Ways to moderate Facebook’s influence in your life

Well, for starters, of course, you can just not use it. But if it’s a useful online watering hole/neighborhood pub/back fence, here are some ideas. I’m not an expert, but some of these are actually based on experience.

  • Do your writing on a blog and post the links on Facebook instead of writing in the posts. You can either customize or automate an excerpt or teaser to get people (hopefully) to go to your blog to read it.
  • And speaking of that blog, if you aren’t paying a webhost for it, that means there’s probably advertising on your blog that you may or may not have any control over, and which the blog host is using to make money off of you and your visitors.
  • Join some other social networks and do the same thing there (post links to your own hosted content).
  • Get your news from a news organization. If it is online, be prepared to pay for it.
  • If you see great information or entertainment (on Facebook or elsewhere), take the time to go to the original source and share that link on Facebook. If you are not already familiar with the source and confident in its veracity, try to confirm the facts first (or, you know, just don’t share it).
  • Don’t use Facebook to log in to anything that gives you an alternative.
  • Don’t imagine that Instagram is where you will go: it is owned by Facebook.
  • Google Plus is at least in the business of using your personal information for its own benefit, but don’t depend on it not  selling your information to others.
  • Always remember that if you are not paying for it, you are the product, not the customer. Keep asking who benefits and where the money is going.
  • Recognize your own role in whatever you think is a problem. Learn how to set your privacy settings; be skeptical; unfollow or unfriend people and pages liberally; remove the app from your phone. (If you can’t stop checking Facebook, that’s not Facebook’s fault, that’s something you need to figure out a way to deal with. /end cranky old man mode)
  • Don’t engage on Facebook with things you don’t want promoted. Facebook does. not. care. if you think something is funny, untrue, outrageous, or awful. If you respond in any way, it just increases the likelihood that your friends (who might never otherwise have seen it) will see it. If you share it, even to ridicule or debunk it, you are just helping to spread it around.
  • Look for other, niche social networks that will meet some of your needs. I am on a very quirky, obscure platform called Plurk (seemingly popular with teenage Korean girls), which is an outpost for groups of people from Second Life. One of the original attractions was that it didn’t police identity or names.

Taking stock

I’ve not often done an end/beginning of the year look at the state of my life, but as I was sitting at the laundromat this morning it seemed like a good way to use some of the time. I’ve continued to muse over the course of the day. So here are some reflections on the ups and downs of my life over the past year, a little context, and some hopes for 2011.

2010 was a difficult year

  • It feels like it will be a laundry list of whining when I start off with “I’m dissatisfied with my job,” but, well, I am. I’ve been working on both attitude and actual job content for the last few months, but on balance it ends up in the negative column. Here’s hoping for a better 2011!
  • In mid‐March the roof blew off my side of the three‐floor apartment building I live in (on the third floor), sending lots and lots and lots of water pouring down my walls and through my kitchen. It was months before it was fixed. I do have very nice new walls and floor in the kitchen now, but it was nothing short of hellish.
  • One of my cats had a seizure during the whole kitchen chaos. I felt really helpless. The vet didn’t find anything, and she has seemed fine since.
  • Speaking of not finding anything: I had my routine half‐century colonoscopy, and it was clean (as was an upper GI endoscopy).
  • I lost ten pounds (on purpose). Here’s to hoping I can continue the trend in 2011!
  • I took Wednesdays off work during August. What a great decision!
  • I spent less than in 2009. Never a bad thing.
  • Three really excellent trips: I had lovely, lovely visits with old friends in Minneapolis before and after working at the UUA’s annual General Assembly; I went to my friends Margaret and Alice’s home in Vermont for a longish weekend; and I went to California to see my family.

