Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

And So it Went: A Sports Fan Desperately in Need of a Back Page

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Usain Bolt, enjoying himself

Usain Bolt … enjoying himself

I started reading newspapers from back to front pretty much when I started reading newspapers regularly. Eleven. Twelve. Little League age. I should back up a bit here and explain that in our house having a half dozen or so daily papers stacked on a chair at the end of the kitchen table was routine. My mother was an avid reader of newspapers, a fact which baffles me to this day because she virtually never discussed current events. She had to be the best-informed, least-opinionated person I’ve ever known. Kind of the opposite of what we have today.

At any rate, among those daily papers were two New York City tabloids, The New York Daily News and The New York Daily Mirror. For a boy whose life revolved around sports, they were required reading and sports, of course, was the back of the paper, starting with the back page. The papers had great reporters, columnists, photos, everything necessary to keep a blossoming Yankee fan from noticing that other Yankees — American GIs — were fighting in a war in Korea. An uncle among them.

As I grew older, my interests broadened, as did my appreciation of good writing. The pile of papers at the end of the table grew taller proportionally. What once consisted of The Bayonne Times, The Jersey Journal, The Newark Star-Ledger, The News and The MIrror, gradually expanded to at varying times include The Herald Tribune (my favorite), the Journal-American, The New York Post and occasionally even the World Telegram & Sun. If there was a sports section, I found it. If it wasn’t the back page, it was still the back of the paper. Fun and games. Batting averages and touchdown passes.

No war. No politics. No crime. No scandal. Plenty of time to read about that other stuff later in the day. It helped me ease into my day even as I began to realize there were other supposedly more important topics to read about. Sports was always an escape valve from the petty annoyances and major disappointments of the rest of life.

Maybe that’s why sports reporters always seemed to be so content, regardless of what was happening in the world. They got to go to a sporting event free, write a story about and do it over again the next day. And get paid for it. Sweet. I had a brief taste of this in my journalism career as a sports editor in upstate New York for a year or so. The heaviest weight the world put on my shoulders was how to play Mark Spitz’s record haul of seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics. As fate would have it, I worked for a tabloid, so I splashed a big picture of Spitz, his medals and the headline, “The Magnificent Seven.” I thought it was as good as any of the New York City tabs could do.

Later, as editorial page editor at a different upstate paper for 23 years, I wound up writing about all the other stuff. Stuff I still write about today when I feel the inspiration, which of late has been difficult to come by. All of which is a long way of saying that, while I still turn to the sports page to start my day today, it’s not nearly the same. First of all, on the Internet there is no back page. More to the point, the sports pages are no longer a sanctuary from the social problems of the day.

One of the biggest sports stories recently was the “retirement” of Alex Rodriguez from the New York Yankees. A-Rod got $27 million to go away. You don’t have to honor your contract for next year, Alex; take the money with our blessings. Rodriguez, of course, was a central figure in baseball’s steroids scandal. He was suspended for a year for cheating. Why he felt the need to cheat is beyond me since he was regarded as one of the best players in baseball without enhancing his performance with drugs. Instead of marveling at his skills, which is, after all, what sports is all about, fans are left to wonder how much his statistics were inflated by steroids.

I watched a movie recently, “The Program,” which details the lengths to which Lance Armstrong (If ever there was a name for a sports hero, that was it) went to win the Tour de France — seven times. Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer, apparently knew he was good, but not good enough, to win the legendary cycling race, so he signed on for a regimented doping program from the outset, recruiting teammates for the lying and cheating that brought him fame and fortune and ultimate disgrace. He made the front page.

It’s not just drugs. Last week, a kicker for the New York Giants was suspended for one game because of an old domestic violence complaint by his ex-wife. One game. The National Football League has been plagued with domestic violence complaints for several years and has yet to figure out a consistent policy on dealing with them. Then again, the NFL also had trouble figuring out how to penalize teams that deflate the footballs.

Of course, the biggest sporting event of the year has been the Olympics in beautiful Brazil, with its polluted waters, corrupt government, and economic problems. The event began with the Russian track team being banned because of a government-sponsored doping program. It featured a medal-winning American swimmer, Ryan Lochte, claiming he and some teammates were robbed at gunpoint in Rio, when they actually had gotten drunk and trashed a service station bathroom.

This was all back page stuff, but hardly a diversion from the travails of the day. Hardly uplifting of the human spirit, as the Olympics likes to present itself.

But then … there was also Michael Phelps, still swimming despite two DUI arrests, and his record haul of medals. Also: the other USA swimmers, male and female; the women gymnasts; the basketball team; Yusra Mardini, the Syrian refugee who swam as part of an Olympic Refugee team; the female runners who collided, fell down, helped each other up and finished the race. Literally uplifting.

