August, 2011

Aug 11

Facebook Versus Blogging–a Facebook Expatriot Explains

After a long damn time on Facebook, and having accumulated some 3100 Facebook friends (and some real friends, there), I closed the account on August 2. My primary reason had to do with family issues–and if not for that issue I’d still be on it–but I was also concerned about time-suck. Facebook had a way of keeping me there–and keeping me coming back after leaving there in the course of the day. I often lost track of time entirely.

Why? How’d that happen?

Facebook is responsive, especially after you’ve accumulated a good many facebook friends. I have disdained instant messages as far too distracting (they also get one involved in conversations that, after all, are often not terribly interesting) –but facebook can provide the instant message frisson without the downside of instant messages; one can get responses to posts and comments quite quickly. This responsiveness pushes the “enjoy getting attention” button in the human brain; that button gets pressed, eventually, even if it takes awhile to get a response. The brain says, I like the sensation. Stay there. Return there.

Compare it to meeting people in person. The downside of getting acknowledgement from people in person is that you feel a bit more social pressure to be entertaining, to be cordial, hospitable, and to linger. That’s a small price to pay for what is, actually, a healthier interaction than the online sort. But it’s a price we may prefer not to pay anyway. We’re more comfortable with Facebook because it’s relatively low-pressure, socially speaking. (Yes, Some people, who identify with it obsessively, eg socially vulnerable teenagers, have been known to contemplate suicide because of negative Facebook interaction, but most people aren’t identified with it to that point.) We socialize without much downside. We can jump off a thread, or off fb entirely, without anyone thinking we’ve rudely turned our backs. We can “hide” people from our newsfeed; we can “unfriend” more easily than we can with people we see in person.

But I don’t miss that part. What I miss is the responsiveness of Facebook. When I posted to more than 3000 people, at least some of them were online, some of those saw my post, and some of those were inclined to respond. Especially as I loved to create posts that prompted response. I tried to be insightful, to offer something useful, or at least intriguing, instead of “I just blew my nose”, and it paid off. It wasn’t merely that they responded–it’s that they responded with their perspectives, and with intelligence. They sometimes corrected me–which I like, if it’s done civilly; they elaborated on what I’d said; they disagreed in interesting ways; they helped build on the idea, the question, the humor. As this was something accessible to me at any time of the day and late into the night, one felt less alone. Facebook conviviality is something of an illusion, but it’s appealing. And there were many good contacts, good information sources, that came through Facebook.

Of course, I’d often link to an article I found interesting, and it was also often the case that people would respond to it, based on the article’s headline and the quick posting remark by me, without having read the article. That was frustrating, and it lays bare one of Facebook’s many flaws–the flaw that one finds even more in chatrooms, in instant messaging, on Twitter (so I infer–I’ve never been there), in most emails, the flaw that’s built into the internet…superficiality. Haste. A reinforcement of attention-deficit–even a creation of attention deficit where it hadn’t existed before. People on the internet are often (not always) like surfers talking as they’re catching waves. They can only shout a few words as they pass.

Blogs, now, are in decline, supposedly. But they’re still around and they do offer a chance to post at more length, which means posting with more thoughtfulness. Of course, since they’re on the internet, the more thoughtful the blog, the less likely it’ll be read by a lot of people. (I wonder how many readers have read this far in this piece.)

The blog counter for the John Shirley Blog shows a lot of visits, and even more “hits” to this site. Quite a lot of both; many thousands. But comments are few. It’s not as easy or as intuitive to comment here as on Facebook. Facebook in a way is one big comment form, and it’s a multidimensional, hypertextual one. A blog *tends* to be fairly one sided. People naturally find that less appealing.

The downside of my focusing on this blog, after Facebook, is a feeling that here I’m talking to myself; that I’m shouting into the void. But I know you’re out there. The blog counter says so.

On Facebook, I’d know you were out there more directly.

Here, it’s mostly just me and the blog counter. It has nothing to say to me, but statistics. It’s not such good company.

Aug 11

Proof that Not all Billionaires are Jerks?

MSNBC article

“My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice,” The 80-year-old “Oracle of Omaha” wrote in an opinion article in The New York Times.