Changes in Second Life

In the spring I sold my last remaining region in Second Life. I no longer wanted to be a landlord, and the full cost of a sim was way out of line with my current enjoyment of Second Life. On the other hand, the year ended in absolute delight and pleasure in a gift from Wynx Whiplash for the 12th day of Wootmas in Raglanshire: a tiny reindeer. (A gift to anyone, not a gift just to me. All the more wonderful and generous for that.)

Some context

My life is really pretty cushy when contrasted with those in Haiti and Chile dealing with earthquakes and those in Pakistan dealing with floods. Not to mention the horrific environmental devastation caused by British Petroleum (and our collective addiction to oil) in the Gulf of Mexico.

Along with most everyone else, I wept and wept when the epidemic of GLBT teen suicides came to our attention. And I weep a different kind of tears when I see the “It Gets Better” videos created by people from all walks of life, right from GLBT teens to the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. As one of my favorite bloggers, Andrew Sullivan, often ends his posts, “Know hope.”

It didn’t seem possible the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was actually going to be repealed. I could hardly believe when it was. I’ve never wanted to serve in the military, and I believe violence is evil even when it is the least bad option that we can see. But it’s hard to express the depth to which the repeal of DADT (and the eventual end of the policy) affects my sense of being an actual, equal citizen of the United States. It is a constant assault to have something as personal as one’s sexuality constantly paraded through the news as a political and cultural football. What a relief to have taken one more step to putting that discussion to bed.

Looking ahead

I have a few things I’d like to do in 2011.

  • Go outside every day. (The days I work at home, and sometimes on weekends, I may spend the whole day inside.)
  • Sit still every day for ten minutes. Not just sitting and reading, or sitting at the computer, or sitting and listening to music. Just sitting. A long overdue response to my ongoing spiritual drought.
  • Take lunch to work at least once a week. Yes, that will be a change, sad to say.

Happy New Year to everyone.

Religious bigotry

I’m feeling burdened by the bigotry and ignorance of people who are objecting to the Cordoba Institute’s community center (and yes, mosque) at a location in lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center. (The so‐called “Ground Zero Mosque.”)

Although some of the rhetoric has de‐escalated to “they may have the right to build it, but it is insensitive,” I find that most of what is said is out‐and‐out religious bigotry. People who say Western Civilization is built on Judeo‐Christian ethics. People who call Muslims ragheads. I won’t link to it, but if you search for “Joseph Phillips Ground Zero Mosque” you’ll find an opinion essay with this ugly morsel:

There is a small segment of the left that simply hates America. There is no other way to describe it. These hard‐core leftists do not respect America’s traditions or institutions, so they are comrades‐in‐arms with any force that seeks to undermine or insult those institutions and they rush to stand in opposition to anything that smacks of patriotism or national pride.

If you read the version that’s at bighollywood, you’ll find a commenter named “TrueBlueMormon” who defends his use of the term “ragheads” by saying “facts are facts, they do wear rags on their heads, it is a cultural thing.” Well then, I suppose he won’t mind when I refer to his magic underwear. The irony is so, so sad.

But my support for the Cordoba Institute’s community center is not just a reaction to know‐nothings, xenophobes, and religious bigots.

I support the community center because local government is an American value. The elected regulatory boards and the mayor of New York City have approved and defended the community center construction.

I actually think that most Americans treat private property as an idol, but since the laws do, indeed, tend to privilege private ownership over public good, then those laws should be equally applied.

I support the community center because freedom of religion is a bedrock American value. I support the community center because this is the result of not supporting freedom of religion:

statue of Mary Dyer by Sylvia Shaw Judson

That is a statue of Mary Dyer by Sylvia Shaw Judson. It sits just down the street from where I work, in front of the Massachusetts State House. Mary Dyer was hanged on Boston Common on June 1, 1660 for being a Quaker. She had earlier been sentenced with William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson, who were hanged on October 27th, 1659.

Joan Walsh has written a wonderful essay reminding Roman Catholics of their history in the United States.

