Whatever Happened to the Artsy Fartsy BBS?


by Roxanne Tellier

In the nineties, I ran the Artsy Fartsy Bulletin Board System out of my home for several years. Those were the days of 2400 baud modems and the scree scraw weeeeeeeeeekkkk!!! sound of the connection soon became a part of my every waking and sleeping moment.

In those days, tens of thousands of hobbyists around the globe ran primarily text-based boards, where users could exchange messages, upload and download files, (often pirated) play games, and generally hang out with other computer geeks.

leisure suit larryThese boards were in someone’s home, and that system operator (sysop) could see what the incoming caller was doing, since their actions scrolled by on the sysop’s own monitor. Sometimes a sysop would break into your session for a one-on-one chat, which was always a little bit of a fanboy experience. The sysop controlled entry – they could disallow your admission, or give you access to the ‘secret’ files you craved, like the latest version of FileMaker Pro or the naughty Leisure Suit Larry video games. And all you knew about this person was that they were probably as cuckoo for computers as you were.

Roxanne Online We ComputeThe boards were personal, they were usually rather unprofessional, messy, and run by teenage boys, and the boards were often geared to special interests. For about three years I wrote a bbs column, Roxanne Online!, for We Compute!, a monthly paper I helped launch, describing local boards, how to access them, and how to find boards that catered to your personal needs.

(I still have all of the clippings of those columns, and someday I intend to scan them, and upload the texts to a website. Patience, padawan.)

Only the cognoscenti, the nerds like myself who used local bbs boards, could foresee that this ability to communicate, pretty much for free, with likeminded people around the world, was the future. I loved being a bbs user, and when my old friend, Iain Grant, offered to set me up a board on my own PC, I jumped at the opportunity.

I became friends with many of Toronto’s FidoNet Region 12 Net 250 sysops along the way, getting to know people like Craig Hastings, Paul Chvostek, Don O’Shaughnessy, Luke Kolin, James Korolas, and Loralie Freeman, many of whom I remain in contact with today.

Over time, and as I trawled the Net Echos for fun, I came to know and eventually spend a lot of quality online time with, some of the denizens of the FidoNet Writing Echo. Each of the writers, whether their writing was yet in print or not, had interesting details to share about their work, and publishing. Pakki Chipps, Laurie Campbell, Rocky Frisco, Dennis Havens, George Willard, Jack Lynch, Billie Sue Mosiman, Shalanna Collins, Lisa Peppan, Carl Thames, Pamela Dean Dyer-Bennet, Diane Lamoureaux, Kevin R. Tipple, Karen Rhodes, Jack Ruttan, Douglas Rhodes, Rich/Rachel Veraa, Michael Nellis, Patrick Goodman, Rebecca Bohner were just a few of the people I would never have encountered, had I not discovered this wonderful online world.

And it was a very egalitarian world. When you chatted with people, you only knew as much as they’d decide to tell you. Anyone could present as any gender, race, or sexual preference. No one was ‘The Boss.’ the horseman

While most of us used our real names, there were a few who preferred to be known by a pseudonym. George Willard, aka Mark Matthews, was an ‘animal lover’ in the carnal sense, and his book, “The Horseman,” got him and his ‘bride,’ Pixel the Pony, as guests on a Jerry Springer TV episode that was the one episode Springer never aired. It was a very long time until the episode became available at all, and then, only on some rather shady video tapes.

I met Pakki Chipps ‘in real life’ soon after my mother died. I had mentioned in an online post that I needed to go somewhere and heal, and she immediately messaged me to say she was preparing a room in which I could stay, and that her daughter Weyla was already out picking flowers for the room.

sooke bcAnd that’s how I came to stay on a reserve in Sooke, BC, where I spent a week doing nothing but relaxing on verdant hills and exploring rain forests with someone whom I had previously only known online.

Many of us were musicians as well as writers. Rocky Frisco was a true Oklahoman character, adept at many fields. He’d been a race car drive, a disc jockey, a writer, an actor, and JJ Cale’s goto keyboardist from 1957 until Cale’s death in 2013. Rocky’s Wikipedia entry is a study in just how much one man can pack into a life. I was honoured to finally meet him when he played The Phoenix with Cale in 2002.

