Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Process of elimination

Counting down the presidential candidates I won't endorse.

Like you care.

Batting next — Ted Cruz!

No way! Why? Cruz is smarmy and unctuous.

He is Joe McCarthy incarnate, swinging a cross like a cudgel, rooting out not Commies but whoever and whatever doesn't jibe with his brand of Christianity.

He's Trump but worse: Same strange ideas, same foaming foment of hatred and division. Except Cruz knows which levers to pull, he knows the codes. He knows which ears to whisper into.

Silver-tongued devil.

So if you're keeping score at home, no endorsement for Trump, none for Cruz.

Like I ever would.

Let's end the suspense: Not endorsing anyone in the Republican slate, even though Marco Rubio looks almost hinged in this crowd he hangs with.

Who's left? Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Face is familiar

I'm almost ready to endorse a candidate. Like you care.

To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, "Well, it ain't Donald Trump, that's for sure."

Remember, it all starts with some words …

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What's on your mind?

Such a strange tentacled creature, is facebook.™®

This is how facebook®™ greeted me Monday, with a picture of me someone else had posted a long while back:
Shawn, we care about you and the memories you share here. We thought you'd like to look back on this post from 3 years ago.
Really? facebook®™ cares about me? Everybody at facebook©®, or just the executives? Or whoever's in charge of holding onto old posts and showing them to me on the anniversary of their posting?

Or maybe the algorithms and bots and gear boxes assigned to this work have become sentient, developing emotions for those whose posts they aggregate?

Or is facebook©® speaking on behalf of other users?

"This won't show in anyone else's News Feed™®™ unless you share it," facebook®™assured me, and I took it at its word, leaving it unshared.

Last week it designated a Friend's Day — I'm guessing it was some facebook®™ anniversary — and you could watch a video of a pair of hands tossing photos of you onto a surface, along with showcards bearing your name, as if a friend or relative was looking through a photo collection (odd, right, actual tactile photos, with white borders, like from the 20th century before home computers?) and culling the photos of your facebook®™ past for you to peruse and presumably to share.

I didn't oblige. Photos of me are relatively few anyway, and they represent events far between. If I'm in them, I'm part of a group, usually as a reluctant participant (except for portraits with well-traveled swimmers), and it's someone else's photo, posted on someone else's facebook®™ page. Not much to see here; move along.

Many people did share this montage, and on my News Feed®™ toward the end of the day they ran right after another. I didn't look look too closely, just long enough to note I had probably seen these photos from others' pasts. It's the same pair of hands, tossing the same photo shapes onto the surface; only the photos and the names are changed.

I seem to remember that facebook®™ did something like this around the holidays last year, except that it was a kind of music video with your photos. Same music, but your photos, and text with your name in it.

On Sunday, facebook®™ reminded me that the Super Bowl®©™ was to take place later that day, and encouraged me to post about what I was doing to commemorate this glorious day.

I don't really think facebook®™ was asking because it cares about me and wishes I wouldn't be an unpatriotic wallflower and not watch the American Game.®™

Every time I open facebook,®™which is a lot, it asks, "What's on your mind?" Lately it has also asked if I'd like to post onto facebook something I attached to a private email, and gives me to the link to the attachment, making it just a click from world viewing.

facebook©™ is passing strange.

facebook©® regards me likewise, I'm sure.

If facebook©®™ ran an audit, it would fire me as a user. facebook®™ is photo- and video-driven, for one, and I prefer words.

It's the only social media I use, the only one I can handle, the Hoover®™ vacuum of my free thought and time. If I tweeted® and followed others' tweets,™ or snapchatted™® or looked at everyone's Instagram®© pix and gifs, I would lose what little room I have left to exist.

facebook®™ alone has been enough to turn me into one of the folks I used to wonder about, looking into their onyx slabs of magic as the world rocketed by, before I got a shining magic slab of my own.

Now people wonder about me, bent over my magic slab, wonder why I can't or won't give them my full attention. I would tell them it's because I'm following the multifarious lives of people far away, on facebook,®™ but I'm heel and cad enough already by that point.

On days when the world rockets by, taking me with it in a full day of work and away from my smart phone, then I consider it a treat to peruse facebook®™ at the end of the day, to see how other people's days (mostly the swim parts of their day) have gone. It's all the other times, bored and misanthropic, that facebook®™feels conspiratorial, sucking time.