Finally, there is the face of this Olympics, at least for me: Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt blurring to victory for the third time in the 100-meter dash, permanently retiring the title of “Fastest Human Alive.” Bolt actually took the time in a qualifying race for the 100-meters to glance back to see if anyone was gaining on him. No one was. He smiled. Wow! Now that’s a back page.

Bolt won three golds. Of course, the Twitterverse could not avoid the question of the day: What drugs do you think he’s on?

And so it went.

Dedicated to: Jimmy Breslin, Jimmy Cannon and Jim Murray.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Give Me a ‘D’ for Dumb, Pat

Friday, June 13th, 2014

By Bob Gaydos

Pat Sajak ... scientist?

Pat Sajak … scientist?

It’s Pat Sajak’s fault.

For the past few years, I’ve been writing one opinion piece a week for a blog. It’s a way to keep doing in retirement what I did for more than 40 years for newspapers.

But I have been unable to form an opinion for three weeks — ever since I read about Sajak tweeting about “global warming alarmists being unpatriotic racists knowingly misleading for their own ends.”

This made no sense to me, starting with why the ever-smiling host of “Wheel of Fortune” had any reason to think his thoughts on global warming were worth sharing on Twitter in the first place.

But as I tried to set aside the Sajak incident, I found myself unable to find anything else that made sense to me. What the heck is wrong with this country? I wondered. What could I write about when what is supposedly the most technologically advanced society in history seems to be paralyzed by a combination of willful ignorance and abject laziness. Sajak Syndrome, if you will.

When did dumb become fashionable?

Pick a topic. Global warming? Pictures of the Arctic ice pack melting? Nearly 100 percent agreement among scientists that humans are destroying the planet’s atmosphere through extravagant, ignorant use of fossil fuels and cutting down of rain forests? That’s nonsense, the pundits on Fox News say. Wasn’t it cold this winter? Didn’t it snow? What the heck do scientists know?

If it were true, the Fox News folks would tell us, the Fox flock say. Really? When they’re being paid to lie? This is abject laziness on the part of the viewers and willful ignorance on the part of the bosses and staff and big money backers at Fox News. And sadly today, most of the Republican Party.

How do you reach people who don’t want to be reached, I wondered, people who are too lazy to question, who are so set in their own prejudices that they eagerly accept the drumbeat message that the man living in the White House is to blame for all that scientific foolishness and everything else that is wrong with this country?

Please, tell me again how racism is dead in America since we elected Barack Obama, a black man, to be president. Tell that to people whose voting rights are being stripped (by Republicans). Tell that to people of color in “Stand Your Ground” states. Check the arrest and imprisonment statistics on drug crimes.

Forgive me for jumping around here, but, as I said, I can’t figure out what to write about because there is so much insanity going on in this country. The bankers drove this country into a recession through shady deals and didn’t go to jail. Today, people who still can’t find jobs because of the recession are called lazy and Congress — again, led by Republicans — cuts money for food stamps for the poor and refuses to extend unemployment benefits to the unemployed or raise the minimum wage or expand benefits to veterans.

It also refuses to cut college students — the future of this country — a break on the interest rates on their back-breaking loans. The corporations, of course, still get their tax breaks and CEOs who drive companies into the red still get rewarded with lavish golden parachutes. And the boss of McDonald’s tells his employees to get another job to make ends meet because he can’t afford to pay them a living wage. To Fox News, this makes sense.

Did I mention guns? There is a shooting at a school or mall or other public place virtually every day now, but it’s not because guns are too easy to get, the willfully ignorant insist. No, the leaders of the NRA tell us that if we armed teachers and let everyone carry weapons openly there would be fewer shootings. Bring your guns to Chili’s and Target. More guns mean fewer shootings. Oh, and if you don’t feel like paying your share of income tax, hole up on your ranch with an arsenal and defy the federal government. Because you’re a patriot. Fox News will defend your “right.’’ This is insane.

Look at the food we eat. Well, actually, most of us apparently would rather not. Monsanto, a chemical company that controls the food supply, changes the genetic structure of basic foods. This allows companies to sell food cheaper because more crops grow in less space and the “food” lasts longer on shelves. That food is usually full of salt and sugar and chemicals, in addition to having its genetic structure changed.

No one knows the possible effects of genetically modified food, but Congress (Republicans, again) allows it — won’t even require labeling of foods with GMOs — because Monsanto is a very generous donor to political campaigns. Europe has banned GMOs. China, too, and other countries. But Fox closes its eyes and ears and shuts off its brain to the obvious questions — willful ignorance — and its sheep munch away on cheap, addictive food, raising health insurance costs as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and weight-related illnesses increase. All the while, of course — again at the instigation of Fox — they are criticizing the president for trying to make health insurance more affordable for everyone.

