We need more compassion, and if it has to be "imposed" through careful regulation, then so be it. Yes, those bent on abusing others will invent new slang epithets to get around the code, but right now there is no work (or thought) involved in berating another person online.

Words and ideas that have no other intention than to do harm to another party, be it a gender identity, race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or place of origin, or those with disabilities, or whatever, have no place in our social conversations. Period.

What comes next? Won't certain organizations and their public figure spokespersons be muted online and elsewhere? Will they no longer have a platform to speak from, or places to convene? Unlikely, but public pressure is growing, and the will of the People must be respected. Consensus is building and it appears that tolerance for a rhetoric of hate is diminishing rapidly.

Here in Colorado Springs, it has come to the attention of residents that the Cheyenne Mountain Resort will host a conference for VDare, a White nationalist and anti-immigrant group. The conference is still scheduled for April, 2018, but the resort is taking a beating on Facebook, Tripadvisor, and Yelp. It will be interesting to see whether the VDare conference will need to look for a new location.

Right now we at are a collective low point of name-calling, inflammatory speech, and violent protest and counter-counter protest as the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia blatantly demonstrated. This cannot be classified as "free speech," certainly not as our forefathers intended it, and arguably not by any measure. Words and ideas that have no other intention than to do harm to another party, be it a gender identity, race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or place of origin, or those with disabilities, or whatever, have no place in our social conversations. Period. Personally, I find it distasteful even coming from a stand-up comic.

When your goal, through your words and actions, is to deny civil rights to another class of human beings, then you are forfeiting your own right to free speech and, by extension, all the rights you are seeking to deprive others of.

I would not have expected Instagram to be a leader in a social revolution trending toward a more loving, or at least hospitable, online dialogue. After all, it is a huge financial gamble for a company to make such policy changes, at the risk of alienating a large segment of its users, as well as its shareholders. It remains to be seen whether a backlash will cause the company to retreat toward the status quo. Still, I applaud them for doing something to protect the most vulnerable among us. Meanwhile, we should each take up our own proverbial sword and shield and love gun, and start leading by example ourselves. We don't have to wait for others to do so.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Can You Live Too Long?

© Shutterstock.com

Earlier this week my father turned ninety-two. At least, we're pretty sure, when you get over ninety it is easy to lose track. There was really no celebrating, at least not with me here in Colorado and him in Washington state. It got me thinking again about whether an extended lifespan is really a good thing.

Almost a year ago now, my father sold his house and went into an assisted living facility, initially in the most independent wing. One broken hip later and he was forced into a more "managed care" wing that took away his independence. He hasn't been the same since. He had fallen in the parking garage while trying to get into his vehicle to go renew his driver's license. The outcome of having him off the road is probably a good thing, but I wouldn't tell him that. He has always been an excellent driver, but at his advanced age, anybody is going to be slower to react to traffic situations.

Dad calls his new home "assisted dying," and I find it hard to argue with that. In their defense, such facilities cannot do much for someone in relatively good health, but with reduced mobility. The best they can do is wake me up at one in the morning to tell me he has fallen again, and refuses to go to the hospital. I'm not at my most reasonable at that hour, and if he is lucid enough to comply with response protocol, then he can make his own damn decisions as far as I'm concerned. He's paying seven grand a month to live there, he ought to have some say in his care. That reminds me, I need to get a better itemized account from them.

Truth be told, my father's welfare began to decline after his second wife passed away, rapidly, from cancer, in July, 2006. Like me, he has never been that successful when left to his own devices. Our genetics have probably managed to get us this far in spite of our lifestyle. My father's coping mechanisms have always been anger and alcohol, and I have had to unlearn a good deal in order to get through my own days, and become the most minimally desirable spouse. At least I can articulate my emotions most of the time, something his generation never learned to do.