I like facebook.®™ Even as an unsophisticated (photo-averse) user, I find it powerful as a communication tool for special-interest communities. You're probably bored with my adulation of "Did You Swim Today?" a forum for swimmers worldwide; it's still fascinating to witness the global scope of pool swimmers and open water swimmers, of newbies crossing their first pool length, and warriors crossing miles and miles of the ocean's most treacherous and famous crossings.

facebook®™ is the best kind of short-wave radio. I can type a message to a swimmer in the UK, and get a message right back, and have a little conversation in real-time. facebook®™ is wonderful that way.

I have gotten to swim with several people I've met through facebook™®, half a world away. Usually they have had to travel to me in order to make that happen, but still.

On facebook®™ I have met many interesting people, and I like to think that if I somehow lived near them, we could be face-to-face friends.

I also have face-to-face friends who went away, in place or opportunity, and facebook®™ is a way to stay keep connected.

facebook®™ has its limits, though, and overreaches many times every day. I think I may be in the minority here, because what I regard as flaws may be part of facebook's®™ design. It's not good for:
  • Politics. It's used for politics, every day, but I'm not sure it's a good medium. True, I have learned more about UK politics than I ever would have without facebook,®™ and I have "liked" and occasionally commiserated with people whose views I empathize with. But facebook®™ is a terrible medium for debate or information.

    Much of the political discourse comprises so many slaps of mud on the wall, antagonizing readers to comment or like or rant about. But the idea of carrying on a conversation by following a long string of comment feels anathema to actual debate or conversation, let alone reasoned discussion or a search for information. Which leads to:
  • Long discussions. It doesn't take long for me to try and follow a lengthening discussion (about anything, really, though many of these discussions become vitriolic) before I remember I've got matters to attend to in my real life, and this virtual life can and should go on without me.

    As with political discussions, I get nowhere. I have neither grown nor helped.
  • Personal crises. It's no place for people who need real help. facebook®™ is ostensibly a great and multi-connected community of friends, with vast and instantaneous reach. Yet its immediacy can't overcome its impersonality.

    Several times, including recently, someone has posted threatening or at least intimating suicide. I am more or less a stranger except for one tangential common link. I live far away. In short time, more-or-less strangers with the same common ground, more or less, began a lengthy frantic discussion trying to secure emergency help for the person who posted.

    By the end of the day, the person posted thanks for others' concern, and something about a small unrelated matter, which spawned posts of anger from others for what they saw as a blithe tone from the person who caused people a world a way to scramble to her rescue.

    Occasionally a few post about their hurt lives, and I don't know what to do, so far away, so distant, so ethereal, except give words of comfort and encouragement. I don't know how to ask if they have gotten real, professional help, or if they can get some, or just a real shoulder to cry own.
facebook's®©™ raison d'ĂȘtre is also its weakness. It can't make friendships. It can designate friends, but its definition of friends runs awry of what I imagine of face-to-face friends. facebook®™ friends show me curiosities and breathtaking sunsets and funny videos, which amuse me; facebook®™ friends also show me plates of food, or tell me where they're eating, display vacation videos or show pictures of their children at the amusement park, which makes me uncomfortable.

Please don't take offense if I don't "friend" you on facebook®™— and chances are we already have become facebook©®™ friends, because I post my blog on facebook®™ too, which is probably how you're reading it.

I really enjoy the subject we have in common, and the humor or eloquence or adventure or just the rhythm and cadence of how you share it. But when we become friends in facebook,®™you give me a window into your world, friends and family I don't know, children I wouldn't ordinarily meet and whose lives are best lived away from the window of social media; I give you a window into mine, too, though mine is usually lilliputian and fogged up because it's mostly about swimming.

Your family is your family, and it's fine, and mine is mine, your life your life, and mine mine; if we were face-to-face friends, perhaps our lives would intersect that way, but even then we would keep much private, just like in real life.
You could say I don't have to read those posts about people in your world I don't know, and I don't; a thumb flick, and the post rolls away. facebook®™ is about making those connections, and I'm swimming against its tide.
facebook™®© bots, I'm sure, are working on that right now.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


Every morning, first thing, I fill a bucket of water from the kitchen tap, then next morning pour it out under a tree out front, and repeat.

Every morning.

It's something Dan Lungren long ago told me to do — one of the few things, probably the only thing, I do on Dan Lungren's say-so.

He last appeared on the public stage as the classic Republican fat-cat congressman, leaning heavily on the lobbyists' dole, wanting limited government except for the part that monitors and regulates our private lives.

