Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Pick a Book, Any Book; Now Be It

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Recent reading ...

Recent reading …

Remember books? You know, lots and lots of words on paper strung together in some sort of sensible, occasionally poetic, way to tell a story. No pop-up ads. Not textbooks. Book books.

I’ve been acutely aware of synchronicity in my life of late and books have played a part in it. Let me admit straight up here and now that my relationship with books had grown cool in recent years. Not a complete break, but sporadic at best. Technology lured me away.

Recently, though, life hit me head-on, leaving me mostly immobile and homebound. No TV. After a while, even I-phones and laptops lose their charm. I picked up a book: “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” by Tom Wolfe. Here’s some synchronicity: The only reason I had this book in my possession is that I had just finished reading Wolfe’s “Hooking Up,” which was one of several I picked up at the library’s used book store because my son, Max, said he was looking for something to read. “Hooking Up’’ reminded me that I liked Wolfe back when he was writing for the New York Herald Tribune. I also liked his “Bonfire of the Vanities.”

So I went back to the library and found “Electric, etc.” and “A Man in Full,” which I just finished and whose main character is an older gent recovering from knee surgery, like me.

I’m good on Wolfe for a while. Now, I’m reading “Contact,” by Carl Sagan, which I also found at the library store. I started thinking about my most recent choices in books and was thinking about asking friends for recommendations for some more recent books they found worthwhile.

Then, synchronistically, a Facebook friend in Seattle, Jim Bridges. posted an item informing me it was National Book Week. There were rules about finding a sentence from the book closest to you and posting it without telling the title of the book. So I did. Something from “Contact.” I also realized that Jim had just reminded me that, not too long ago, Facebook was regarded as social media, a place where people shared such information with friends as what they had for dinner and what book they were reading.

As far as I know, no one responded to my Book Week post. They probably thought it had something to do with, yes, politics. That’s just not right. Not long ago, when I started writing a blog for the Internet, friends routinely participated in discussions of whatever the topic was. Now, I feel a sense of frustration and fatigue on Facebook, which has become highly politically charged.

And so, I’m writing about books. Pay attention. I’m still looking for something to read after “Contact,” which I’m enjoying. As I said, my most recent reading — the past 18 months or so — has consisted of nothing new. Actually, nothing from this century:

“Slaughterhouse Five,” by Kurt Vonnegut; “A Prairie Home Companion,’” by Garrison Keillor; “1984,” by George Orwell (I had a suspicion.); “Hooking Up,” “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” and “A Man in Full,” by Tom Wolfe; and the current, “Awareness,” by Anthony De Mello and “Contact,” by Carl Sagan. Vonnegut and Orwell I read on Kindle, the rest on paper. I’m partial to paper, but not fanatical.

I would really like to know what you’re reading or have read recently that you would recommend. I plan to share the information in future columns, the way we used to do a while back. I’m also going to post it on Facebook and elsewhere at least often enough for friends to notice and have an opportunity to reply. You know, socially.

I have one other book-related item to share. My partner and I recently watched “Fahrenheit 453,” the 1966 movie version of Ray Bradbury’s futuristic tale of a society that burns books. (Again, I had a suspicion.) In the film, Julie Christie and other members of the secret resistance to the ban on books live together in a secluded community. Each member picks a favorite book and memorizes it so that the words will never be forgotten. The title of the book becomes their name. “Wuthering Heights,” meet “David Copperfield,” for example. They spend their days reciting themselves to each other and pass the books on to younger members before passing on. A living library.

So, friends, if you were a book, who would you be? I’m going with “Catch-22” for now. Joseph Heller. Please join me. Let’s be social again, at least until the impeachment.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Some Thoughts on an Election

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Deepak Chopra ... with a message for post-election blues

Deepak Chopra … with a message for post-election blues

Some random thoughts upon awakening on Nov. 9, 2016. …

I know it happened, but it feels surreal. We just gave a petulant child control of the most powerful military machine ever assembled. Here’s the key to the nuclear weapons closet. Don’t use it. Not sure he has heard that last part. …

Remember when all those people thought it would be funny to vote for Sanjaya on “American Idol”? He couldn’t sing worth a lick, but he made it to the finals, all the way to number 7, thanks to Howard Stern and a joke website. Lotsa laughs. Sanjaya might have won if there weren’t some people with real talent on the show. … That’s it for now. This has to be a mental health day. …

OK, I’m back. It’s Thursday. Still surreal. Can’t think about it for too long. Deepak told me this morning – well, not me personally – that if I change, my world will change. Intellectually, I get it. My perception of reality depends on my intent and my awareness. if I want to remain sane and live with a modicum of serenity, I need to focus on things that I can do something about that will also provide some positive feelings  and shut out things that will do the opposite. Take care of my world. ……

I read that California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada voted to legalize recreational marijuana. That ought to boost the U.S. economy. Did you know California’s economy is the sixth largest in the world? Maybe it will put some DEA agents out of work, but that war on drugs hasn’t worked anyway. It could make that wall on the Mexican border unnecessary. …

wish I could say I’m sorry to see Hillary go, but I’m not. Worst campaigner ever.  She should’ve gone to Standing Rock. She should have fired Debbie Wasserman. If I  were a millennial, my intent and awareness would be totally focused on Elizabeth Warren in 2020. …

My friend, Ketchup Bob (he counts ketchup as a vegetable), told me over coffee Wednesday morning that at our age if we woke up in good health it was a good day, even if it was raining. That’s the kind of uplifting message he gives me: You’re old, but you’re here. Drink your coffee and be grateful. … Intent and awareness. …

I’m a few months older than Bernie Sanders, so I don’t think he’s got another run in him. But I think he’s going to be keeping tabs on a lot of people’s intent in the Senate for the next four years and that is a source of hope. Take your vitamins, Bernie. …

I’m not reading any political stuff on Facebook for a while because obviously nobody knows a damn thing. And it is not exactly a wellspring of sanity and serenity. …

Oh, I erroneously reported a couple of weeks ago that Soupy Sales had died. Well, he had, but he did so in 2009. Sorry about that. Sloppy reporting. Got it off Facebook. …

Moment of clarity: There’s no cure for stupidity. …

Starting to feel a little better.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Who Stands with Standing Rock?

