Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Pajamas Diplomacy

One of our favorite times of the day is early morning, after the dog has been walked, when we crawl back into the heated bed and solve the world's problems by expressing likes, laughs, and anger on Facebook and posting our opinions on social media.

It's the modern version of reading the morning newspaper. Except we get to read stories from around the world, some well written and documented, others disjointed and pure hyperbole. NYT, WSJ, WaPo, smaller town papers from around the US, the British press, French and Swiss journals, German, RT, Al Jazeera, the Intercept, Common Dreams, China Post, India Times, Australia, economic publications, aviation magazines, tekkie journals, and of course the oftentimes breathless commentary of friends who range from the almost far right to the almost far left of the political spectrum.

We love it when friends from one era of our lives connect with friends from another era, even if one is conservative, the other liberal, and it's a textual joust.

We're amused when someone leaps to the erroneous conclusion that we support some politician or other because we dared to question the veracity of an online story about them ... when our only purpose was to question the veracity. Even more amused when one person thinks we support one candidate and someone else thinks we support their opponent - when, in fact, we support neither. (That veracity thing again.)

I particularly like to play devil's advocate, stir the pot, as they say, and chuckle at the vitriol that follows. (Did those of you who attack me or my views personally realize you are merely providing entertainment?)

Unfortunately, our words and images on social media probably won't change the world. They may, however, drive Zuck's Facebook algorithms crazy, which is some solace.

Then, when we get out of bed each day, we try to take some concrete action to make the world a bit better in ways that we can.

Oh, I almost forgot. Love animal videos. Snippets of sanity in the media maelstrom.

See you online.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Devil(s) Made Me Do It

Hillary Clinton believes she lost the 2016 presidential election because white men told their wives to vote for Donald Trump. Those devils. Really, Hill? It was a vast white whinge conspiracy? If I tried to tell my wife to vote for anyone, much less Trump, she'd probably stuff me in a ballot box.

Others believe Putin did it. Name a problem in America or Western Europe - election meddling, hacks of DNC emails, poisoned double agents, dirty water in Flint, murders in Baltimore, dogs dying on airplanes (oh, wait, that was United), snow in Scotland ... well, pretty much everything is Putin's fault.

Now there's a story that the election was manipulated by Steve Bannon and his Cambridge Analytics associates, who borrowed data from Facebook to - gasp - target messages to American demographic groups and individuals based on their social media personality profiles.

This is shocking? That the American people are being manipulated?

Advertisers have been manipulating the minds of consumers for years. Now, thanks to Mark Zuckerberger and friends, who freely sell the information you provide to them for nothing, the manipulation is more sophisticated, perhaps a little more subtle. But manipulation nonetheless.

Your vote - ie, your "purchase" of a candidate for office - is just another target of consumer marketing. The candidates' manipulators use every means possible - TV, print, social media, and disinformation spread by the media ... and through your own word of mouth in the office or among friends.

What I find more insidious is the manipulation of events, groups, and people. Infiltration of otherwise peaceful groups by thugs paid to incite violence and bring disrepute on the group. It might be a conservative group or liberal. From BlackLivesMatter to the current students against guns movement. The thugs may be hired by George Soros, Charles Koch or the government. The ultimate aim is to create a news narrative that promotes one agenda or discredits another, and the underlying objective of that narrative is to get you to vote for or against a candidate or party. (I would not be surprised if the spy poisoning was not done by the British government as a means of shifting attention from their Brexit dilemma to their convenient Russian bogeyman.)

I doubt the manipulation tsunami has truly changed many minds. That really only comes from analyzing all the knowable facts of a situation ... not just jumping to an hysterical conclusion based on the first fact-thin manipulative story in the media.

What the pervasive social media era manipulation has done, I think, is ramp up the polarization. Amped up the anger. Solidified people in whatever belief they previously held.