I would often feel that this entree into the online world was slightly unreal. I’ll never forget the time we were on vacation in Florida. We drove up to a Miami medical treatment centre, where we had arranged to have coffee with Rich Veraa, a writer who was a resident there. As we pulled up to the centre, I saw two men in wheelchairs – one white and one black – and realized that I had no idea what this long time friend actually looked like. It was an ‘aha!’ moment for me; in the future, I realized, people could be whomever they wanted to be online, unconstrained by any reality. For good OR ill.

rachel veraaSomewhere along the line, Rich Veraa became Rachel Veraa, but not many of us gave it a lot of thought. People lived their lives as they pleased, and most of us didn’t care what you got up to, as long as you had something interesting to share in your writing.

Not having met most of these writers in person was no impediment to very long, very strong friendships. Although the Writing Echo is long gone, I still stay in touch with many of it’s denizens, on Facebook, and thru the Writing Tavern Google group. I get to read the exploits of Laurie Campbell, as she and her husband prepare to return to New Zealand in retirement, and Dennis Havens can be counted on to keep me in the loop of what he’s been up to in his writing, and in the music world, where his past as a life long Vegas musician and composer of many a Sousa flavoured march makes him a delightful raconteur.

billie sueThe first time I encountered one of Billie Sue Mosiman‘s horror tales (she wrote over a hundred novels, and was also a well-respected editor of horror anthologies) I was a little bit in awe of actually having this talented woman as a ‘pen pal.’ I often think about how she would describe accompanying her beloved husband Lyle, a long distance trucker, while she sat in the cab and wrote to the rhythm of the road. Billie Sue loved her man, her little dogs, and her life, all with equal passion.

wiremanTo look at her, Billie Sue looks like a typical Southern belle (born someplace like Mobile, Alabama, I think) with no more concerns than the cotillion and whether there’s enough Spanish Moss on the oak trees adorning the plantation house… okay, I’m being silly again—I know those sorts of Southern belles went out about the time the carpetbaggers invaded the Deep South after the War of Northern Aggression, as some call it. Although she lives in Texas (or Alabama, I’m never quite sure) with her husband Lyle, I don’t think they can afford a plantation or would want one if they could. And probably the cotillion would be the last thing on her mind—unless as a setting for a massacre; she’s been a full-time writer for years, and her favourite genres are (surprise!) thrillers and horror/fantasy, at least judging by what she’s been publishing lately. The first book of hers I read was called Wireman, about a singular serial killer who used piano wire to garrote his victims. And she looks so normal!” (from AmazingStories.Com/2015)

pamela dean tam linEvery time I pick up one of Pamela Dean‘s wonderful science fiction or fantasy novels, I marvel again at how lucky I’ve been to have had access to her generous sharing of writing and publishing knowledge over the last three decades.

Times were very different, pre the sort of Internet connectivity we now take for granted. You probably didn’t know what a BBS was unless someone you knew was a hobbyist. Most people were actually a little afraid of computers in general; when I applied to be the executive secretary of the CN Tower‘s food and beverage director, the job involved working on one of the only five computers in total that were in use in the executive offices at that time.

first IBM PCTimes changed pretty quickly, though. We went from, “computers! too scary!” to “How does this thing work, and why do I have a steamer trunk full of AOL starter discs?” almost overnight. Prodigy and CompuServe also got into the game, and soon the internet was so intertwined with the corporate world that any sense of the intimacy or personality of the bbs days was gone. When the internet went viral in the late nineties, it was the computer equivalent of the dinosaurs being wiped out by comets – one day BBSes were there, and the next … poof! Gone.

Though – in the beginning, none of the majors really sounded much different than they had back in the 2400 baud modem days.

 

It was right around that time that we were moving from our home in the east end of Toronto to a bungalow in Scarborough, and that seemed like a good time to shut down the Artsy Fartsy, and put the home pc to better use, making a living, working from home (which was ALSO considered an impossible ‘ask’ for the average office worker in the mid nineties. Old school bosses just didn’t believe they’d get an honest day’s work out of anyone whom they couldn’t see by a quick glance around the workplace.)

BBSes were the gateway drug that allowed many computer geeks to get involved with the Internet, well before the hordes arrived. There’d have been no eBay, PayPal, or Youtube without the hobbyists who were the first to see the potential of a worldwide connectivity.

These days, what with our dependence on smart phones, and the ubiquitous
hyper-connectedness of the internet, most of the social media sites tend to feel more like corporate-sponsored trips to the mall.

Our interactions with friends and family (and Russian trolls) are interspersed with cute animal videos and products tailored to the information big data firms glean from our conversations, enabling big corporations to better target what they’ve decided we need in our lives, all for a pretty price.

It’s slick, and professional, and very corporate, impersonal to a fault. And it’s not anywhere near as fun as the bulletin board systems of the nineties.