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Face off at Standing Rock.

Face off at Standing Rock.

Last Monday morning, virtual reality became real reality, if you will, in an encouraging way.

My usual morning routine includes a casual scroll through my Facebook feed to see if I missed anything of vital interest overnight. Usually it’s more of the same. But Monday, a post stopped me short and prompted a silent, “Really?”

It seems a young Facebook friend had traveled to North Dakota overnight and “checked in” at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in solidarity with the Sioux tribe protesting construction of an oil pipeline there. We both live in upstate New York, so this is no easy overnight jaunt. I was impressed with the young man’s commitment to a cause, until I scrolled a little more and discovered that another local friend, a middle-aged woman, had also checked in at Standing Rock. I could believe that she, too, would support the cause, but I was now skeptical about the travel.

A short while later, my partner said, “My Facebook friend checked in at Standing Rock.”

“Not really, I said,” having finally figured out what was going on. “I think there’s a movement on Facebook to show support for the protesters by checking in, virtually, at Standing Rock. It’s a really cool idea.”

Indeed there was and indeed it was. Cool. About a million Facebook users stood in real and virtual solidarity with the Sioux Tribe and thousands of others who have joined them in North Dakota to protest against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

While the check-ins apparently started as a response to a request from activists at the site, who said police were using the Facebook feature to find out who was at Standing Rock in order to target them, police denied doing so. As it turned out, it didn’t matter, as the massive show of online support sent a message far beyond North Dakota.

For one thing, it brought to focus an actual issue — really several issues — that were being played out in a part of the country far removed from the drudgery and dirty laundry of the presidential campaign. The standoff at Standing Rock had been going on for some time with major media outlets managing to ignore it while obsessing on emails and sexual predation.

I can imagine the newsroom discussion. Editor: “North Dakota? An oil pipeline? Indians? That’s a long way. Can’t we pick up some info from a local reporter?”

Assistant editor: “I don’t know, chief, there’s a bunch of tribes there and now hundreds of others supporting them and they are unarmed and the police and hired security forces are using tear gas and Mace and batons and rubber bullets — they shot some reporter and some horses — to force them off the land. The Sioux say it’s ancient tribal land where their ancestors are buried. Also, the pipeline threatens their water source. The protesters say the private security force even used attack dogs on them. A lot of people were arrested, including what’s-her-name, from NPR. It’s getting ugly. Mark Rufalo was there. Bernie Sanders asked Obama to do something.”

Do something.

The Sioux are still waiting.

A little background for those, like myself, overwhelmed with political “news.” Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe see the pipeline as a threat to their water supply and their culture. They say its route crosses lands — not part of the reservation — where members of their tribe once hunted and were buried. They also worry about damage if the pipeline were to break where it crosses under the Missouri River, their sole source of water.

Energy Transfer, the company building the pipeline — a $3.7 billion project —  says it will pour millions of dollars into local economies and create thousands of construction jobs. The pipeline would carry 470,000 barrels of oil a day from western North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline was moved from its original path, closer to Bismarck, the state capital, because officials feared it could damage the city water supply. Apparently, no such concern was felt for the drinking water of the Sioux.

So, back to do something.

The two candidates for president did nothing.

Donald Trump loves oil and doesn’t trust anyone who isn’t white and Christian. North Dakota’s three Electoral College votes are his anyway.

Hillary Clinton, often criticized as overly cautious, missed a chance to show real leadership. With no votes to pick up in the state, she could have stood for the rights of indigenous peoples, for protection of the environment, for the First Amendment right to free assembly, and for the responsibility of corporations, who like being considered citizens when giving money to politicians, to also act like responsible citizens when it comes to the public good. She could also have stood against military style force by police against unarmed citizens. Some Clinton doubters in other states (Nevada, Colorado, Arizona) might have been impressed.

Even President Obama waffled. He said, in an effort to accommodate sacred land of Native Americans, “the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline in a way. So we’re going to let it play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of the first Americans.”

Well, maybe that’s not so bad if the police and paid enforcers aren’t shooting rubber bullets at you and dousing you with hoses, Mr. President. How about telling them to stand down while the Army Corps does its job?

In one day, a million Americans stood in virtual solidarity with the Sioux. Is it too much to ask their president and would-be presidents to demonstrate the real thing?

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Hillary, Beware the Cloak of Inevitability

Friday, June 12th, 2015

By Bob Gaydos

Hillary Clinton, why does she want to be president?

Hillary Clinton … why does she want to be president?

Having been dragged into the 2016 presidential debate a year early by the unexpected candidacy of George Pataki, I feel obliged to acknowledge the presidential ambitions of another “New Yorker,” Hillary Clinton.

Unlike Pataki, a Republican who carries the baggage of a man looking for a political party to support his aspirations, Clinton has long worn the cloak of inevitability as the Democrats’ likely candidate in 2016.

She may not want to get too comfortable with this bit of political apparel.