There’s plenty more. We are a nation of immigrants that can’t come up with a reasonable immigration policy. We espouse freedom of religion, but in some areas of America it’s probably not wise to admit being Muslim. There is still some question among some conservatives as to who is responsible when a woman is raped. Evolution is considered by the willfully ignorant and abjectly lazy as a theory to be debated. But Noah and the Flood — an undeniable fact.

The Internet gets blamed for a lot of the misinformation that is spread today. But the Internet is just a tool. People spread ignorance, out of fear, greed, selfishness, prejudice, envy, laziness. I think many of the commentators at Fox News are laughing all the way to the bank. They are getting rich by criticizing the poor. Others are simply willing to say whatever they are told to say to get a paycheck. Some are just nasty and don’t like people who are different from them. I think at times they all say stuff that they have to know can’t be true, but they do it anyway because that’s their job. There is really no excuse for people like this — the willfully ignorant.

Why the Republican Party has allowed itself to be dragged down to this level, kowtowing to the frenzied anti-government, anti-Obama cries of the tea partiers, I don’t know. I suspect it has to do with race (the president’s) and with money — who is providing how much of it to whom. Integrity is clearly not held in high regard in the GOP these days, at least not since it offered Sarah Palin as a person to be trusted a heartbeat away from the presidency.

That leaves the climate-change deniers (who also doubted the president’s birth certificate) who think anything they read on the Internet is true, except if it’s on an actual mainstream news site or one run by liberals. These are the abjectly lazy who wouldn’t check a fact put forth by Fox News even if their life depended on it. And sometimes it does.

So there’s my dilemma. I know what I have described here doesn’t apply to everyone in this country. My belief — indeed, my fervent hope — is that it doesn’t apply to a majority or even large minority of us. But Sajak Syndrome exists. So I will continue to write with that in mind and encourage others of like mind to do so as well. Far too many Americans have bought into the idea that dumb is good, up is down, black is white and what some politician said yesterday doesn’t have to make sense with what he or she says today.

Far too many, in other words, would rather think of renowned scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of “Cosmos” (on Fox TV no less) as a charlatan and liar when he describes the “Big Bang” theory and tells us that global warming is an issue that needs to be addressed seriously and immediately. On this issue, they’d rather trust the judgment of game show host Pat Sajak.

That’s where I came in.

Bob Gaydos can be reached at rjgaydos@gmail.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

A Power Play in Turkey

Thursday, June 6th, 2013
turkey-protest

Protestors in Istanbul struggle with tear gas deployed on them by police.

By Bob Gaydos

The question of the week is: Why would someone who has an entire country to run — to plan a budget, promote economic and social health, maintain an army, deal with leaders of other countries — bother with eliminating the last remaining park space in a busy area of his county’s largest city?

The answer: Because he can. Or, more accurately, because he thinks he can, and, even more accurately, because he wants to and doesn’t think anyone else can stop him.

It is, simply, the allure of power, perhaps the most cunning and pervasive of all addictions. In my limited exposure to the human condition, which includes writing about addictions, I’ve noticed that few are immune from the euphoria of the perception of absolute power. Which, of course, does not exist. Nor, as far as I know, does a 12-step program for those addicted to it.

In Turkey, where the power play over a popular open space area in Istanbul erupted into days of public protests, the demonstration of government power included an extreme overreaction by police, including widespread use of tear gas, arrests and efforts to shut down social media sites on the Internet. These are typical 21st century reactions to civil disobedience, as demonstrators in the United States, home of free speech, have also discovered. Even people who supposedly understand the necessary limits on it often abuse what power they have. Such is the addiction — do not dare to disagree with me, or else.

As this is written, the conflict persists in Turkey, but the rest of the world is well aware of what is happening, as it was when similar protests erupted in Turkey’s neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt, recently. The Turkish protests seem to fall into the “last straw” category. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected fair and square, so to speak, in a democratic election. He replaced a military government, which many Turks found to be oppressive. Be careful what you wish for.

Erdogan, who insists on putting a shopping mall and mosque in a popular open area dotted with restaurants and shops (an issue mayors usually deal with), has turned out to be as intractable and authoritarian in his rule as any military type. In fact, perhaps more so because he seems to believe that winning the most votes gives him the right to do whatever he pleases, no matter how many of his countrymen and women it displeases. Compromise with a different viewpoint is not part of his makeup, nor, as events in Egypt suggest, is it part of the understanding of governing of other Islamists. Democracy in its truest sense will likely be slow to come in the Middle East.

But there are two sides to the power equation. Those in power can only remain there as long as those out of power allow. Where power is seized by force, obviously, the resistance and determination to alter the equation takes longer to materialize and succeed. But a tipping point eventually does come and revolutions happen. Turkey may be headed there today. If so, the aid and encouragement of nations that have a better grasp on the just exercise of power should pressure Erdogan to loosen his grip and allow all Turks to express their views without fear of violent repercussions.