Yes, Putin did it. And Trump's people. And Hillary's people. And the Koch Bros. and Soros and Adelson and ... it's no longer may the best man (or woman) win; it's may the best manipulator win. And when we believe their twisted messages, we all lose.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Easy Pleasy

DUELING BLOG - Read D-L's at http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2018/03/poubelle.html/
My wife has mellowed a bit in the five years we've been together. She's keen on neatness and order, but she has come to tolerate my penchant for, shall we say, controlled chaos. I prefer order, too, but with me it's more irregular.

Such as yesterday. At the end of the day, all was in order in the apartment. But during the day, wanting to sort through my clothes - so I could take some of them to the donation bin - I brought down four suitcases of stuff from The Nest (D-L's studio apartment around the corner) and emptied all the clothes onto the bed. Plus the clothes from my closet. Plus summer clothes that had been stored under the bed.

Donna-Lane went into her office and closed the door for much of the day. She was allegedly working on her German pronunciation.  (Either that, or cursing me out in three languages.)

Not really. She knows by now that I (almost never) leave the place in a mess overnight. And that my disorder is (usually) a pathway to order.

So now my closet is ready for spring and summer (with a couple winter things, just in case). Most of the winter stuff is under the bed. There's a suitcase packed for Geneva. And there's a bag ready for donation. I even got rid of a couple of clunky radiators and some old satellite boxes in The Nest.

But the real message of this brief blog is that two days ago, I bought something for my wife which made her ecstatically happy. Not a diamond necklace. Not a gold bracelet. Not the $45-million business jet she's been hinting she'd like.

I bought a $10 waste basket for the car. Yeah, she likes order there too. No food wrappers and soda bottles on the floor when we travel. For awhile we had a plastic bag for trash, but I guess I trashed that at some point. So she wanted a more permanent solution. Thus, the gray bucket - complete with flip top - you see pictured on the hood (or bonnet, if you prefer).

This is not the first discussion we've had about trash bins. We used to have one under the sink, which our landlady had rigged to open when the door was opened. But it was tough to empty and clean, and it took up valuable space. I acquiesed on that one, but managed to save it elsewhere for glass recycle bottles.

And my open-top bin by my desk - for paper recycle - has been replaced with a flip top ... because Sherlock kept stealing the paper and shredding it all over the place.

Now that the trash problem's solved, there's only one point of disagreement between us. (Wouldn't you like to know.)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Shoveling S***

DUELING BLOGS with D-L and J - http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.ch/2018/03/snow-day.html and http://viewsfromeverywhere.blogspot.ch/2018/03/snow-day-in-switzerland.html

To me, snow is a four-letter word.

1. You can't play golf in the snow. 2. You can't drive in the snow. 3. The only way to get rid of it is to shovel or wait until Spring. (Oh, wait, yesterday was the first day of meteorological spring - https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/whats-the-difference-between-meteorological-and-astronomical-spring/70000979.)

Arriving late by train from Paris the night before, and with sparse wifi connections, I was not aware that a storm was expected. D-L was too sleepy groggy to warn me that the white stuff was coming. I hadn't even bothered to put the tarp over the car because I figured any windshield frost would melt before we needed to leave for our lunch appointment.

Quelle surprise! I woke to a blanket of white about 4-6 inches deep and rising.

Of course the dog needed to go out.

Sherlock loved it. I think he thought he was at the beach and the snow was the sand he loves to dig in and burrow his nose under. At times he hopped around like a rabbit, nipping at the chunks of snow he kicked up.

He stayed out much longer than I would have preferred. Every ... time  ... during ... the ... entire ... day. (By the way, kids, don't eat yellow snow.)

Our lunch was cancelled, and we weren't going anywhere, so we decided to chill and make it a real "snow day."

Of course, I can't be idle for long, so I bundled up and went looking for a shovel. The landlord's car was gone, and the gate was open, so I thought perhaps they used a plowing service to come and clear the driveway. Nonetheless, I found an old small pushbroom in a shed and used that to brush the snow off our Peugot. The broom didn't work as well on the ground, so back to the shed where I found a rake. That worked better, but not entirely as the snow was too deep.