Aug 11

Jailing Undocumented Immigrants Is Big Business


“According to Jessica Dominguez, the family’s lawyer, and Jorge Mario Cabrera, spokesperson of the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), the family was subjected to “different levels of physical and verbal abuse,” including screaming, “kicking, beating and aggression.” Their treatment was documented last week by HuffPost LatinoVoices’ Jorge Luis Macías.

“What happened to the Bonillas has happened to thousands of immigrant families.”

Aug 11

NotedNews: “Turning Poverty into a Crime”

Excellent and necessary article by the author of NICKEL AND DIMED.

A brief excerpt:

“The most shocking thing I learned from my research on the fate of the working poor in the recession was the extent to which poverty has indeed been criminalized in America.

“Perhaps the constant suspicions of drug use and theft that I encountered in low-wage workplaces should have alerted me to the fact that, when you leave the relative safety of the middle class, you might as well have given up your citizenship and taken residence in a hostile nation.”

Follow the link to the article at Salon.

Aug 11


Do you ever look at imported sweatshop goods–which is most of what is available to the average American consumer–and wonder if the low quality is partly due to an understandable resentment on the part of those who have to sweat in the sweatshops? Do you feel some resentment, yourself, at being stuck with this junk, on our end? Do you feel guilt at being part of the whole system?

It’s getting harder and harder to find American made goods. I found a “made in America” products website but it was pathetically under supplied. It was a radiator cap here, a washcloth there, the occasional potato peeler. Almost everything else is outsourced overseas, thanks to Bill Clinton, NAFTA etc, and a lot of greedhead manufacturers who didn’t mind dumping American workers and generally lowering the quality of life.

So most of what I get is made overseas–and even the “designer” stuff is often made in sweatshops in China and India and Pakistan and Malaysia. Some of the sweatshops, like the ones Nike reformed (a little) are just tolerable; some, like the ones Apple uses for its iPhones, are toxic and brutally demanding and exploitative.

Sweatshop goods are unreliable, sometimes poisoned with lead and other toxins, and generally inferior to what we grew up with. International import standards of quality are commonly flouted, especially in China.

I resent it. And chances are, factory workers resent making the stuff. They know they’re underpaid, and overworked. Maybe it shows in the quality of goods. Maybe not–probably the poor quality is more about haste and crappy materials.

What’s undoubted is my own resentment–and my own feelings of guilt. Shopping for clothing at Burlington Coat Factory–man they’ve got everything!–I feel resentment at the hasty way the clothes are assembled, the uneven way a shirt or a pair of pants hangs on you. Then I feel guilt at taking advantage of it at all; at being part of the big vampiric society feeding on workers in the third world.

But then…I usually go to the cashier, and pay my money. And I try not to think about it too much.

Aug 11


I was so emotionally affected by the film, I feel I’ll have to make this a short review to keep myself in check. This is easily the best PLANET OF THE APES film ever. It’s even better than the first one. The writing is better, the directing is better, the acting…okay, the acting isn’t better, though it’s good. One great actor in RISE… is playing an ape. That’s Andy “Gollum” Serkis who plays Caesar, through motion capture–Caesar the intelligence-boosted ape who turns it all around…

Since this movie completely sympathizes with the apes, animal rights people should love it. Me, I hate zoos–I think they’re innately cruel to animals–and I despise labs that engage in animal testing.

And when the apes began their takeover of the world, I cheered.

Chances are, you will too. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES will probably make you surprised at your own feelings about how it all comes out in the end…

Aug 11

IT’S NOT OK to Rip Off the Ignorant

Psychic TV? Isn’t that a rock band? It might also apply, with a big dollop of irony, to frauds like the “psychic” John Edward with his TV show about Talking to Dead People; to so-called “exorcists” who torment the mentally ill on their “reality” TV shows…and yesterday, watching a cable show, I saw a commercial for a particularly vile exploitation of the confused and ignorant, a phone “service” where you call up someone claiming to be a psychic, and you pay $19 a minute (19! US Dollars! A fucking MINUTE!) to receive vague remarks, platitudes, and flat-out misinformation about your life.