Ironically, our phone conversations are much more peaceful now. This is mostly due to his difficulty in hearing and, even more to the point, his resignation. He tells me not to worry, he has had a good life, and he is happy to go to sleep permanently whenever that happens. We still worry he might try and hasten that final goodbye, so his firearm is safely locked away; and we do what we can to prevent enablers from furnishing alcohol, though that has been impossible so far.

My father's business, for most of the time I was part of his life, was making custom jewelry, and I can say without bias that his designs were ahead of their time, exquisite in attention to detail, and worthy of every penny he charged for his creations. His skill extended to woodworking and model-building, too. Unfortunately, his current accommodations do not provide ample room to execute anything artistic, and it is probably best that he does not have access to sharp objects anyway. What is left, then? He has no interest in computers or the internet, like many of his era, and in some ways I envy that; but it means that he has fewer things to distract himself from tedium.

At his age, my father really has seen it all, or at least all that he wants to, and I find it excruciating that there is no socially acceptable exit for folks who have no joy in living this long. I would think that by ninety or so you would have earned the right to decide when you have had enough. Heck, here I am at over fifty-five, and I am already not liking what is on my horizon. All the benefits one has traditionally gotten as they age are either being taken away, or the age limit increased, forever putting senior discounts and other privileges just beyond one's reach. For shame! Where are my incentives to go on living?

I do hope that my father passes peacefully, without undo pain and suffering, even if he inflicted that on my mother, and myself in my childhood. I've no more animosity towards him, though I still have my truths about him, many of which are not pleasant. As a culture, though, we have a long way to go to make life worth living for our elderly. They are more than a revenue stream for care facilities, for pharmaceutical companies, and investment firms. They are living history, tangible wisdom, and our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. They deserve better.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Through

I can see you through the knothole
Playing behind the fence,
But what a great big world you're missing.
Of the pain and agony of war you do not know,
And the joy of freedom you can only guess.
Your world is the sandbox and the jungle gym,
And your innocence is enviable.

I can see you through the chain link screen,
Playing baseball behind the backstop,
And what a great big outfield before you.
You can be anything you want to be.
Your idols are doctors, lawyers, and policemen.
So you take the pitches as they come,
And your choices are so limitless.

I can see you through the plate glass window,
Playing student in the classroom,
Giving direction to your teenage life.
Decisions to make and deadlines to meet,
And rules to break and friends to greet.
Life leaves you hanging in doubt and hesitation,
And your attitudes are so rebellious.

I can see you through the one-way mirror,
Standing in front of the scale.
Finger-printing and posting bail
Are routines you are not accustomed to.
Who will you dial with your single phone call?
You have decisions to make in hallowed halls,
And your innocence is questionable.

I can see you through the spaces between the iron,
Playing cards behind the bars.
But what a small world you are locked into.
Of the pain and agony of prison you have a clue,
But of the joy of freedom you can only guess.
Your enemies are doctors, lawyers, and policemen,
And your choices are so limited.

I can see you through my tearful eyes
Lying in the open casket,
But what a great big world you left behind.
You could have been anything you wanted to.
So you took the pitches as they came,
And life left you hanging in doubt and hesitation,
And judgment of your innocence is out of our hands.

© Eric R. Eaton, circa 1981

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Parents These Days

© Kitchenette.Jezebel.com

There was a time that I thought I hated dogs. Then I realized that what I really don't like are some dog owners. I am beginning to think the same about children. Kids these days? No, more like parents these days.

Earlier this evening I had an exchange with a neighbor whose children, and their friend were running around outside our townhouse complex shrieking and screaming. This happens almost every day, and some days I am less tolerant than others. I opened my front door and said "Can you please stop shrieking?" It was then I noticed a father figure on the porch of a unit in an opposite building. He said "They're kids. It is before ten o'clock [PM], so no, I won't tell them to be quiet."

I closed the door, unable to think of a retort, and worried that the confrontation could escalate. A short while later our doorbell rang, and after a short debate with my wife, went down to answer. The young father was walking away when I opened the door, but returned to give me a piece of his mind. He had a cigarette in one hand and gestured with the other. At least he looked me in the eye while making excuses for why he let his children run around playing loudly.