I wandered out to another shed off the front yard, found an old broom lying next to it ... then the motherlode inside - an actual shovel, and a sturdy one at that.

D-L expressed the opinion that, at my age, I shouldn't be shoveling snow at all. She had read something that said men over 50 should refrain from the strain - http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/shovelling-snow-heart-attacks-cardiac-arrest-research-bmj-deaths-winter-a8103166.html

It took me about four sessions to almost completely clear the driveway and the steps leading to our garden apartment. Judicious rest in between.

I'm glad I did, though. After a mild thaw through the day and the cold air returning overnight, the snow would have been impenetrable ice today. And we do have to go out on some errands.

I must admit, the crystal stillness of the day was beautiful. The airport was closed, so no aircraft engine noise reverberating across the lake. Almost no traffic on the roads. You could distinctly head individual birds trilling. The conversations of people walking by. And when Sherlock and I stepped out for his Noon romp, the church bells rang and rang as clearly as if we were standing next to the bell tower.

I'll still be glad when it melts.  

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Polite Conversation

Donna-Lane and I almost always have lunch together, at least when we're in the same place. It's an important time for us because it ensures we have an opportunity - during an otherwise busy day when we're both running in different directions - just to talk.

Our conversations range across a wide gamut - social engagements upcoming (in which I try to keep mental track of friends of hers I've met, or maybe not yet met), travel plans and travel dreams (such as our next honeymoon trip), writing projects, things that need to be done around the house, Facebook videos of cats we've laughed at, and of course politics and world affairs and our ongoing crusade against FATCA, CBT and the USG.

In the past two months, we've added several new topics of conversation: for example, the relative moistness of the crap Sherlock just took (too hard, is he constipated?: too runny, what are we giving him that's different?). When was the last time he peed, how much (D-L sometimes counts), which pole he chose, and whether he left some extra "pee-mail" messages for other neighborhood dogs to sniff. What do we need to have in the car in case he vomits on the long drive to Geneva.

We might warn each other that there's a fresh pile of shit on rue Vermeille, and it's approximate location. This is especially helpful to know for the one who has night dooty duty. (Yes, there is sometimes doggy-do on the streets of Argèles sur Mer; not every owner is conscientious - especially if their dog has diarrhea. Fortunately, the village public works comes through periodically with a power washer.)

We talk the walk, ie shouldn't we take Sherlock for a long walk/run to drain some of his excess energy so he's more likely to sleep for an extended period when he's back home. (So we can work in peace, of course.)

And we describe any encounters with other dogs - the snarling bulldogs to avoid, the friendlier pups that might be playmates. (The other day, Sherlock had a play-date with a Jack Russell terrier in an enclosed garden - they had a great time, and Sherlock was wonderfully exhausted the rest of the day.)

Yes, we still discuss all the other things that catch our interest in the villages where we live and the world around us. Let's just say Sherlock has added a few juicy new topics to our agenda.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Channeling My Dad

"Oh, for crying out loud!"

I had spilled some moccachino (coffee, chocolate, whipped cream) down the front of my shirt ... a fairly long drizzle in fact ... as we sat in the back room of La Noisette on  busy marché day.

As I wiped up the spill, I wondered briefly, where did that phrase come from? I had uttered it reflexively, almost automatically.

Of course, I realized. That's something my Dad used to say regularly. It was his way of cursing, in a sense, because he never mouthed a profanity. And when one of his five boys would use a euphemism such as "jeepers creepers," he would let us know this was unacceptable as well, borderline blasphemous.

Today, across most age groups, though it seems especially with younger people, vulgarity seems more the rule than the exception. And not just for something they don't like. Even positive comments are sprinkled with F**, S**, A**, and similar. The re-invigorated gun control movement is popularizing the phrase "We Call B*S*."

My two cents, I think profanity and vulgarity tend to diminish the message, whatever the message. It also diminishes the messenger. It's lazy language. Be a little more creative. If you want people to help carry your banner, come up with something everyone can say without cringing.