You just had to be there.

Building Tiny Bomb Shelters for Fun and Profit


by Roxanne Tellier

wrong week to stop huffing glueEver have the feeling that you picked the wrong decade to try to get and stay healthy, focused, connected and relatively substance free? 

I’m telling you – I wish they’d narrow down the date of the Apocalypse, because I am totally prepared to return to smoking and drinking if it’s in the relatively near future. Heck, I’d probably be up for heroin or crack, if I knew I wouldn’t be around to pay the physical price for indulging.

grumpy cat RIP

Even Grumpy Cat couldn’t take this world any more. Oh, sure, they said the poor kitty had complications from an infection, but I’m gonna bet the tiny feline just couldn’t take another day of Trump.

And who could blame him?  Constant distractions, disruptions, lying, and a continual, unending chaos at the highest levels of government are what we wake up to every morning. Settled law has become unsettled. The relatively established ground of how our nearest and dearest will react to the next political landmine has turned to quicksand.

Just when you thought politics had hit rock bottom, you read that the sales of shovels and pick-axes continue to rise. And is that the sound of digging you hear?

These times are just too … interesting.

We read the gloomy predictions of climate catastrophe, follow the bouncing stock market ball, and wonder if there’s still time to build a tiny bomb shelter (because .. property rates are INSANE!) before a nuclear war erupts in a country near us.

When the rules by which you’ve been playing the game of Life are suddenly changed, for whatever reason, it can feel like a chasm has opened beneath your feet, exposing a yawning maw of emotional lava. And it can really mess you up. It’s exhausting, pretending to be a functioning adult.

types of depression

When I recently posted on Face book that I was too depressed to spend as much time on social media as I had in the past, I was surprised at how many people responded to the post, saying that they were feeling the same way.  Social media, which started as a nice way to pass the time with friends, has, in some cases, become a hive of pandemonium, where even the simplest statement can escalate in a heartbeat into a challenge to pistols at dawn.

some men just want to watch the world burnWe are angry and disillusioned with our fellow humans. We wonder how people whom we have known for decades could find it in themselves to vote for the Trumps and Fords of the world.

I have been in this place before, this dark corridor of tears and fear. I had a terrible, deep, and long lasting depression nearly two decades ago. It was soon after the events of 9/11 in the United States, and coincided with several personal events that caused within me a perfect storm of melancholy.

I spent months hiding in the basement, lying on a folding lounge chair, drinking myself into oblivion, trying to come to terms with a world that no longer made sense to me. I finally confessed my inability to cope to my doctor, and he sent me off to a psychiatrist, who was of very little help. The prevailing attitude was that depression was caused by a chemical imbalance, and thus should be easily curable if/when the right combination of chemicals were applied to the problem. In my case, his chemicals could not fix me – ultimately, I had to fix myself, unaided.

I am strong but tired fibroWe know now that a chemical imbalance is just one small segment of any study of depression disorder and mental illness; not every problem can be cured by pills. Some sufferers will need time, some will need counselling, and some will simply wake up one morning to discover that their pain has grown a hard callus over their broken heart.

What often drives a deep depression is a reaction to our present reality, and a feeling of being helpless to control our own lives in relation to that reality. It is, some say, a sense of loss, of grieving the person you once were, because you are now dealing with a very different present, and in so doing, have become a very different person, one whom you may occasionally find unrecognizable, or even unlovable.

Some, who live relatively unexamined lives, are better equipped than others to deal with extreme changes to their personal landscapes; with minor changes to their own belief systems, they can readily adjust to the ‘new rules’ that are imposed upon them by those who make and enforce the laws of their country.

one third will watch one third killHistory is filled with stories of people who stood by and watched horrific – but legal – acts be committed by those who created and enforced the laws of the land. It wasn’t that they were born to be bad people, per se .. it was that they were capable of ‘going along to get along’ … to watch without interfering, and to keep silent so that they themselves were not the next to be persecuted.

 

It is simply a truth that for many, self-preservation will overrule empathy if there’s anything at stake. Like those who cannot understand how others can be anything but regular, old heterosexual until they realize that someone close to them follows a different sexual lifestyle, it’s easiest to name and dismiss others as ‘not our sort’ when you’ve never known what it is that ‘their sort’ believe or practice.

abortion only protects fetusThe draconian new anti abortion laws emanating from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky and even Ohio, this week, ripe with a stench tinged with the sulphurs of Hell, have left many of us shaken, angry, and defiant in a way I haven’t seen in many months. These almost comically villainous, and decidedly unconstitutional, attacks on the civil rights of 51.8% of the American population were purposely designed to attract a backlash by the ACLU and other groups, in order that the Religious Right might attempt to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark court case allowing abortions to be performed in the United States.

chastity belts for menRepublicans feel that the time is right to take this battle to the Supreme Court, now that Trump has stacked the Court with his handpicked lackeys.