"The outdoors is where kids are supposed to let out their energy," he explained. "Kids are supposed to be quiet indoors." Ah, I see, the old children should be seen and not heard in his house, but out in public there is a different standard. "Why don't you take them to a park?" I asked. I cannot recall his answer for that. It was something like "Why should I?" "I pay rent here, same as you" he stated, as if that gave him the right for his family to behave any way they see fit. "Telling my kids to be quiet? I'm not cool with that," he went on. "I'm not cool with not having my opinion respected" I replied, more or less.

Our townhouse buildings are two stories tall, and arranged with only a sidewalk and very narrow strips of lawn on either side. I explained that sound is amplified by that kind of close architecture. He was not impressed and told me to close my windows. I refrained from giving the obvious answer, which is that this is impractical when the temperature is well over 80° Fahrenheit. Despite insulation, it still gets stifling if we don't have the windows open and a fan or two going. Further, our buildings are not soundproof, so closing the windows at most muffles outside noise.

What I really object to, of course, is that this gentleman, and I use the word loosely for this twenty-five year old father, has no respect for others and no interest in teaching his kids to be respectful, either. He said I could file a noise complaint against him, like his other neighbors had apparently done, and I told him that I would rather not have an antagonistic relationship with my neighbors. He ended our conversation by saying that it was "like talking to a brick wall, then," and I muttered "same here, apparently" as I turned and closed the door," perfectly appalled by his utter disregard for his neighbors. Now I live a bit more fearfully not knowing whether he has weapons he is willing to use, or a mind that dwells on retribution and aggressive tactics.

So, kids will be kids, you say. That is what irresponsible parents say. He probably had a permissive or ill-equipped father himself, and he knows no other way. Neither does he want to bother learning proper parenting skills. I have little tolerance for that. I do not like women with "toy" dogs they pamper and carry around in their purse to enhance their snobbish and snooty personality. Neither do I like macho men with large, aggressive canines that reflect their own hostile ego and warped sense of masculinity.

I have decided I also do not like parents who raise spoiled brats with an undo sense of entitlement; and parents who abdicate their role in teaching their children how to be grown-ups, so that when they come of age they have proper respect for others, and not so self-centered and uncaring as to become a drain on society instead of a force for good will. I remember when parents were embarrassed by their child's bad behavior because it reflected badly on them. Now they defend their kid's bad behavior. You know that village that it takes to raise a child? I am that village, and I will call you out.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Driving? Then Just Drive

© Autobidmaster.com
My wreck was not this bad, but still....

I was going to write about this even before my minor one-car accident, but that event just served to drive the lesson home in a most painful way. When you are behind the wheel, the only thing you should be doing is driving. Nothing else. Absolutely zero distractions period. I drove our 2002 Saturn SL into a rocky ditch at about twelve miles per hour because I was fiddling with the air conditioning buttons. I was lucky. I almost rolled it, but didn't panic and gently maneuvered back onto the roadway. Still, the car suffered enough damage to alignment that it would have been over $3,500 to get it repaired; and that did not include both right side doors. No injuries, just a bruised ego, but I can write-off the rest of my summer now as the car is totaled.

I am never that guy. Ever. I don't eat or drink while my vehicle is moving. Heck, lately I don't even have the radio on. I certainly don't text, or even answer my cell unless I am parked or at a stop light. I don't put on make-up or comb my hair (what little is left of it, getting grayer by the second after this incident). My full attention is on the road in front of me, with occasional glances in the rear view mirror. I drive defensively, fully anticipating that every other vehicle around me is driven by a maniac, idiot, or simply oblivious operator. I leave plenty of space between myself and the car ahead, stop well behind them at intersections, and always use my turn signal. I do everything in my power to insure my safety, and the safety of others. Except on Thursday, June 27.