History suggests why. In 2008, the so-called conventional wisdom made Clinton a heavy favorite to capture her party’s nomination. All she had to do, it was suggested, was relax and let nature takes its course. After all, she had a well-respected Bill by her side in a reversal of roles, all the money they had amassed since he left the White House, a long list of wealthy Democratic donors and she had even won an election to become New York’s junior senator.

What more did she need?

As it turned out, a few things: 1.) a populist message with which voters could identify; 2.) a campaign persona that projected sincerity, clarity, energy and the possibility of real change; 3.) a little warmth; and 4.) a way to defeat Barack Obama, who, it turns out, had plenty of the first three.

In 2008, the inevitable was overcome by the unexpected.

Enter Bernie Sanders, 2015. The conventional wisdom — and even major news media, who should know better — are writing him off as an eccentric, under-funded, liberal — socialist even — senator from a small, New England state.

All of which is true, except for the eccentric part.

Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, is running for the Democratic nomination for president. Unlike most of the Republican presidential candidates, he is no crackpot. He has a dedicated — and rapidly growing — constituency, fueled by the most synergistic form of communication yet created by man — social media.

In 2008, Barack Obama had it. In 2015, Bernie Sanders has it in spades. Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites offer a non-stop, 24/7 recitation of Sanders’ positions on issues that resonate with so-called average Americans:

Protect Social Security and Medicare. Don’t raise the retirement age. Raise the minimum wage. Decrease the wealth gap by taxing the rich more. Overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that allows the super-rich to control elections. Fight global warming. Make college affordable, not a road to lifelong debt. Rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.

Furthermore, Sanders recently introduced legislation that strikes at the heart of Republicans’ so-called dedication to family values. His Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act would guarantee 10 paid days of vacation for employees who have worked for an employer for at least a year. Sanders is also co-sponsoring, with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, The FAMILY Act, which allows 12 weeks of universal paid family and medical leave. This could be used to take care of a newborn, a seriously ill family member or to deal with serious medical conditions. Republicans are nowhere on this.

Sanders has also publicly criticized Clinton for not taking any position on President Obama’s TPP trade act, which Sanders has strongly opposed for its lack of transparency and a provision sidestepping congressional approval of new agreements.

This is not the agenda of a crackpot.

One of the knocks on Clinton has always been that she seems to feel entitled, that she should get people’s votes just because she is Hillary. That she should be New York’s senator just because. That she should be the first woman president of the United States just because.

Perhaps prompted by Sanders’ energetic campaign, which is drawing crowds and money to his cause, Clinton has called for universal voter registration — a knock at the numerous Republican efforts to limit voting rights in the name of fighting voter fraud, a phony issue. It’s a populist issue, but not one on the front burner.

Mostly, her campaign seems to be focusing on setting up a coast-to-coast organization to recruit workers and attract votes and money for the campaign against whoever the Republican candidate may be. That’s because the Clinton team doesn’t expect much of a challenge from Sanders or former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination.

O’Malley is also no dunderhead. He would shine among the GOP field of dreamers. Like Sanders, he has an air of believability. Sure, it takes a lot of ego to run for president, but beyond the ego — even the sense of entitlement — many voters like to feel the person who gets their vote really means what he or she says and will work like hell to make it happen.

Then-Sen. Obama projected that in 2008. Young voters, women and minorities especially rallied to his side. In 2012, he had a record that was strong enough to validate that commitment one more time.

So the question is, what would a second president Clinton stand for? Would Hillary be a second coming of Bill? In some ways, that might not be bad, given his management of the economy. But Hillary is no Bill, at least when it comes to campaigning. She can’t realistically change her personality, but she can articulate some views that demonstrate an awareness of the issues of concern to many Americans. Sanders has spoken on some, but women’s issues appear to be there for Clinton to claim. Also bias. Immigration. And she needs to challenge Sanders on the others if she disagrees with him.

Like any Democratic candidate, she enjoys the luxury of not having to appease the ignorati of the right, who distrust science, detest non-Christians, deny evolution and dismiss the poor. She is free to say what she really believes and, if it is in line with Democratic Party principles, she can do so without fear of losing primary votes. But she’ll need to take that comfortable cloak of entitlement off and show that she’s interested in more than wooing major campaign donors and renovating the family quarters in the White House.

Why does she want to be president?

Clinton has said, much to her regret, that she and Bill were broke when they left the White House. No one believed her, but, good for them, that’s apparently not a problem anymore. Her problem appears to be that every time she sets her sights on the Oval Office, some man gets in the way. First Bill, then Barack … now Bernie? B-ware, Hillary.

 

 

On Acting My Age … Whatever it Is

Friday, January 16th, 2015

By Bob Gaydos

"New" me, at 73.

“New” me, at 73.

I’m 73 years old. That’s a fact and unless I go to work for Fox News, I am not free to change it to suit my mood. Truth is, I don’t obsess about my age the way some do. Most of the time, I don’t think about it unless someone mentions it.

For example, last summer my partner and I were standing on line at a fix-your-own frozen yogurt establishment called Hoopla! The line of customers extended to the door and it was close to closing time. As I surveyed the offerings, my partner turned to me and said, “Did you notice we’re always the oldest ones in here?” I took a quick look around and told her that, no, I hadn’t and, furthermore, while I thought she certainly didn’t qualify, I was definitely the oldest person in the place.

And I wondered, “How come?” Don’t septuagenarians like frozen yogurt? Look at all the great flavors. And there are all the toppings — pretty much anything you can think of from fruit to nuts to Gummy Bears to complement the delicious frozen treat.

Maybe it’s the do-it-yourself bit, I thought. Or the standing in line. Maybe a lot of older folks don’t like standing in line. It could be the possibility of some messiness. Or maybe it’s just the whole idea of experiencing something new.