Until today, I had always thought the belief that Catholics couldn’t be “unambiguously Catholic and American,” or that the Catholic Church had “illiberal tendencies,” represented prejudice, the kind of prejudice that collided with and eventually gave way to American ideals about equality and religious freedom. I didn’t realize my people had to be “inspired” into fully embracing “the virtues of democracy” by Nativists, often by violence: from Charlestown, Mass, where Nativists burned a Catholic convent in 1834, to Philadelphia in 1844 (where thousands of Nativists attacked Irish Catholics, derided as “scum unloaded on American wharfs,” burned Catholic churches and convents, invaded the homes of Irish Catholics and beat residents), to St. Louis, where a Nativist riot against Irish Catholics killed 10 and destroyed 93 Irish Catholic homes and businesses, or Louisville, Ky., where Nativist mobs killed at least two dozen Catholics on “Bloody Monday,” Aug. 6, 1855.

There are, sadly, two American approaches to freedom of religion. I’m glad that the one that hangs people of other religions and burns down their houses of worship lost. I support the Cordoba Institute’s community center because all the arguments I’ve seen against it boil down to religious intolerance at best or religious bigotry and hatred or worse.

Why I won’t be contributing

I contributed several times during the last presidential election. But I won’t be contributing to the national Democratic Party or national candidates unless they come up with, at a minimum, passage of the Employment Non‐Discrimination Act (ENDA):

Of course, Democrats have an overwhelming majority in the House. In the Senate, Republicans can only filibuster if all 41 vote in unison, but ENDA has two GOP co‐sponsors, Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine. If Democrats were committed to it, ENDA would be passed.

via Independent Gay Forum — The ENDA Blame Game.

Resistance to Cordoba House

Most New Yorkers seem to have their heads on straight about Cordoba House, the Islamic community center proposed in downtown Manhattan. Mayor Michael Bloomberg (via the Cordoba Initiative):

If somebody wants to build a religious house of worship, they should do it and we shouldn’t be in the business of picking which religions can and which religions can’t. I think it’s fair to say if somebody was going to try to on that piece of property build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming. And the fact of the matter is that Muslims have a right to do it too. What is great about America and particularly New York is we welcome everybody and I just‐ you know, if we are so afraid of something like this, what does it say about us? Democracy is stronger than this. You know, the ability to practice your religion is the‐ was one of the real reasons America was founded. And for us to say no is just, I think, not appropriate is a nice way to phrase it.

I couldn’t agree more.

But the ADL, which says it “fights anti‐Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all” had this to say on Friday (reported by the NY Times):

The issue was wrenching for the Anti‐Defamation League, which in the past has spoken out against anti‐Islamic sentiment. But its national director, Abraham H. Foxman, said in an interview on Friday that the organization came to the conclusion that the location was offensive to families of victims of Sept. 11, and he suggested that the center’s backers should look for a site “a mile away.”

“It’s the wrong place,” Mr. Foxman said. “Find another place.”

Asked why the opposition of the families was so pivotal in the decision, Mr. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, said they were entitled to their emotions.

“Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational,” he said. Referring to the loved ones of Sept. 11 victims, he said, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”

That is, in a word, bullshit. Irrational and bigoted anguish is still irrational and bigoted. Is that really the way he wants us to live together as a nation, captive to everyone’s irrational and bigoted emotions? Or are some irrational and bigoted emotions privileged?

Thank God not everyone agrees with him:

“The ADL should be ashamed of itself,” said Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, which promotes interethnic and interfaith dialogue.

People disgust me

Here is what the anti‐American “tea party” is like:

First, Islam is NOT a religion, it is an ideology — the religious portion only encompasses 11 % (the qur’an) the rest is the Sira and Hadith and the closest parallel to Islam is the Ku Klux Klan — if that is Six Flag’s idea of ‘appropriate’ then by all means, hold your day on September 12th but don’t plan on expanding any time soon because not only will we ensure that you don’t grow, we’ll make sure that your parks become a thing of the past.