And in Ontario last week, a very young and barely post-pubescent Conservative member casually shook the same red cape in support of a pro life protest on the grounds of Queen’s Park, where he made the pronouncement that he hoped to make abortion unthinkable in his lifetime.  By so doing, this home schooled and very religious young man unleashed a storm of estrogen-fueled fury unlike anything he could ever have dreamed of provoking.

What most of us, in both the U.S. and Canada, have recently learned is that the right to abortion isn’t actually settled law in the U.S. And in Canada, with 7 out of 10 provinces now ruled by Conservatives, and with a federal election looming that might turn the entire country back to the Right (and somewhere around the 1950s) our own abortion rights might be on the table sooner rather than later.abortion dont' tell me what to do

It is an irony of Alanis Morissette sized proportions that Canada, that ruled in 1967 that ‘there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,‘ thereby decriminalizing homosexuality, would now appear to be saying, in 2019, that the state DOES have the right to assert dominance over the uteruses (uteri?) of it’s women.

I won’t lie .. I am pissed. I am really, really REALLY pissed that a battle that so many of us fought for – and won! – back in the 60s is being brought back to life like some stinking, rotting zombie, purely for the tiny percentage of North Americans who, like ISIS, believe that their religious beliefs trump those of the rest of the nation.

I take great comfort in how women and their allies are fighting back this time around. We are not about to be manipulated by guilt as we have been in the past, and we no longer believe that the burden of contraception is completely our responsibility- it takes two to tango, and a lot of not so woke men are about to learn how to dance.

 

Walking-Dead

My only hope is that this desperate attempt by the Religious Right to pull the world back into the Dark Ages only succeeds in demonstrating indelibly and for all time that religion must never, ever, be allowed to trump science and democracy. That way lies dragons.

trump separation of church and state

 

Don’t Call Me Stupid, Stupid


by Roxanne Tellier

Waking up on a Sunday morning to a world without Facebook. Oh my, it must have been at least an hour before it was back on line … such a long … lonely … hour …. Where were all of my … argumentative strangers?

leave britney aloneMeh. I’ve had a bunch of minor, irritating problems with my ‘puter over the last few weeks, so it was really nothing more than just another annoyance. But a quick Google check showed that millions of people, living all around the world, were missing their Facebook and social media fix. And they were NOT happy.

Facebook is as addictive as any drug. Don’t believe me? Try walking away.

facebook-is-a-hell-of-a-drugFunny, I’d been thinking recently about leaving Facebook. If you have an addictive personality AND are political, it’s not a healthy place. Sure, I love the animal videos, it is great to see how friends and family in far flung places are doing, and I enjoy being able to quickly get in touch with my ‘connected’ friends, but I don’t know if I can take much more of the 24/7 news stream of our current divisive, angry, confrontational times. It’s all too much.

 

brazil president rain forest

Lately, what passes for ‘information’ on Facebook is a steady stream of accounts of venomous actions being perpetrated on vulnerable people by people who should never have been given access to power. Trump’s American war on refugees is just a wisp of smoke and a few barbed wire rolls short of being as horrific as the Holocaust. Across North America, the battle to extract the last of the oil, destined to enrich a smaller and smaller group of people, threatens the extinction of wild life and sea life, and tramples on the rights of the indigenous. In Brazil, a rabid right vows to eliminate the rain forests of the Amazon, and to roust the last of their native peoples.

In Canada, the machinations of people WITHIN the Liberal party are even more vile than those of their political opponents. In the 2019 budget for Ontario, our premier mentions ‘beer’ and ‘alcohol’ 46 times, in his zeal to re-brand Ontario as a hard drinking, hard gambling, land of the never closed casinos. And in England, there’s a shocking deficiency of intellect being used in the negotiation of the wrong-headed Brexit.

I read today about a new procedural policy suggested by the Trump administration, proposing to monitor the social media accounts of veterans. If the veterans appear “too happy,” their disability pensions for PTSD will be reduced. Or if their photos or videos appear to show them enjoying physical activities, that might be grounds for cutting their disability benefits. In other words, the policy would create an environment in which first veterans, and then, possibly other groups that include disabled people, would need to self-censor what they share on social media with friends and family, lest the government decide to cut vital financial aid or medical care.

