Monday, September 26, 2011

A Slap in the Facebook

Doggone that Mark Zuckerberg. He just can't stop himself from tinkering with the design of Facebook and now he's started an ugly backlash among users of the social network. They rail on the site about altering "interfaces," and "status reports,"  wholly resistant to the changes Zuckerberg hath wrought. I, however, am the only one that has suffered financially. Inspired by Facebook's suggestion, I began designing T-Shirts to sell in my Facebook "store." Now that Zuckerberg has unilaterally decided to remove the baffling "poke" feature, I have had to eliminate one of my top selling shirts which read, "I poked your Mom on Facebook." With 800 million users and growing, this guy is costing me money by  declaring "no pokes." What's next to go, all the "Click 'like' if you love Jesus" posts? Don't force me to ditch another T-Shirt.

Now, a chain/spam letter is making the rounds warning users that Facebook is about to charge for usage, and if you copy the message to your wall, your profile picture will turn blue and protect you from the coming pogrom. If not, you must pay or have your account deleted. Of course, it's nonsense, but doesn't it seem to plagiarize the old Passover story when lambs blood smeared over the doorway saved the Jews in ancient Egypt from the angel of death? There are more fake messages posted by what the Huffington Post referred to as "clickjackers." Messages such as "click here to see who's looking at your profile," and seemingly harmless patriotic or spiritual posts that ask you to copy and paste to your wall if you agree, open your account information to clickjackers. Once infected with their code, the hackers are able to spam all your friends, which must be the reason I see so many posts with glittering photos of hi-heeled shoes from my male friends and track shoes from the women.

The fastest growing demographic among Facebook users is among the 60-90 age group, so scams even less sophisticated than these can nearly be predicted. Phishing attempts, phony sites designed to look like Facebook that ask for your password, and the infamous pleas for money transfers from frantic friends stuck in a terrible situation that need your immediate help. For the elderly or less experienced in navigating a computer, sites like Facebook can be a minefield of hucksterism. But for those merely approaching elderly, or upper middle-aged, like me, Facebook can be very gratifying, from connecting with old friends, to observing an old high-school crush age poorly. I located my 5th grade girlfriend and she turned out to be a lovely person. I had always believed that she had moved far away and never heard from her again, but to my surprise, her family had only moved as far as Whitehaven. She claimed "Facebook is a very pleasant way to waste time." It's for certain that hours can go by before you know it. That's Zuckerberg's master plan. Soon, everything you do on the internet will be offered within the confines of Facebook.

I was a reluctant participant for awhile, mainly because I'm not much of a joiner, and as a blogger, I figured I was receiving enough hate-mail, so why open myself up to further abuse? But I've very much enjoyed my Facebook experience once I learned how to use the "mute" function, or what is now referred to as, "Unsubscribe from (so-and-so's) comments." Because of my musical past, I began receiving "friend requests" from many people that I do not know, but I decided that if someone wanted to be my friend, it's OK with me as long as they don't become annoying. As a result, I only personally know about a quarter of my "friends," but I've gotten to know some strangers through conversations about music and politics whose posts I look forward to, while simultaneously "muting" a series of annoying posters without having to offend them with the ultimate penalty of "unfriending." And then there's always the "delete" button.

Currently, I have several types of offenders on "mute." I post, perhaps, twice a day, usually an obscure song from YouTube or an article that I find interesting, but I had to put all the serial posters in Facebook limbo. These are the people who post song after wretched song ad infinitum, and their evil twins, posters who constantly "share" other people's posts. This is the same guy who wanted to copy your test answers in high school. Then there are the self-promoters, which, I suppose, is the purpose of being on there in the first place. But there are shameless individuals, bloated with self importance, wanting you to be aware of their every movement. This excuses musicians who use Facebook to plug their gigs, because musicians do noble work and can do no wrong. It's no coincidence that half my "friends" are holding guitars in their profile pictures. A resurgence of "older" musicians working again has transpired because of Facebook. I've also noticed a surplus of people offering dogs for adoption, sloganeers,  angry political advocates, and prayer requests. But, I believe I've found the way to make it pay. I joined a group of people with whom I used to attend junior high, and I have saved all those goofy school photos we used to exchange. I'm going to post one or two of the most awkward, then ask for "contributions" under the threat of publishing them all. Oh yeah, Zuckerberg made the photos much larger in the news feed.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Meeting of the Meatheads