It’s my observation, which is open to challenge, that a lot of people of a certain age are not thrilled with trying something new. It’s as if they feel they have lived long enough and done enough. No need to learn anything else. Fixing your own dessert? Way too much trouble.

So, they have flip phones. They don’t text or Google. They barely e-mail. Kindle, schmindle; give ‘em a real book. And not a Facebook. That’s just too confusing … or something. And it’s not just frozen yogurt that they won’t eat: Kale, quinoa and coconut water will never cross their lips. Change is for the young.

I don’t get it. My feeling is, since I have just a limited time here, why not experience as much as I can for as long as I can? I know how easy it can be to slip into a rut of comfortability, even if things in life aren’t so great, even if I’m not in the best of shape. I’ve been there. It’s easy to say, hey, this is OK. I can handle it. I don’t have to worry about learning something new. School’s over. Time to relax. Ain’t retirement grand?

Actually, yes, retirement has been pretty grand. But it’s also not the end of the line.

I shaved my beard and mustache off a few months ago. In the space of a month, only six people noticed. I counted.

One of them was my son, Max, who had a full beard himself at the time. My other son, Zack, noticed that I had also gotten a haircut, which was a typical observation. Other comments ranged from, “You look really tan, Bob” to “Nice haircut,” to “You look good; are you working out?” to “Did you lose weight?”

To which I replied, varyingly, “Thanks.” “Yes.” And, “Hello, I shaved my beard off.”

The beard is now back, although trimmed fairly neatly, and the hair on top is cut short. Also neat. But more importantly for this whole getting older thing, were the other comments about working out and losing weight. They were correct. People noticed and, to be honest, it was nice to hear. The working out regularly, combined with eating a much more healthful diet, coincided with meeting my partner two-and-a-half years ago. More than ever, I don’t believe in coincidences. The result has been a significant weight loss for me and my feeling and looking better — healthier at any rate — at 73 than, dare I say, at 53. So, yeah, retirement is great.

Anyway, as I said, a few people did notice the beard was gone and their comments may be even more telling than the ones I didn’t get:

— “There’s Bob, looking all neat and reputable.”

— “You look so neat and clean.”

— “Now you’re not hiding behind anything.”

Or from anything either. The physical changes have been accompanied by subtle psychological changes, a greater willingness to try new things.

The point of this exercise in vanity, I suppose, is that numerical age doesn’t matter nearly as much as attitude does. That’s nothing new, I know. I just needed to acknowledge it publicly for myself. Just don’t tell me to act my age, because I don’t know what that means.

I am 73. I have a phone that is at least 10 times smarter than I am. I wrote this column on a laptop. I love WiFI. I have a Kindle and have actually read one book on it so far. (Confession: I still prefer the real thing.) I Google and text constantly. I eat yogurt and falafel and sushi and lots of fruits and vegetables. No red meat. I exercise with a growing degree of regularity. All my annual checkup numbers are in the positive range. My doctor says I’m the textbook example of what can happen when you actually follow your doctor’s advice. I kinda liked hearing that, too.

Now, if someone would just explain to me how 3-D printing works …

 

The Kidnapping the World Ignored

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

By Bob Gaydos

Abubakar Shekau

Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram

Now, the world notices. Now, the world calls it an outrage. Now, it is not just an act of terrorism, it is a crime against all humanity.

But where was the world then, three weeks ago, when the outrage occurred? Where were we when members of the Boko Haram terrorist group swept down on a boarding school in Nigeria and kidnapped 276 of that African nation’s brightest girls from their dorms? Where were we a mere week ago when the leader of the extreme Islamist group threatened to sell the teenaged girls as “wives” for $12 apiece?

A lot of us, myself included, were focused on the words and actions of a man who shelled out millions to enjoy the company of women, a man who also owned a professional basketball team and who happened to be a racist as well as a misogynist. While Donald Sterling, whom I dubbed “the NBA plantation owner’’ in my blog, was being vilified and ridiculed in the media and on the Internet, Abubakar Shekau, commander of Boko Haram, was leading his bloodthirsty group on deadly attacks on Nigerian villages, government buildings, mosques and churches and kidnapping eight more girls.

For the most part, major media, electronic and print, downplayed or ignored the kidnapping story and hyped the Sterling fiasco. After all, Los Angeles, where Sterling’s team plays, is familiar and glamorous and Nigeria is, well, way over there in Africa somewhere. And Sterling had insulted a team of talented, male, black athletes while Shekau had kidnapped a group of young black girls. Double standard hardly seems to cover it.

It took — as it increasingly does these days — a social media campaign for, not just the news media, but other nations to learn about the plight of the Nigerian girls and to muster the moral outrage to offer to help the inept Nigerian government find and return them to their families.

The “#Bring Back Our Girls” campaign on Twitter began in Nigeria as a response to the failure of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to mount any effort to rescue the girls, 53 of whom escaped on the night of their abduction. The hapless president at first said only a few girls had been kidnapped and they had been rescued. When the girls’ parents refuted that story, he said he had no idea where the girls were and even faulted the fearful parents for not giving police enough information on their daughters. (The girls had returned to school to take final exams. Virtually all other girls schools in Nigeria were closed because of threats from Boko Haram.) Jonathan’s wife, Patience, actually ordered the arrest of parents protesting the government inaction because they made her husband look bad.

As the Internet campaign drew more support (more than a million tweets on May 8), the rest of the world — and news media — became aware of what was really happening in Nigeria. A ruthless group of extremist Muslims was trying to take over Africa’s largest country through sheer terror. Nigeria is an oil rich, half-Christian, half-Muslim nation whose people, as demonstrated by many protests, are united in their desire to find the girls. Now, Jonathan, whose army says it is outgunned by Boko Haram, has accepted offers of help from the United States, United Kingdom, China and France in finding the girls and punishing the extremist kidnappers.