Facebook is really starting to dig a little too close to the horrors of a Black Mirror episode. Vulnerable people, those that are easily led, those than believe what they see and hear, indiscriminately, and spread disinformation to their friends, are enabling a world where ‘truth’ carries less weight than ‘opinion.’

Let me tell you about something that happened to me, just this week, because it rather shook my faith, or perhaps my assumption,  in the intelligence of people. In the aftermath of that horrific massacre in New Zealand, in which an Australian far right, home-grown terrorist murdered 50 people and injured dozens more, I received a private message from a fellow that I only knew from Facebook, but with whom I’d exchanged birthday and seasonal greetings for about six years. It contained a video of a Canadian (!) right wing, anti-immigrant, FOX styled ‘journalist,’ who was filming her interactions with the refugees and immigrants who live in the small neighbourhood of Lakemba, near Sydney, Australia.

Lauren Southern kicked outHis message exhorted me to ‘share this everywhere!!!!!!”

Henry is a Canadian who immigrated to Australia about 10 years ago. His wife is of European descent, and I believe she immigrated there shortly before Henry. Since their marriage, they’ve had a son, who is an all Australian boy in temper and manner. Henry and family, who are extremely Caucasian, have gleefully adopted most of what we would consider ‘Australianisms.’

Henry has worked very, very hard to make a place in Australian society for himself, and to support his family. Australia, at 7,692,024 km, is the world’s largest island, with a population of just 24.6 million…. much less than Canada’s population of 37 million. Yet Henry believes that allowing Muslims the same opportunity that he had, of immigrating to Australia for a better life, will lead to widespread Shariah Law and a lack of bacon in his MacDonald burgers. Henry is an entitled, hypocritical prick, and he is no longer my Facebook friend, because he is a stone cold racist, and I do not tolerate racists or racism.

trump I'm with racistsSadly, for many like Henry, a large part of the role that Facebook, Instagram, and other forms of social media play in their lives is the propagation and dissemination of racism. They are delighted to find the like-minded, tend to be tolerant and accepting of trolls and bots, and are willfully blind to any attempt to separate the truth from the lies. That’s most certainly NOT the average Facebook user, but it is a large, and extremely argumentative and vocal segment, thus, very easy to find.

There is, in fact, such a shocking lack of knowledge, wisdom, common sense and humility involved in the shriekings of the bigoted, xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, hoi polloi on social media that one can only sadly agree with British pundit, David Mitchell, who said of the willfully naif, that, “It would be a shame to trample on the fresh snow of your ignorance.”

Most of us are loathe to label the thinking of others as stupid or ignorant; it’s unkind, often misused, and certainly doesn’t lead to an equal sharing of information. However, years of austerity and tax cuts to education and health care, combined with poor diets, have actually begun to turn the clock backward on a common intelligence in first world countries. We are literally becoming dumber than our parents and grandparents.

When president John F. Kennedy decided in 1961 that America would put a man on the moon, it took them just eight years to figure out how. And that was in a time before email even existed. Humans excelled in the 20th century, achieving incredible breakthroughs in science and technology.

In Ontario, we’ve been trying to get a subway to the suburb of Scarborough for more than twenty years.

In previous decades, there was a steady climb in the average IQ scores in civilized countries, of about 3 IQ points per decade. This was called the Flynn effect — named after the work of New Zealand intelligence researcher James Flynn.

Yogi BearBut that increase topped out around 1975, with IQ’s steadily falling by an average of about seven points per generation since. The drop seems to be more about nurture than nature, and includes the impact of changes in how we teach math, science, and language.

“This establishes that the large changes in average cohort intelligence reflect environmental factors and not changing composition of parents, which in turn rules out several prominent hypotheses for retrograde Flynn effects.”

We WANT to believe that we, the citizens of strong, first world, nations are intelligent, thoughtful, free of ignorance, and that our country .. and Facebook … is filled with good people who reflect our own wholesome goodness and wisdom.

However in actual fact, we’re moving steadily, and very quickly, towards an Idiocracy. (This clip is from February 2016 – there has definitely been a further huge drop in our collective IQs in the last two years, from the drip, drip, drip of 24/7 mis and disinformation.)

 

So where to from here, folks?

 

 

Exit the Idiot Whisperer


Ever have, oh, I don’t know… about 6 or 700 of ‘those days,’ where you start to wonder if it’s actually possible that you just might have woken up on another, identical, but much stupider, planet?

thanks god none of you peole are realI have spent far too many hours attempting to reason with those who adamantly refuse to see logic or sense. The sad truth is that they are happy in their interpretation of the world. And I suppose I should be happy that they are happy. It’s all working out for them.