The commercial was designed with the utmost cynicism, the very latest in high-impact designer cynicism, to seduce confused, lonely, desperate people. It started with an image of a frightened woman trying to find her way through a maze. She’s lost, we’re informed; she can’t understand, all alone, how to make life choices. But there’s help. She can find out why everything going wrong…Just call this number and…

Of course, some of the customer’s problems are going to be financial. Maybe all of them. So the “psychic” hotline makes the caller spend $19 a MINUTE for phony, irresponsible, murky, banal, NON-psychic advice on…financial problems. Calling the hotline only deepens the caller’s financial problems–significantly, I’d guess, especially as the “telephone psychic” is going to use every manipulative trick they can to keep the phoner on with the phony as long as possible.

My question is simple. Why is this legal? Are they claiming it’s religious freedom, because the psychic supposedly connects with the spiritual? Is it a “first amendment” issue?

Committing fraud is not an exercise of your first amendment rights. Probably 99 out of 100 legislators would know that these hotline phonies are liars and predators taking advantage of the ignorant. So why don’t they do something about it? There seems to be an “if they’re stupid enough to fall for it, the Hell with them” attitude. But that’s just plain ethically wrong. It’s wrong to take advantage of the mentally handicapped–anyone would agree with that. Why is it okay to rip off the ignorant?

In the paragraph above my first inclination was to say, these hotline phonies are taking advantage of stupid people. But suckers are not necessarily stupid. They may have been raised to believe in this sort of thing. They may have been poorly educated, never trained in discriminating the real from the illusory.

A recent poll found that 50% of Americans believe in Alien Abduction. Almost 50% believe in Creationism; they believe evolution is not real and the Earth is only, what, 7000 years old, max. Another 18% believe that the Apollo mission to the moon was faked.

Those are stupid things to believe in. I don’t like to believe all those people are stupid. Statistically, it seems unlikely. It fills me with despair to believe that many Americans are flat out stupid. I’ll go with ignorant. I do believe that it’s fairly easy to be misled–especially if you’re imprinted with poor analytical skills.

Stupid or ignorant–it’s flat out wrong to take advantage of these people. Psychic phone phonies on TV have been around for awhile, I know. This one seemed particularly baldfaced in its predatory cynicism. I see no reason any of them should be legal. (The same goes for that “harmless” psychic advisor in her little storefront down the street.) Most of us know that none of the people on the phone-psychic staff are, in fact, psychic. Most of us know that people who call thee hotlines–desperate people in need of real counseling–are being cruelly exploited. Some of these people, getting in even deeper trouble through bad advice and the financial burden of calling phone psychics, may commit suicide.

The purveyors of this criminality don’t care. They don’t care who they hurt, as long as the make money. If this scam dries up, they’ll go onto another.

Picture jackals in the wild. They try to drag down a wounded calf. The parent buffalo drives them off.

The jackal doesn’t care. It moves on, to find another victim.

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Aug 11

Important Articles: NY Times Tells us about Nature’s Economist

“Our dream was not to try to capture the full value of nature’s services, because that’s so hard to do,” Dr. Daily said. “Our goal is to begin making inroads in the decision-making process by including at least some of the value of nature in the economic equation.”

Check it out.

Aug 11

My Top Five Choices For GOP Presidential Candidate

A Democrat chooses the ideal GOP nominee, in order of Preference, out of those who have a chance to get the nomination…

#1, my top preference: I’d love it if somehow Sarah Palin got the nomination. Because there’s not a chance in Hell she’d win, even if in some places the local GOP operatives tamper with the votes. Too many rational Republicans–and there are some–would just stay home that day. Imagine her in a debate with Obama. She cannot win. So I’d love to have her get the nomination, since I want Obama re-elected (since we can’t have Bernie Sanders for the Dem nominee). Also, there’s the “dude, that’d be really entertaining” factor.

#2, Michelle Bachmann. Because she only has a slightly better chance of winning than Sarah Palin. She’s flaky, a religious nut, she’s got baggage around her husband and his use of public funds, and…imagine her, too, in a debate with Obama. Again, the rational Republicans and Independents would just stay home. Or they’d write-in their preference. Bachmann would lose against Obama. She too would have that “entertainment” factor to recommend her as the GOP choice…

#3, Mitt Romney. I prefer he get the GOP nomination over Rick Perry. The Christian-right would not uniformly unite behind a Mormon, and some GOP regard him as a health reform socialist. He has a better chance of beating Obama than Bachmann or Palin but he probably couldn’t win. He has zero charisma, and would not be able to mount any real defense during a debate, though he’d do better than the Crazy Ladies. I doubt the vote cheaters would cheat for Romney.