Save for members of Boko Haram and other groups with similar extreme views of women’s “place” under Islam (such as the Taliban), a successful resolution to this crisis wished by most would be the safe return of all the girls, unharmed, with no ransom paid and the terrorists either dead or in prison. Doesn’t matter which.

Beyond that, however, lies the bigger challenge of recognizing and educating the world on the continuing lack of basic rights for women in many Muslim societies. Boko Haram loosely translated means “Western education is sinful.” The group supposedly believes its violence is justified by its religion, although Islamist scholars and millions of Muslims say this is not what their religion teaches. Unfortunately, the rare occasions in which Western media mention Islam tend to be in connection with groups like Boko Haram who use their extremist views to justify violence.

Furthermore, major media reporting on women’s rights and issues in general remains woefully inadequate, especially considering we’re talking about more than half the world’s population. Even in the Sterling story, the focus of reporting was on his racist comments while his misogynistic behavior was ignored by most media outlets.

As I said, I am guilty of having missed the Nigerian girls story while getting wrapped up in Sterling. It’s not that Sterling didn’t deserve to be revealed and reviled for the person he is. He did and I’m glad I did. But there’s no reason I couldn’t have been more aware of the Nigerian girls’ plight and raised my voice on their behalf as well.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school girl who survived a shooting by Taliban extremists for daring to speak out for the right of girls in her country to get an education, said it simply, “If we remain silent then this will spread. It will happen more and more and more.”

More and more and more, it appears that major media institutions in America have forsaken their function of informing the public of injustices wherever and whenever they occur in favor of reporting the most convenient, easily explainable stories, preferably those with some celebrity name-recognition. That leaves it to the rest of us to demand more of our press and ourselves. Social media will undoubtedly lead the way. Bring Back Our Girls is on Facebook. It had more than 100,000 likes on May 8.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

 

 

Mariano Rivera Saves the Night (for Me)

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

Mariano Rivera waves to crowd at All-Star Game.

Mariano Rivera waves to crowd at All-Star Game.

I started the practice, which soon became a habit, in my early teens. When I picked up the morning paper (my mother religiously bought four or five papers daily) I always turned to the back page first, the sports page of one of New York city’s two tabloids, the Daily News and the Mirror.

At first, this was because that’s where my interests were. As I grew older, it was because I found it to be a gentler way, if you will, to enter into the daily fray. It was sports, after all, fun and games. Nothing life and death or depressing there. For some time, I felt guilty about this habit, feeling I should be paying attention to the front of the paper and all the “important” news. The bad news. The annoying news. The depressing news. The infuriating news. But then I found out that other seemingly bright, responsible people started their daily newspaper the same way — on the sports page. So I stopped beating myself up over it.

There’s no back page where I get much of my news today, on the Internet, but Tuesday night I found myself turning figuratively to the back page of Facebook. The social media site’s front pages, if you will, screamed with anger, hatred, bigotry and ignorance prompted by the not guilty verdict on George Zimmerman. Then there was Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, people shooting people everywhere, bees still in a death spiral, people being denied food stamps while millionaire farmers got subsidies, American citizens being spied on by their government, which is owned by a small group of very rich people, children and animals being abused, politicians arguing about abortion and sex instead of creating jobs, Brits still wondering how horse meat got in their hamburgers, chemical companies controlling our food supply, and the Republican Party solidifying its identity as the racist reaction to the nation’s first black president.

In exhaustion, I turned to sports, to baseball’s All Star Game. To Mariano Rivera, an oasis of inspiration, reassurance and dignity in a world gone seemingly mad for the moment.

Dignity is not a word often used in connection with sports figures these days, what with steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs eroding trust in the athletes and alcohol and drug-connected behavior making respect difficult to bestow.

But Rivera, “Mo” to legions of spoiled Yankee fans, has always been the model of dignified behavior. No hint of cheating. No scandal. No bad-mouthing opponents. Just consistent excellence and humility.

That he also turned out to be the best ever at what he does on a baseball field, makes him all the more special. If you’re a front-of-the-paper reader, Rivera is a “closer,” the pitcher brought in at the end of a game your team is winning, to shut down the other team, lest it have any ideas about rallying to win. Over the years, the mere sound of Metallica‘s “Enter Sandman” playing on the Yankee Stadium public address system and the sight of Rivera jogging in from the bullpen, became enough to silence opponents’ bats before he threw a pitch. No one has saved more games than the slender Panamanian and Tuesday night he appeared in Major League Baseball’s All Star Game for the last time.

This is Rivera’s farewell tour year. He is retiring at age 43 with more saves than anyone else. He has been given warm welcomes, been treated with admiration and respect, in every visiting team’s ballpark on the Yankees’ last visit. He has also asked to have an informal meeting with employees of each team on his last visit — to thank them for what they do. Ushers, security guards, grounds crew members, cleaning crew members, office workers have had a chance to chat with the Yankees’ new goodwill ambassador.  At the All Star game being played in the new stadium of the New York Mets, the Yankees’ crosstown rival, Rivera received a standing ovation from every fan and all-star in attendance. It lasted 90 seconds and the rest of his team did not take the field in the eighth inning until the ovation was over, leaving him alone on the pitcher’s mound to soak up the love. Then he retired the three batters he faced and his work was done.