In the past .. well, up to about a week ago .. I would have spent a great deal of time and energy attempting to change someone’s mind. But the thing is, I’m not getting any younger, and the kind of gymnastics needed to argue with a firmly committed Trump cultist is something that no longer feels like fun.

It’s more akin to wrestling a pig. The pig likes it, but I just wind up feeling dirty.

10 commandments of logicThe few diehard Trumpists that get through my anti-Trump wall tend to be friends of friends. Again, in the past, I might have opted to be gracious, rather than potentially offend someone. Now, I’m more inclined to block the one, and unfriend the other. Tiptoeing around crazy people just feels too much like work, and baby.. I’m retired.

I’m tired of being the Idiot Whisperer. I quit. Research your own damn questions yourself. Use your Google fingers to do what every other inquiring mind has to do .. look it up. Find a decent source, and if what you’re reading actually agrees TOO much with what you personally feel about a subject, check with Snopes to ensure that you’re not buying into a hoax.

How hard can that be, people? Don’t repeat stuff that’s stupid. If you are unsure if it’s true, look for another source before you pass on that article, that meme, or that obituary. And if the only reason that you’re gonna forward something is because you know it’s going to rile up people – don’t share it. Life’s hard enough without people going out of their way to be ornery.

face tat failAnd for those people who might be job hunting, it’s best to keep in mind that those checking out your resume will probably also have a gander at what you share on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, along with checking your references. You might want to go easy on the kind of uploads that get a person sent repeatedly to Facebook Jail. What you’re saying and sharing online is a pretty good measurement of how you’ll conduct yourself offline, on a social level, whether for business or pleasure. Social media is not the place to let it all ‘hang out,’ or to boast that you fooled that personnel interviewer by temporarily concealing your skin head and rad tats.

Here’s another thing we all have to stop doing ….. taking the bait of every professional AND non-professional journalist that hosts a webpage. Most stories, even those that are put up by highly reputable sources, still fall within the realm of ‘entertainment.’ It’s all about the clicks.

Yes, we agree with the 97% of climate change scientists who assure us that what we’re seeing is real. Yes, we agree with the majority of psychologists pointing out Trump’s massive mental issues and how difficult it is to deal with his deficiencies. Yes, his choices for important roles in his administration are tearing the fabric of America apart, and it may never be able to be repaired …

BUT…

Have any of our complaints and demands for change been heard or acted upon in a timely manner? Yes, Whitaker is likely an illegal, unconstitutional appointment to the role of United States Attorney General, but have any of our heated debates or stern warnings on the subject got him fired from the gig?

No, they have not. The U.S. is essentially an autocracy where things happen as decided by the autocrats, and no matter how cogent our carefully thought out arguments may sound, or of how angry we may become, our words and emotions have about as much chance of making a dent as a Nerf bat.

And our ruminations are about as important to the world as those of the Thirty Helens Who Agree on Coleslaw.

So, you may as well let a lot of those clickbait articles, and columns asking rhetorical questions, to just sail on by. The last thing any of us needs is to have a stroke over the very idea that raking up the over one million square feet of California forest would have prevented all that destruction.  (Spoiler alert: It wouldn’t have.)

Better to spend that time answering questions that may help you to figure out what historical figure you were in a past life, and if it’s true that you are a fire horse in Chinese astrology. .

Remember when going on Facebook used to be fun, and we’d connect with old friends and relatives and share cat videos and terrible jokes?

Yeah .. that all changed ’round about 2015. Now it’s more like negotiating an armistice or surviving a Civil War. No thanks, Zuckerberg. Most of us have one foot out the door, and we’re taking our advertising dollars with us when we find our next social media platform.

Now, I am not saying that I am going to turn over a new leaf, stop commenting and forwarding political columns and memes, and devote myself to some new hobby, like fly fishing. Far from it. I will definitely continue to attempt to make some sense of the political machinations exhibited daily, from both sides of the border. Someone has to keep an eye on these bastards.

novelty tea cut toiletI’m just saying that not all of us have to be on guard, all of the time. The holiday season is nearing, and a lot of the people whom we care about, really don’t care about politics. In fact, they would prefer it if your holiday gift to them this year would be a promise to not discuss politics at the dinner table. They’d rather have that than pretty much any of the novelty gifts you’ve been thinking of getting them this year … even more than that tea cup you thought would be a hoot.