But back when he was California's attorney general, he advised residents to let their kitchen taps run for a minute each morning, to flush lead that built up overnight.

At the time, shortly after our daughter was born 23 years ago, Lungren sued 14 plumbing manufacturers on the state's behalf, charging that their faucets leach hazardous amounts of lead into water.

Huh, what now? I remember thinking: The thing that dispenses clean water in your glass — also dispenses lead into otherwise clean water?

Letting the water run for a minute minimizes the lead left over, Lungren said.

So ever since, for two decades and change, I have flushed the tap. When the drought looked like it wasn't going away, I started catching the water in a bucket to put on the trees. I overhear visitors to our home every once in a while asking, What's with the bucket of water under the counter?

I don't know whether lead is still a hazard in the faucet I flush. The one we have is new; I managed,  in my lack of grace and patience, to install it last spring (still no leaks!). News and government sources tell me lead is probably still there, so I do what I can, running the tap for a minute.

We've got it made.

Flint, Michigan, not so much.

You probably know that the state of Michigan switched Flint's water supply from the clean source of Lake Huron to the caustic source of the Flint River in April 2014, to save money in that economically depressed city. And/or to enable tax cuts for the wealthy of Michigan. And/or finance mounting retirement pension obligations.

The corrosive Flint River has etched the pipes, leaching lead from them and into the water supply. Flint residents did what you and I do, turning on their faucets without a second thought, and now Flint children have lead poisoning. Michigan switched Flint's water back to Lake Huron in October, after the story finally blew up, but lead still appears to be coming from the corroded pipes.

Water from Flint taps comes out the color of crushed brick.

Water ran like that for a year and a half before government, denying and delaying, decided to do something about it.

Now Gov. Rick Snyder, trying to save money/cut services to serve tax breaks, as well as Michigan and the federal government (that's us), will have to pay millions and millions more to fix the problem and manage the long-term health consequences. Oh, and Legionnaire's Disease — did I mention that since the water switch, 10 deaths from Legionnaire's Disease resulted in Flint, up from zero before?

Or maybe you didn't know about Flint. Maybe you also don't know about Porter Ranch outside of Los Angeles, where since Halloween natural gas has been spewing out of an underground storage cave, its sickening methane cloud driving people out of their homes. Southern California Gas Co. took a week to reveal what happened, and says it will still be more weeks before the spew is capped.

Though invisible, it's one of the country's worst ecological disasters.

It's not well known, which is curious but not surprising. Neither disaster affects you or me, except as distant witness.

What would you do amid these disasters, though? Wouldn't you be out of your mind with rage? Whether from negligence or fiscal malice — the FBI and a Congressional committee is chasing who knew what when — it really doesn't matter, does it? Leaders governing on Flint's behalf poisoned its water, and residents using the water ingested unsafe levels of lead, which in children especially can cause irreversible harm, developmental delays, borne out in long-term medical care, educational costs, unbearable heartache and loss.

Whether negligence or cost cutting or a trick of geophysics, natural gas has made a neighborhood unlivable, and worsened air across Southern California.

Would you care the cause? Would you delay and deny, debating whether Democrats or Republicans did this, whether one inept or uncaring government trashed the budget and forced another to govern by terrible triage — some die, some live? Would you hem and haw and analyze whether someone worked it so the rich got richer and the poor got poorer and poisoned?

Or would you just want it to stop? Would you just want it never to have happened? Would you expect those who caused harm to make it right, right now?

Wouldn't you also wonder why? How, in this greatest country in the world, an entire city could be poisoned? Would you wonder how other cities could be made to drink tainted water, worse than Flint's?

Erin Brockovich, who has worked her celebrity like a cudgel, advocating tirelessly — good for her, good for all of us, letting her do our advocacy — says what you may have heard before: Our infrastructure is falling apart, and disasters await. This big brawny visionary country, morning-in-America sunny yellow, seemed to have gotten everything built and then lost interest. Taxes became anathema, and no one can seem to figure out taxes judiciously applied pay for that infrastructure and keep it intact.

We wait until the bridge collapses into the river and hope it's the only one for awhile, because two bridges, well, we didn't even have a plan for one. We wait until the well is poisoned, and pay millions millions later because we tried to get by with a few hundred now.

We hope a child doesn't suffer for a lifetime —a life denied and delayed — because we wanted a tax refund.

Or shouldn't anyway.

Do what you can do. Flush your tap, water your trees and think, How lucky am I?