The official “save” would go to Joe Nathan, who pitched the ninth inning, but Mo saved the night for me on Facebook. It’s not that I ignore the other stuff, the issues and causes and injustices of the world. In fact, it’s what I usually write about. I have had a career, in fact, writing about man’s incredible capacity for stupidity and cruelty. But I have always appreciated a standing ovation for a Pavarotti, a Perlman, a Fonteyn, a Streep. The best of the best.

Sports figures used to be looked upon as role models, people you could point out to your children and say, “That’s the way to behave.’’ Those role models are hard to come by today. Ironically, Rivera has had a teammate throughout his career who also fills the bill, Derek Jeter. They have spoiled Yankee fans for a long time and when they finally go, both will be missed.

But Tuesday was Rivera’s night, in Queens and on Facebook, and for that, I am grateful. I will return soon enough to writing about greed, arrogance, ignorance and bigotry and the need to fight against all of it, but for one night it was a relief to witness excellence, elegance, admiration, dignity and mutual respect. Thanks for the save, Mo.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

Warning: This Column May Be Bugged

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

By Bob Gaydosstock-photo-eye-spying-trough-a-computer-monitor-85320868

Hi there. Thanks for clicking on this article. I feel obliged to warn you right off that you and I are probably not alone in this seemingly intimate connection. Odds are this interchange is being monitored by some government or private computer for the purpose of, well, maybe for the sole purpose of demonstrating that it can be done.

And it is done, routinely, to anyone and everyone who uses a computer, lap top, tablet or cell phone. Privacy has become a quaint concept, an anachronism, in the computer era. The very tool that has freed us to a world of instant information and communication has also stripped us of something we cherish, our privacy.

Let me amend that. The tool is not to blame. It’s the people using it. They have entered our lives — admittedly often at our initial invitation — to such an extent that savvy technicians can put together accurate profiles of us in short order. Mostly, these people work for private companies that want to sell us something based on our computer behavior. Of course, those with malice in their heart can and do use their skills and the gathered data for nefarious purposes such as identity theft or simply installing a computer virus for no apparent reason.

This is not news to you, I’m sure. What’s perhaps new and most troubling to me is the extent to which our own government is involved in spying on us. Recent revelations by Edward Snowden of a massive cell phone data collection program run by the National Security Agency targeting average American citizens has been followed up with revelations of the extent to which the NSA also has used popular Internet service providers such as Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Bing, AOL, Apple, Facebook and YouTube, to compile information on private citizens.

Why?

Why national security, of course. There could very well be potential terrorists lurking out there among those cute cat photos and it is part of our eternal war on terrorism to try to find them among the billions of clicks per day on computers.

That’s the company line and there is a small element of truth in it. But we can’t assess how valuable the snooping has been because the government (the White House and Congress) won’t tell us anything that can be verified by uninvolved parties. (And the head of the CIA lies to Congress without getting fired.)

Mostly, though, I have come to believe (and this is why I warn you this column may be bugged) that our government snoops do this kind of thing because they can and they really don’t see it is an invasion of privacy and most certainly do not consider the massive potential for abuse it presents. This is scary. When the computer spies forget that they, too, are American citizens and also suffer from any erosion of individual privacy along with the rest of us, the slippery slope to total control of the citizenry has begun. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness lose their meaning.

Too alarmist?

Well, consider the reaction of President Obama when Snowden subsequently revealed that the United States was snooping on countries in the European Union and elsewhere. These are our friends, mind, our allies. The EU folks erupted with indignant surprise. They were outraged, etc. Obama said, in effect, what’s the big deal? Everybody does it.

Which is in large part true. The EU huffing and puffing was largely for show. They knew they were bugged and some of them also bugged official United States locations for the purpose of … what?

The nonchalant nature of the practice on an international scale bespeaks an inability and/or unwillingness to trust friends at their word or to get some kind of edge on them in international diplomacy. So I ask, why would this attitude not translate into domestic spying? It’s no big deal. Everybody does it. National security, you know? Trust us, we mean you no harm.

Really? Well then, why is the entire process sealed in secrecy, with a special court granting rubber stamp warrants for the government bugging private citizens? Why is the court answerable to no one in the public? Why are its rulings free from challenge? Why are private contractors (Snowden was one), not actual government employees, given access to such highly classified information? What happens to the data collected on U.S. citizens who turn out to be really just “average” Americans connecting with friends or venting frustration on Facebook? Why are most of our political leaders focusing on Snowden’s release of “classified” data rather than on the enormity of the spying effort on private citizens?

And why should we not be concerned that instructions are available on line on how to turn computer cameras (yes, Skype, too) and cell phone cameras into devices that can spy on their owners, a weapon that obviously could be used by serious government computer spies? And probably is. (Put tape over the lens without actually touching it. Shut it off in the bedroom.)

We “average citizens” have definitely been complicit in creating this situation, but most of were also a bit naïve: I have nothing to hide, so why should I worry about putting personal information on line? That may have been a valid view at one time, but it ignored the reality that those with a certain amount of power inevitably seek to expand their power.

Our government is supposed to protect us from this. When it is the offending party, we need to challenge it. We have no choice. We must do this peaceably, but vigorously, through public demonstrations (as the Occupy movement tried), petitions, messages to elected officials, support for candidates who want to shine light on such programs and eliminate abuses, rejection of candidates who support the spying, protest to and boycott of companies that cooperate with spying efforts, And by voicing opinions of protest on line.

Which is where I came in. Thanks for reading this. Don’t bother deleting; Big Brother already knows you were here.

bob@zestoforange.com

$2 billion here, $2 billion there …

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg married girlfriend, Priscilla Chan. AP photo

… pretty soon you’re talking about real money                                                                                                By Bob Gaydos

Mark Zuckerberg lost $2 billion Monday, the second day after his company, Facebook, raised $16 billion in an initial public offering. Maybe you didn’t notice because Mark is still a long way from visiting the soup kitchen.