I’m just saying that it might be time for us to do what the mass media and social media refuse to do – take a few days mental and physical break from the constant bombardment of stupidity, greed, corruption, whipped up paranoia, and hysteria that has become our daily diet.

idiot whispererI’m just saying that maybe it’s time to deny oxygen to the people and things that can’t survive without our steady attention. Maybe letting ‘the cheese stand alone,’ bereft of the attentiveness and arguments that are used to make him appear relevant, will help some of his most stalwart supporters to see what most of us already know – that the trump presidency and administration is a gasbag of noxious farts meant to keep us all looking in the other direction, so that the pickpockets can fleece us without our noticing.

Or maybe I really did wake up on an identical, but much stupider, planet. It’s as good a theory as any other out there.

 

Politically Incorrect


In the mid nineties, my husband and I decided to do a West Coast trip. We were looking forward to reconnecting with a special family, and enjoying the beauty of California.

But there was one special stopover I was determined to make, one that I had pre-planned and booked as soon as we had decided on the holiday.

I wanted to watch a taping of an episode of Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect.

 

 

In Los Angeles, people beg you to come and be a ‘live audience‘ for the shows being taped. But I’ve been on a ton of game shows, a reality show, and some comedy shows, so none of that appealed. Bill Maher, on the other hand …

I’d never missed an episode. Every week I waited anxiously for Friday night to come around, and was sure to be planted in front of the telly the moment it began.

yikes political correctnessThat series, Politically Incorrect, ran from 1993 to 2002, first on Comedy Central, and then on ABC. Ironically, the show was cancelled due to … political incorrectness.

Is that not the most delicious irony?

“In the aftermath of the (9/11) attacks, U.S. President George W. Bush said that the terrorists responsible were cowards. In the September 17, 2001, episode, Maher’s guest Dinesh D’Souza disputed Bush’s label, saying the terrorists were warriors. Maher agreed, and replied: “We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, [it’s] not cowardly.”

Despite similar comments having been made in other media, advertisers withdrew their support and some ABC affiliates stopped airing the show temporarily. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer denounced Maher, warning that “people have to watch what they say and watch what they do.” Maher apologized, and explained that he had been criticizing U.S. military policy, not American soldiers.” (wikipedia)

Maher bounced back, with a new hour-long program on HBO called Real Time with Bill Maher, which premiered on February 21, 2003. Bill recently celebrated his 25th anniversary of on air political correctness, with a gaggle of celebrity friends. And I still watch the show religiously, every week that it’s on, and even when I disagree with Bill and/or his guests – which is quite often.

The term political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct; commonly abbreviated PC) is used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society.” (also wiki)

political correctnessIn the wild, as a concept … political correctness is a wonderful idea. It is an effort to put the spotlight on those unconscious biases that many of us grew up with, and sometimes find ourselves blurting out at awkward moments. It is an exercise in trying to dig out those prejudices at the root, and kill them forever. Many of the things we say without thinking betray unconscious biases, because we are the products of not only our society, but of the thoughts and opinions of our parents and grandparents, who lived in a much less permissive time, and who imprinted their preconceived judgments on our little psyches when we were at our most impressionable.

And the truth is, we allow those people whom we like or generally respect, to say all sorts of terrible stuff, not normally said in ‘polite society‘ … our ‘tribe’ gets a pass. Especially if our ‘tribe’ is a beloved parent or grandparent. We may shush them in public, but we know where their prejudice comes from, whether it is warranted or unwarranted.

how woke it isBut here’s the thing – some very well-meaning people have taken that lovely, Christian, politically correct, desire to make everything and every one equal, and run it into the ditch. And while those very well-meaning people may consider themselves pretty ‘woke’ … they are actually in a clear minority.

In fact, it’s getting to the point where they’re no fun anymore (to paraphrase Crosby, Stills & Nash.)

According to recent studies, “25 percent of Americans are traditional or devoted conservatives, and their views are far outside the American mainstream. Some 8 percent of Americans are progressive activists, and their views are even less typical. By contrast, the two-thirds of Americans who don’t belong to either extreme constitute an “exhausted majority.” Their members “share a sense of fatigue with our polarized national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their political viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.”

Most members of the “exhausted majority,” and then some, dislike political correctness. Among the general population, a full 80 percent believe that “political correctness is a problem in our country.” Even young people are uncomfortable with it, including 74 percent ages 24 to 29, and 79 percent under age 24.