By now, Barack Obama has extended so many olive branches to the Republicans, they could plant their own vineyard and press up some pure virgin. Sometimes I wonder if he is a stealth Blue Dog Democrat, since he's more of a centrist than Bill Clinton, yet the right wingers continue to howl "socialist," and block his every attempt to drag the economy back from the precipice, at least before the election. More concessions were offered to placate the conservatives and get them on board with the president's jobs plan. Somehow, Obama is the last to realize that principled conservatives have lost control of the GOP to the rabid right and their single intent is to deprive him of any political victory that may lead to re-election, even if it means destroying what remains of the economy in the process. Yet Obama continues to refer to himself as an "eternal optimist." I'm reminded of the concerned parents who decided to cure their overly optimistic son's naivete at Christmastime by filling his stocking with horse manure. On Christmas morning, when the boy discovered his "present," he gushed, "Oh, thank you. You got me a pony but he must have gotten away."

School boards all over the country are passing stiff anti-bullying laws in their districts. Maybe we should enact anti-bullying legislation in Congress toward Obama. I'm not saying the President is compliant, but he gets pushed around more than Larry Flint; first by John Boehner and then by the NFL. He can't schedule a speech on the same night as the Republican debate because, God forbid, he should step on the official unleashing of Rick Perry into the fray. And he can't schedule opposite the grand opening of football season because it would cost him votes. I was going to rail about a game being more important than a major policy address on job creation, but right about now, even the most casual fan would prefer watching the Saints and Packers over yet another speech about unemployment. The president's speech to Congress was stirring, but the game was more exciting, partly because the House Republicans behaved liked teenagers forced to attend the opera. They chortled and snickered over suggestions to pass legislation extending unemployment benefits and squirmed about taxing the morbidly wealthy. Even the criminal Bush was never treated with such disrespect.

It occurred to me that Obama needs to spice up his joint congressional addresses NFL style. Instead of some dour schoolmarm intoning the president's name before he takes his handshaking stroll down the aisle, let Al Michaels bring on the major players to the musical accompaniment of Hank Williams, Jr. "Starting at State, from Wellesley, Hillary "The Crusher" Clinton; At Treasury, from Dartmouth, Tim "The Troublemaker" Geithner; and at Defensive Speaker, John "Big Orange" Boehner." Our team has the talent to win the next Superbowl, we just need to make a couple of substitutions. Joe Biden will never be elected president. He's only a few gaffes away from earning his union card. Hillary Clinton has announced she will be stepping down as Secretary of State at the conclusion of Obama's first term, so I say, "Clinton in for Biden." Hillary could spend the next four years preparing for a presidential run and Biden's long suit is foreign policy. It would be just like subbing Aaron Rodgers for Brett Favre. And Hillary can block for Obama, too.

Watching the president's address to Congress offered a stark contrast to the Republican presidential contenders who gathered the night before at the Reagan Library for another in a series of meaningless debates. I can sum up the Republican economic plan in three words; more tax cuts. The message came with many melodies, but everybody sang the same lyrics. The most sensible of the candidates is Jon Huntsman, which is like being the Lord of the Flies in this bunch. His rational approach automatically disqualifies him in this year of the irrational. Texas Governor Rick Perry's addition to the carnival, however, is most entertaining. Presenting himself as a virtual wild-west Nero, Perry questioned climate change science as "unsettled" while his state was being consumed by wildfires during the hottest August on record. A fiscal conservative, Perry had cut Texas Fire Department funding by 75 percent, including volunteer forces trained to fight just these types of fires. The pundits are already calling this a Perry-Romney contest, even though Perry makes the rigid Romney look like Socrates.

The most telling moment of the debate came not from a candidate's remarks, but from the audience's response to a question. When moderator Brian Williams pointed out that, at 234 and counting, Perry has executed more death row inmates than the next two states combined, the crowd broke into sustained and enthusiastic applause. In a previous life, this was the same mob that would gather to watch a public hanging and jeer at the condemned. Have we regressed to the point where our bloodlust and revenge fantasies cause us to cheer for more state executions? The West Memphis Three should be grateful they were in an enlightened state like Arkansas, or they'd be dead. Still, Rick Perry is the perfect Tea Party candidate. To him, Social Security is a "Ponzi scheme," and a "monstrous lie." The Lord told him to run and every word he speaks reminds voters of George W. Bush. Only, he's too extreme for even Karl Rove. When "Bush's Brain" thinks you're too radical, you've got to be pretty far out there. My conservative friends often ask me, "When are you going to stop blaming everything on Bush?" When you admit that this human wrecking ball was a tragic president whose wars of choice and reckless de-regulation of Wall Street brought this nation to the brink of economic calamity. Meanwhile, Rick Perry is exactly like Bush, minus the humility. Are you watching all this, Sarah? Always room for one more.