I was in Cheyenne Mountain State Park, making my rounds of the restroom buildings in search of moths attracted to the lights the night before. The day was heating up quickly, and my last stop was at the bottom of a steep, winding road into one of the campgrounds. On the way back out, I decided to turn on the A/C. It did not feel like any improvement, so as I crept back up the road at no more than the designated fifteen mile per hour speed limit, I looked down to see what buttons might make a nice breeze happen. Looking back up it was already too late. The car had missed the curve and over the embankment I went. Camera, cooler, and backpack all went tumbling against the right passenger doors. There was the sound of crunching plastic as the exterior of the doors cracked, and an unsettling scraping sound as the undercarriage skipped over the large rocks in the ditch.

I got the car back to a parking lot and made an inspection. The passenger doors looked really ugly, but aside from some scratches underneath, things seemed remarkably ok. I was not even leaking any fluids. It did become apparent that something was dreadfully wrong as I drove out of the park, though. The car, left to its own devices, swerved to the right. Hard.

My wife accompanied me to the mechanics she has trusted the car to before I inherited it, and we got the results of their assessment the next morning. It would take more than our free lifetime realignment guarantee to get the car driving straight again. Several bent parts quickly escalated repair costs into the stratosphere. We simply don't have that kind of money to throw at an elderly automobile. It appears we will manage a whopping $150 for it at the local wrecking yard. There is not enough metal in it to warrant a bigger payout.

Let's get back to the moral of the story: Any kind of distraction while operating a motor vehicle can kill you, literally or financially. It can kill other people. It can shake your confidence to its core. There is no possible way there can be a good outcome from multitasking on the road. Something, or someone, is going to suffer, probably permanently. You are using up your nine lives every time you attempt to do anything other than look at the asphalt and other vehicles and pedestrians and bicyclists and motorcyclists and wildlife and stray pets and traffic signs and signals and....You get the picture. It is crazy out there in traffic, and even when there is no traffic. You have to assume something could go wrong at any time and be prepared to act in a preventive fashion. You cannot do that if you are having a phone conversation, taking a bite out of your burger, or even turning to look at your passenger. Eyes on the road. Please, I'm begging. Don't be like me on June 27.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Letter to Senator Cory Gardner

© HuffingtonPost.com

Clever. Clever, but cruel and cowardly to draft, in secret, healthcare legislation that will impact millions of citizens. Who could complain about a bill that they haven't even seen? Shucks, not even most senators have been privy to the plan. Maybe that is what the President means when he says this is a "mean" bill. Meanwhile, the rest of us are left to do what? Rely on what the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is telling us? No matter, given past and present trends and tendencies of this session of Congress and this presidential administration, we can piece together what we are in for if this bill passes the Senate. So, please understand that the overwhelming majority of your constituents, including this one, are vehemently opposed to this bill and we expect your vote to reflect this. You need to defeat this bill.

May I politely, but assertively, remind you that you were not elected to guarantee increased profits for insurance companies, their CEOs and shareholders, and others who are affluent enough that they can pay for their own healthcare. You were not elected to argue for the interests of pharmaceutical companies, their CEOs, and shareholders, either. You were not elected to weaken environmental, consumer, and labor regulations so that the working class would face more risk without recourse to affordable healthcare. You were not elected to compromise the reproductive health choices of your female constituents. You were not elected to make firearms more accessible to citizens of dubious capacity who could endanger large numbers of citizens through acts of domestic terrorism. Indeed, you were not elected to shrink affordable mental healthcare. You were not elected to return us to the unsustainable era of fossil fuel dominance that has put us in a climate crisis of multiple yearly natural disasters. In short, you were not elected to put obscene corporate profits above the rights of individual citizens from all walks of life, rich and poor, men and women, children who do not even have voting rights, heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, transgendered persons, and people of all ethnicities, religions, countries of origin, and political party persuasions (or lack thereof). You do not represent lobbyists, either. We do not elect lobbyists, and our tax dollars are paying for you to listen to us, not them.