This, and the verbal attacks on the Islamic community center in downtown Manhattan and the resistance to building a Mosque in Temecula make me wonder what country I’m living in. This is certainly not what I was raised to believe in as an American.

Community, food, and the economy

It is all connected. My favorite constructive pessimist, Robert Paterson, on the problem:

Our system has destroyed community. Food is now “made” in industrial settings far away from the consumer — where machines or “slaves” do the work. I use the term “slave” deliberately as people who do crushing hard and boring and often dangerous work for just enough to feed them.

And the solution:

If we grow food . . . locally all the work related to this — the growing, the servicing, the processing, the sales and distribution — all return home. We start to create the habit and the systems for doing things locally.

No place for the young in the economy now — Food is the key.

Blind to their (our) addiction

Andrew Sullivan linked to an article by Bradford Plumer on The New Republic, “There’s More to Oil Use than Massive SUVs.” He, in turn, bases part of his essay on research published on Grist in “How we can end our addiction to oil,” by Craig Severance.

Plumer seems to be saying, “sure, we need to cut back on how much oil we use when we drive, but gee, look at all these other non‐essential things we’re using oil for.”

That’s true of course, as far as it goes: We need to be looking at all the ways we have built our lives around the use of petroleum products. But give me a fucking break. 47% of U.S. oil use is for passenger travel. 47%. If everyone in the U.S. drove and flew one‐half as much, starting tomorrow, our dependence on oil would be reduced by a quarter. But no. That, according to Plumer, “is probably the trickiest item to fix and needs to be attacked from a whole bunch of different angles.” (He makes a point of saying that passenger travel “only” accounts for 47% of our oil use.

Plumer: “There’s a lot of other oil use out there that may be easier to tackle in the short run. About eight million buildings, mostly in the Northeast, use oil for heating, and this accounts for 15 percent of the country’s crude consumption. Renovating these buildings so that they can get their heat from natural gas or electricity would be a worthy endeavor.” Oh yeah, that’s lots easier than not driving as much tomorrow.

Both of them say we shouldn’t be using oil to produce electricity. Right on! How much of our oil use goes to making electricity? 1%. Yep, we better get right on that if we want to get off our oil addiction!

Severance’s essay (by far the superior of the two) goes on in some detail about changes in vehicle fuel efficiency and rail transportation, including a brief family reflection on the age of oil.

My grandfather grew up in a world before air travel, and the affordable personal vehicle was unknown. Yet, steel rails connected the country, and the leaders of America’s largest cities already understood that a city needs a subway system to prosper. Almost all long‐distance travel and freight hauling was by rail.

I look at my one year old grandson, and I realize he will see the end of the Age of Oil. He won’t need to ride a horse to get around, as we now have electric cars for local use. Yet, there won’t be any electric airplanes, and we need to save what little oil we will have left to use as feedstock for essential products, construction and farm use, national defense, and intercontinental air travel.

May they rot in Hell

I’ve just seen the first image in the Boston Globe’s “Big Picture” blog for today, of seabirds caught in the oil in the Gulf.

May the people responsible for this rot in Hell.

Failing that, BP’s executives should be held criminally liable. The assets of the corporation and all of their profits should be directed to the people of the Gulf Coast and to environmental organizations that are taking whatever small steps of amelioration are possible. This should happen not just now, but in perpetuity.

The role of every employee of BP and of the company that owns the oil rig itself, as well as every regulatory official in the U.S., state, and local governments who was involved in any way should be examined for misconduct, and if found, they should be fired and, if applicable, held criminally liable.

Automobile manufacturers should be required to research and create fuel‐efficient automobiles.

Gasoline taxes should be doubled or tripled.

Yes, I am pissed. I am filled with grief. I feel vindictive and I want revenge. I also feel helpless and guilty in the face of this disaster, and so I can only add my own venom to the poisons humanity is unleashing on the earth: May they rot in Hell.