Facebook sold 421.2 million shares at $38 a share on May 17, a Friday, the biggest technology IPO in history. By Monday, the share price had dropped below $34, delivering that “blow” to Zuckerberg’s wallet. By the close of business Tuesday, Facebook shares had dropped to $31, but the founder, whose financial interest in the company stock was estimated at $17 billion, was reportedly enjoying his honeymoon and not fretting about the public’s judgment that his wildly popular social media enterprise was also wildly overvalued. He actually got married after the IPO, which to me implies true love.

At roughly the same time, JP Morgan Chase, the bank that is too big and too smart to make an investment mistake, much less fail, announced it had blown $2 billion — there’s that number again — on something called synthetic derivatives. This is what we make in America today instead of shoes and cameras and tires and auto parts. Jamie Dimon, the Zuckerberg of JP Morgan, was uncharacteristically embarrassed and apologetic about the loss, which, as with Zuckerberg, barely put a dent in the JP Morgan bank account, although it did get some people fired.

The problem with the JP Morgan fiasco, though, is that it is a bank as well as an investment company and $2 billion is still a lot of money to lose. It tends to weaken people’s trust in your judgment and maybe even make them put their money elsewhere.

Even worse, nobody, not even supposed experts on complicated investment schemes, can seem to explain what the heck a synthetic derivative is in the first place. I asked a college business professor to explain it and all I got was a blank stare. As far as I can tell, a synthetic derivative seems to be something akin to a fantasy baseball league for bored stock traders looking to hedge their bets on other investments. Whatever that means. I think they make it up as they go along. The main requirement seems to be that not even the people who create it know exactly what they’ve created. Maybe Mary Shelley would understand.

Once upon a time, banks weren’t allowed to take such risks with clients’ money, but that was before all the smart Wall Street guys and gals convinced their bought-and-paid-for members of Congress that really, really, really, really, really big banks didn’t need to be regulated and could be trusted to deal responsibly with complex investments as well as mortgages and savings accounts. Why? Because they were really big and really smart and could make a heap more money for the people who were bankrolling congressional campaigns — and for themselves. And because most politicians were too embarrassed to admit they didn’t have a clue what the big banks were up to.

I don’t venture into the world of high finance often because, like most Americans, never mind politicians, I don’t understand it very well. But at least I admit it. Plus, I get depressed hearing about $25 million golden parachutes for CEOs who mess up, lose other people’s money, but still somehow deserve to be handsomely rewarded for their service. It seems to me if you can’t hit a curveball anymore, you get released. Period.

I also find it had to understand why anyone these days would trust the same bankers who mortgaged this country’s future with phony baloney home loans to people who didn’t have a prayer of repaying them, then gobbled up federal bailout money to make profits, and then foreclosed on all those people to whom they gave bad mortgages — often without bothering to do any real follow up on the loans and their clients to see if they could maybe work out a way to pay.

These are not honorable people. These are people who see only the need to make more money, in any way possible, including conjuring synthetic derivatives. I’d rather invest in a crystal ball factory. The people who work at these super banks are this way because no one has paid the price for their greed. They say they are merely applying the principles of a free market to their trade — a market that returns less than 1 percent on savings accounts and charges fees every time someone answers a customer’s question.

This change in the approach to banking began at the end of the Clinton administration with repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which prohibited banks from co-mingling commercial and investment accounts. Risking clients’ savings by creating exotic investment packages and selling them to other clueless investors was forbidden.

In the wake of the 2008 banking crisis, the Dodd-Frank Bill was enacted, to return some modicum of regulation over the super banks that were created when Glass-Steagall was repealed. Part of that bill is the so-called Volcker Rule, which prohibits proprietary trading by commercial banks in which bank deposits are used to trade on the bank’s investments. The rule is named after former United States Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who was named chairman of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board by President Obama when he inherited the banks’ financial mess in 2008. Things being what they are in Washington these days, the Volcker Rule is not scheduled to go into effect until July 21 of this year. And no one expects that deadline to be met.

What’s more, some economists feel the rule is still too weak because it is full of exceptions and would not have prevented the JP Morgan Chase fiasco. (Volcker himself warned about the risks of derivatives.) All of this has, predictably, led to a lot of calls for stricter regulations on these super banks.

But Morgan’s Dimon, chagrined and embarrassed as he may be, isn’t ready for a return to the old days, when banks were banks and investment companies were investment companies and people knew their money was safe. In fact, he wants Volcker weakened so his minions can try to create even more exotic investment thingamajigs. Apparently, he just plans to watch his help a lot closer from now on and wants us to trust that he will do it. Shame on him.

Most likely, given the political climate, nothing is going to change. Democrats will argue for more regulation as they have for years. Republicans, who lately seem to believe only the rich should get richer, will demand no regulation at all. Meanwhile, these 20 or so super banks that now control the U.S. economy will continue to try to create billions out of nothing because sometimes it works. No one knows quite what they do, but everyone involved at the bank winds up with tons of money when it works and a chunk of that money finds its way to congressional campaigns. So it apparently doesn’t matter that none of it seems to create jobs or promote economic development or entrepreneurship. The derivatives just keep feeding the same overstuffed mouths over and over again.

Too big to fail? Too big to regulate? These banks are really too big to exist, but no one except the Occupy movement is making this argument publicly and persistently these days.

Which brings me back to young Mr. Zuckerberg. I don’t feel sad for him that his IPO didn’t cash in as big as some had predicted. (Some of that, by the way, was due to bad calculations by the NASDAQ and the big banks that handled the initial offering.) He and his partners made their millions or billions and one of them (not a native American) even renounced his U.S. citizenship to protect his profits from the IRS.