This goes beyond party politics. Democrats have also been all talk and no action, at least tacitly approving of legislation that undermines the welfare of our citizens. We can see through the rhetoric because actions speak louder than words and those actions of late have been highly detrimental to domestic and foreign policy. Right now, the "America first" slogan applies only to rich, Caucasian, and mostly male Americans, and everyone else is left to fight among themselves for the scraps from the feast at the top. This is an irresponsible, repugnant, and intolerable approach to governance. Charity begins at home, and that means that government should be concerned first for its most vulnerable citizens. Children, the elderly, and the destitute will suffer the most from the healthcare bill put before you now. How in good conscience can you approve of this oppressive bill?

A pre-existing condition of many politicians appears to be extreme focus on survival of the financially fittest, but even natural selection is a random force. Life is not fair you say, but I say that our purpose on this planet is to at least try and make it more fair, to increase opportunities for working class families and individuals to prosper. No one can prosper without good physical and mental health. Undermining options for healthcare only weakens the consumer economy. How can you and your colleagues not see that? Should you wish for your own political career to survive, it is in your best interest to start mirroring your home state citizens' wishes, and distance yourself from the influence of industry lobbyists. Thank you.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Budgets

© SSAE16professionals.com

Most talk of budgets is centered on government appropriations, program cuts, and other headline-making, multi-million dollar decisions made by elected officials. How much thought goes into our own personal budgeting? Are we guilty of saying to ourselves that if deficits and debt are ok for government, then overspending should be acceptable on a personal level? I find my own situation the opposite of that. I do not have a spending problem, I have an earning problem.

There is simply very little I am capable of doing, or interested in doing, that could generate a consistent income. More to the point, I no longer have tolerance for most employers, workplace politics, and being a cog that generates wealth for executives and company shareholders instead of a more equitable division of profits. Oh, I am guilty of instigating workplace drama myself. There may even be former coworkers and supervisors reading this who can attest to my being temperamental, seeking romantic relationships with coworkers, and not always completing tasks in my job description.

At least my contempt for most businesses is matched by my lack of enthusiasm for spending. There is simply very little I am interested in purchasing in the way of material goods. Not that I don't have my weaknesses. My spouse can vouch for the fact that tasty-but-not-always-healthy food and beverages are near the top of my priority list when it comes to disposable income. Good thing alcohol is so expensive, or I'd be drinking daily. Maybe hourly. On a really bad day it might be all I would do. The older I get, though, the less "things" I find I need or want. In fact, I would love to liquidate most of my possessions in favor of more money to travel.

One of my greatest disappointments is that virtually none of my belongings has any appeal to anyone else. My parents got me the Matchbox® toy cars as a kid, not the Hot Wheels™, for example. I have a few autographs, but they are from the era when sports stars and Hollywood celebrities would personalize them instead of offering a generic signature. That's apparently a bad thing that diminishes their value considerably. I put a few of my old natural history books up for sale on a Facebook group and got exactly zero responses. I don't mind donating things, but that usually isn't even enough to warrant itemizing my federal tax return. If charity begins at home, then we could use a little help here, IRS.

Collectively, we like to create the illusion that we are doing better financially than we really are. I've written about this before, the metamorphosis of the Middle Class into the Debt Class. We are taught that we need to "keep up with the Joneses," and not to complain, or have envy or jealousy over the success of others. Back in the day, that might have been true, and we could advance ourselves at least incrementally up the ladder of affluence. Today, corporations and Congress are simply removing the rungs, right out from under where we are currently perched. They are also cutting holes in the safety net beneath the ladder while telling us it is all for our own good, that we will somehow be better off. Baloney.

Back to your budget. The first thing to do is stop judging yourself by your material assets. Friends judging you that way? Get new friends. You can start with me. You know what is important, and the overwhelming majority of it you cannot find in a store or online. It is the fabric of family, community, and the other organisms we share the land, water, and atmosphere with. All else is icing, and arguably even unnecessary. There. Doesn't that make the cable or satellite service a little easier to part with? Maybe it even makes the decision to strike out on your own business venture a more plausible possibility. Go for it.