It takes physical courage to take to the streets against an oppressive government, to stand in front of a line of tanks, to tear down a wall, to occupy a park, to declare independence. But it’s not always necessary to take to the streets to overcome abuse of power. The human voice when summoned and combined into a chorus of dissent can be a powerful weapon.

Today, the Internet makes it possible to martial tens of thousands of voices rather quickly. Find a cause, find a message, find like-minded people. Does Monsanto, the ubiquitous source of the world’s genetically modified food, have too much power over how the food is grown and packaged? The Internet is awash with the voices of those who believe so and do not hesitate to tell their elected leaders how they feel. Threaten those in position of political power with loss of their power and they may actually hear you. Complain to your friends and do nothing and the power remains with Monsanto and its money. (Example of success: Connecticut recently became the first state to require labeling of GMOs.)

I do not mean to suggest it is easy to redraw the power equation, that there are not sometimes very real dangers in trying to do so. But I do know that those who have power, however they come by it, seldom give it up willingly. And, like all addictions, it inevitably gives those afflicted a skewed view of the world and their importance in it.

Solidarity with the people of Turkey.

bob@zestoforange.com

 

Wanted: Heroes for the 21st Century

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

Anonymous

By Bob Gaydos

A couple of months ago, I watched a documentary on PBS: “Simon and Garfunkel, Songs of America.” In addition to being a musical tour de force, it turned out to be a moving history lesson of the turbulent times in which it was made, the 1960s. Interestingly, the film, tame by today’s standards, was shown only once by CBS-TV, in 1969, because its strong anti-war sentiments apparently offended too many sponsors. So kudos to PBS for rescuing it from the dust bin.

But my goal here is not to relive the ‘60s. There have been much more enjoyable decades to appreciate. Rather, it is to take something from that era and try to figure out its equivalent today: Heroes.

Watching the film and the footage of John F. Kennedy, I was instantly reminded of his powerful influence on America’s young people. We know today that JFK was, like all of us, a flawed human being. But he was an undeniable inspiration to tens of thousands of young people, who took heart and hope from his words and vitality. He connected with us. In similar, if less encompassing ways, so, too, did Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

And so I wondered, who do kids look to today for inspiration? Who are their heroes? I came up with next to nothing and set the idea aside until I could ask my own sons. Max, 20 and Zack, 18, if they had any heroes.

“Anonymous,” Zack said, without missing a beat. Max agreed immediately.

Having now confused many of my readers over 50, maybe even 40, I must explain that Anonymous is a loosely connected, international group of Internet communities that opposes efforts at Internet censorship and surveillance as well as taking on other causes its anonymous members agree is of benefit to the overall group. It hacks government and corporate web sites and delights in exposing the lies and abuses of the people in power in the corporate, political, military, media, you-name-it world. Members have been described as anarchists and freedom fighters. Its symbol is the famous — and now, ubiquitous — Guy Fawkes mask. Time magazine has named Anonymous one of the most influential groups in the world.

My response was almost as swift as Zack’s. Of course, Anonymous. It speaks to the voiceless millions of young people who feel they have been, to put it delicately, screwed by their elders. A generation that has been told there are no jobs for you, going to college anyway will leave you in debt for decades to come, and we don’t want to hear your whining so get out of the streets with your signs and out of the parks with your tents because we now outfit our police forces like small armies and they are permitted to use tear gas, peppers spray, rubber bullets, flash bang grenades, and clubs, if necessary, to make you stop reminding your elders of what a mess they have made of the world. Throw you in jail, too, because that’s where smart aleck, unarmed protesters like you wind up today in America.

End of speech. But to the point — today’s heroes will, of necessity, be different from yesterday’s I will allow for one possible exception, that being President Barack Obama. When he ran for the presidency in 2008, he inspired millions of young people. Some of that attraction has been lost in the subsequent four years, but Obama remains, and always will, a source of great pride and inspiration to millions of young, black Americans. History cannot erase his achievement, nor yet predict its impact on this nation’s future leaders.

But there have to be more. My sons also came up with TV personalities, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, also untraditional and altogether fitting in the expose-the-rascals genre. I also asked some friends who offered the likes of author Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey and former congressman Dennis Kucinich, all worthy nominees.

I have more names, but I’d like to hold them for awhile. Compiling such lists is a process and one for which the Internet and social media are especially well-suited. I would really like to hear suggestions from you. dear readers. Truthfully, I’m even more interested in suggestions from your children and grandchildren who are in their mid-teens through twenties. Who are their heroes? Not sports or entertainment idols; heroes. If the kids are not at home, post this on Facebook or email them and ask them to respond. This is an interactive medium, remember?

I’ll come back to this topic with more names and, I hope, a better understanding of what it means to be a hero to today’s youth. Who knows, maybe that will contribute in some small way to a better understanding of how we can work together for a world that embraces all generations.

bob@zestoforange.com