#4, Rick Perry. I’d rather one of the first three on my list got the GOP nomination over Perry because he might have a chance against Obama: he does have some charisma; he could draw a lot of support in the South, and he’s so evangelical/fundamentalist he’d get all the Christian conservatives on his side. Of course, he’s got baggage, he’s flaky, and he’s a knot head, so he’d probably lose in a fair fight…but if he got the nomination, Christian Rightists, who are probably the ones behind most vote-cheating, would cheat for him. (My theory is that the Republican vote cheating that goes on is principally carried out by Christian operatives manipulated by the likes of Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers–the Christian stooges of these guys believe that GAWD wants their candidate to win so that engaging in fraud is all FOR GAWD and is therefore justified. If they’re supporting one of their own, they’re more likely to rationalize voter fraud.)

#5, Jon Huntsman. My last choice. I do hope Jon Huntsman does not get the GOP nomination, because I don’t want a Republican President, and he might actually beat Obama. The problem is, he’s smart and he’s sane. He would do fairly well in a debate with Obama (he’d be wrong, but he’d argue well). He’s a personable guy, more mainstream than the other candidates, who would attract GOP moderates, perhaps some blue-dog Democrats, and a lot of Independents. He’s not an extremist, he’s fair minded–for a Republican he might make a pretty good President, sort of like Eisenhower. But I don’t want a Republican President, no matter how likable, especially during an era when so many dangerous bills from the far right need to be vetoed. The one hopeful wrinkle, if Huntsman gets chosen, is that he’s a Mormon too. That might undercut Christian support. . .I pray he doesn’t get the GOP nomination because he’s the only one with a decent chance of beating Obama. So he’s my last choice.

The dark horses: My opinion is that neither Pawlenty nor Santorum would ever get the GOP nomination, they’re just too lame and without much support. If one of them could get it, I’d prefer Santorum, as he’s got baggage, and he’s a barely-disguised lunatic. I’m sure he could never beat Obama. Pawlenty might have a thin chance at becoming President as he’s not totally wacko and he’s a little brighter than Santorum.

Oh – “What about Herman Cain?” Cain is flaky (like his pizza dough) a bozo who oppresses his employees. He will get nowhere near the GOP nomination. The Daily Intel reports: Herman Cain signed off last night’s debate with this: “A poet once said, ‘Life can be a challenge, life can seem impossible, but it’s never easy when there’s so much on the line.’” The inspirational poet?… Turns out it’s Donna Summer…she recorded it just over a decade ago as the theme song for Pokémon: The Movie, 2000.

Cain claimed the song was used in the Olympics. It wasn’t.

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Aug 11


As a science fiction writer, I didn’t anticipate flash mobs–though I should have when the internet first started up. Originally flash mobs were benign. They were, say, people meeting in some chosen public place all dressed in the same costume–harmless, amusing stuff.

But as soon as I heard about the first flash mobs I did imagine the flip side–which has come about in places like Philadelphia. Here’s a quote from a New York Times article:

“…these so-called flash mobs have taken a more aggressive and raucous turn here as hundreds of teenagers have been converging downtown for a ritual that is part bullying, part running of the bulls: sprinting down the block, the teenagers sometimes pause to brawl with one another, assault pedestrians or vandalize property.”

Every technology has a dark side, and every variation, every wrinkle, of that technology, has its own dark side.

The “flash mobs turn violent” scenario is exactly something we’d see in dystopian fiction. It’s about a technology introduced with a presumption of its harmlessness, inevitably showing its dark side. The inspiring demonstrations in Egypt, leading to Mubarak’s downfall, were helped along by the internet. They were, more or less, political flash mobs. And they were a good thing–though its unclear whether Egypt’s new governance will be a better one, governmental change helped along by new media does show the socially transformative power of that media. It offers empowerment to the underclasses. That’s a wonderful thing, and something we should never lose.

But it comes with a price–the recent riots in England are partly spawned through social media, instant messaging, texting. However you feel about them, businesses wrecked by the riots feel that the riots are all “dark side”.

The violent flash mobs in Philadelphia feel eerily like something from a science fiction scenario. They’re a dystopian tale come to life.

The next phase will inevitably come along–violent flash mobs versus rival violent flash mobs, multiplying the violence…

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