But hey, the way I see it, they’re entitled. Heck, they created Facebook with their own brains and there is nothing synthetic about it. They made it into the closest electronic version of a living, breathing organism. It has a pulse. It is a vehicle for people around the world to communicate instantly with each other at any time. Their product is useful, portable, entertaining, ubiquitous, optional — and free. In our economic system, that should equate to profitable. It may just not be as profitable as its creators thought it was.

But that’s what happens when people have even the slightest understanding about what they’re being asked to buy.

 bob@zestoforange.com

Enough is Enough from Rush!

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Rush Limbaugh … 30 years of vile attacks

By Emily Theroux

Earlier this week, a Facebook acquaintance posted a comment under one of my recent political rants that absolutely astounded me. Following Rush Limbaugh’s recent three-day “slut-shaming” of law student Sandra Fluke for daring to testify before a House subcommittee about the high cost of birth control for uninsured women, I stayed up very late Sunday night, venting about Limbaugh’s galling hypocrisy in the face of his own infamous excesses. The next morning, I discovered a single reply from a woman who had never posted anything more controversial on my page than occasional praise of my dog or my grandchildren.

“As a journalist,” she offered, “wouldn’t it be good research to go back and actually listen to his show and hear exactly what was said, rather than repeat what people thought he said? He made his point with humor, albeit he took it to the extreme. Like it or not, it made for some GREAT radio.” She then added a rhetorical question: “When did having babies become considered a disease?” and ended her reproach with a snarky personal remark: “And speaking of babies, post more photos of your beautiful grandbabies. That we can all agree on.”

After letting her post simmer on my Facebook wall for most of that day, she inexplicably deleted it just as I was about to post a heated reply. That gave me time to ponder whether to make any kind of retort at all. I decided in favor of responding because I really don’t think anyone who has listened to the degrading, vicious, defamatory things that Rush Limbaugh has said about women and minorities for the past 30 years can let his lies, grandstanding, and verbal projectile vomiting — or his apologists’ weak excuses for his behavior — go unchallenged this time.

I always research whatever I’m planning to post on a public forum, I wanted to tell her. I listened to what Limbaugh said so many times that it’s some trick I didn’t puke all over my keyboard. He repeatedly lied that Fluke testified about her own sex life and that she said she was having so much sex, she couldn’t afford to pay for her own birth control pills — indeed, so much sex that he didn’t see how she could still walk. I didn’t find this to be anything approximating “entertainment” or “great radio.”

I also carefully listened to Sandra Fluke’s testimony before Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s House subcommittee. Fluke never once mentioned her own sex life; she actually devoted most of her testimony to explaining the difficulty many Georgetown students have paying for birth control pills they are prescribed to treat medical conditions that have nothing to do with pregnancy. Fluke described at length the plight of another Georgetown student who had been paying out of pocket for oral contraceptives prescribed to treat polycystic ovarian syndrome and eventually lost one of her ovaries when she could no longer afford to pay for the medication.

I heard exactly what Limbaugh said for three days — every lie, every vile taunt, every nonsensical mathematical “calculation” (suggesting, for example, that by dividing his hugely exaggerated “cost” figure for birth control pills by the number of “coeds” enrolled at Georgetown University (all of them promiscuous, of course), he would arrive at an estimate that each female student who took birth control pills must be having sex at least three times a day! Never mind the fact that you don’t take any more birth control pills if you have sex three times a day than if you have sex once a month — or never).

I sat through every vile taunt, every slander, every obscenity, every ad hominem attack, every cruel characterization of women who use birth control, whom he portrays as slavering nymphomaniacs. Limbaugh’s “remarks,” if you want to call them that, were in no sense humorous, nor were they ambiguous. Whether he rattled on for three days to boost his ratings or to give the Republican war on women a “plug” — or whether he even actually believes the things he says — is immaterial. I say it’s high time he shuts his big fat mouth. I signed a petition yesterday to that effect; if I can find it again, I’ll post that on Facebook, too.

As for the mystifying bit about how liberals consider having babies “a disease” (which Limbaugh himself said on his radio show later that day), that’s disingenuous hooey. I certainly never defined the “diseases” birth control is used to treat as human embryos, simply because certain kinds of birth control function by preventing implantation of fertilized ova. What I said is that, in addition to preventing pregnancy, oral contraceptives are also prescribed to treat women who have any of a wide range of real diseases or medical conditions that have nothing to do with the prevention of pregnancy.

I also said that employers who refuse to provide health insurance coverage for oral contraceptives because they are opposed to birth control for reasons of faith or conscience do not appear to take their non-contraceptive applications into consideration. Maybe we need some new names for these drugs that would differentiate their various uses, so that while politicians and “entertainers” are lobbing this issue at their opponents for electoral or monetary gain, the rest of us would at least know what they were really talking about.

Finally, being advised to post more photos of my grandchildren on Facebook struck me as a little condescending. It felt like being told to hie myself back to the kitchen and keep my nose out of the business of menfolk — although my Facebook friend was probably just trying to end her criticism on a positive note by paying me what she considered a compliment.

Women, like men, may originally have been put on earth by God or nature to reproduce; if that is so, I think I have done an admirable enough job of it. But I was also born with a brain and have elected to use it. Rush Limbaugh made a point of punishing a woman who dared to do exactly that by spending three days “putting her in her place.” The problem with me — and I suspect, with Sandra Fluke — is that some of us don’t tend to stay put very well.

Emily Theroux, a Middletown resident and former magazine editor at The Times Herald-Record, writes occasional political commentary on social media sites.