Unlike my Dad, I am not a saint when it comes to cursing. Used sparingly, though, I think it has more effect for its rarity.

The same goes for temper. If we are constantly outraged at every issue, major or minor, every day, how does someone else distinguish what is important to you? Choose your battles. And choose your words well to fight those battles.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Freedom (and Responsibility) of the Press

I started my career writing for an independent daily newspaper (the Binghamton NY Sun-Bulletin), and those days remain among my favorite time. I loved the atmosphere of the reporters' "bullpen" with writers covering politics and government, police and courts, sports and business. There was an adrenaline rush to chase the story and pull it together in time for the daily deadline. It was an era when there was a competing newspaper in town -- the despised Gannett corporate-owned Binghamton Press (for whom I would also later work - the summer they merged with the S-B).

I loved the underdog spirit of the Sun-Bulletin, the camaraderie in the newsroom. And I especially loved the printing process: working with the page makeup guys who set the lead type into the forms ... we had to be able to read upside down and backwards in order to tell them where to cut a story that ran too long. We joked that our motto was similar to the New York Times, "All the News That Fits We Print." Then the page forms would be converted into huge curved printing plates and mounted on the giant presses. When all the pages were in place, they'd push a button and the rolls of paper would whirr through the complex machine, spilling out completed and folded newspapers at the other end.

Donna-Lane and I went to see the "Pentagon Papers" movie today, and the scenes of the Washington Post newsroom, the linotype operators, and the triumph of printing an important story evoked wonderful memories for both of us. (She has a dueling blog at http://theexpatwriter.blogspot.fr/2018/02/pentagon-papers.html)

This year marks 50 years since I started my professional communications career (at age 17) and 60 since she started hers in Reading MA (at age 16).

The crux of the movie, though, was about press freedom -- whether a newspaper had a constitutional right to print information from leaked classified documents. Daniel Ellsberg, initially vilified as a traitor, came to be regarded as a brave hero for exposing the US government's decades of lies -- starting with Truman, through Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon -- about the war in Vietnam. Because of those lies, tens of thousands of American boys and Vietnamese died for nothing.
One dynamic that the movie brought out was the coziness, especially between Washington journalists and politicians. They all like to party together. So oftentimes important stories get ignored because otherwise the invitations will stop coming.

If the movie is accurate, Post Editor Ben Bradlee took the difficult but necessary position that the story should be published, the truth should be made available, against threats of jail and ruin. A somewhat shakier Katherine Graham, who inherited the newspaper from her father and husband, also made the right decision despite the contrary pressure of her male-only board who seemed only interested in their financial interests, not in freedom of the press and certainly not in the best interests of the country.

I'm afraid as I look around today, there are very few courageous journalists who are willing to write the truth and damn the consequences. Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras come to mind - the ones whom Edward Snowden sought out when he revealed the sinister inner workings of the NSA.

Most editors and journalists today seem more focused on pushing an agenda, whether right or left, and they ignore any evidence that does not support their viewpoint and trumpet the flimsiest of unnamed source innuendo that will help sell papers or generate clicks.

We hear a lot about "fake news," and it's certainly out there. But that does not justify the moves being taken by Facebook, Google, and others to stifle those voices with which they disagree. If we are only spoon-fed the news the government or the megamedia corporations want us to hear, then it's all essentially fake and biased.

I am predisposed to be cynical about almost anything I read or here, regardless of source. I am especially annoyed when reading so-called news which offers no hard facts to support the sensationalized headline. Time permitting, I will call out such journalistic weakness on social media ... and some of you will presume in such a challenge that I am opposed to or supportive of the person about whom the baseless allegations are made. Nothing to do with that person - I just despise shoddy journalism.

Even though we knew the outcome, the Supreme Court decision in favor of a free press was an emotional moment in the movie. Maybe it almost brought me to tears because of the nostalgia for a time when some press still had backbone.