On social media, the country seems to divide into two neat camps: Call them the woke and the resentful. Team Resentment is manned—pun very much intended—by people who are predominantly old and almost exclusively white. Team Woke is young, likely to be female, and predominantly black, brown, or Asian (though white “allies” do their dutiful part). These teams are roughly equal in number, and they disagree most vehemently, as well as most routinely, about the catchall known as political correctness.

Reality is nothing like this. As scholars Stephen Hawkins, Daniel Yudkin, Miriam Juan-Torres, and Tim Dixon argue in a report published Wednesday, “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape,” most Americans don’t fit into either of these camps. They also share more common ground than the daily fights on social media might suggest—including a general aversion to PC culture.

If you look at what Americans have to say on issues such as immigration, the extent of white privilege, and the prevalence of sexual harassment, the authors argue, seven distinct clusters emerge: progressive activists, traditional liberals, passive liberals, the politically disengaged, moderates, traditional conservatives, and devoted conservatives.

According to the report, On this particular issue, the woke are in a clear minority across all ages.”  (The Atlantic, October 2018)

 

 

 

It seems that 79 percent of white Americans, 82 percent of Asians, 87 percent of Hispanics, and 88 percent of American Indians believe that political correctness is a real problem in America.

If you happen to be a huge proponent of PC culture, that’s gotta come as a shock. But again… irony! … not everyone thinks the same way you do! Even those people whom you believe your well-intentioned political correctness is protecting – might be just as happy if you’d back the hell off, pardner.

I don’t think a lot of people can see just how extreme they’ve become in the pursuit of ‘social justice.’ It’s getting harder and harder to justify the micro-aggression of someone who attacks another person on social media over their lack of political correctness, without seeing that the criticism itself is a lack of political correctness.

Their virtue signalling becomes very like the thinking of the critters of George Orwell‘s Animal Farm, who started with the pledge of “Four Legs Good; Two Legs Bad, ” but soon find that motto a meaningless sound bleated by the sheep (“two legs baa-d”), and meant only to drown out any dissenters. “By the end of the novel, as the propagandistic needs of the leadership change, the pigs, who have learned to walk on their back legs, alter the chant to the similar-sounding but completely antithetical “Four legs good, two legs better.” (SparkNotes)

The propaganda of what is politically correct, or incorrect, is massaged into place to suit those to whom we’ve handed the power of cultural judgment.

(Don’t believe me? Google Scott Kelly/Winston Churchill.)

There is a danger in this deification of virtue signalling, the scouring and nitpicking of the words of allies, issuing ‘trigger warnings,’ and the compulsive polishing of a turd of correctness while ignoring giant piles of far more real and horrific shit going on everywhere else. All of that desire to be perfectly and pristinely correct places too much emphasis on protecting special interests, rather than the larger issues now effectively, and often literally, hobbled. (“I’d like to protest those babies in the Kiddie Koncentration Kamps, but someone on Facebook just called someone else fat!”)

This need to be more morally righteous than the rest of the world will be the death of the liberal movement. It’s not only the opponents of a PC agenda that find the mining of politically correct navel lint both contemptible and jejeune .. it is those possible allies being driven away by non-stop micro-aggressions targeting their every non-policed, casual word.

Last word goes.. as it should .. to Mr Bill Maher, and his thoughts on Halloween.

 

 

 

 

It Was 20 Years Ago Today


When you are smack dab in the middle of massive change, it’s nearly impossible to parse what is going on all around you.

hippies love not warBaby boomers have been there a few times. The chaos of the sixties, when the world suddenly went from belonging to your parents, to belonging to you and your like-minded friends – remember that?

That same sort of massive overturning of the status quo happened again around 1998, and most of us just rolled with it, not realizing how irrevocably our world was about to change. Once again, the world was being handed over to a new generation, and those who wanted to keep current, were about to be sent back to school or risk being considered a dinosaur.

tech change computers

A few weeks ago, a Facebook buddy, Walter Frith, posted something that I can’t stop mulling over in my mind … how is it that I lived in the middle of a complete technological upheaval, and never felt so much as a tremor?

Walter wrote, ” I’m watching the first season of The West Wing again for the zillionth time and having begun in the 20th century, it’s a hoot seeing the occasional typewriter, enormous video cameras, referencing the Encyclopedia Britannica with no mention of smartphones, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and Twitter, all of which had not been invented yet. Watching a political drama series without ANY reference to social media seems almost absurd now but the times were what they were back then, 19 years to be exact.”

… mind … blown …..

I was actually working in tech back then – first at Oracle, then as a writer and sales person for the Canadian rags Toronto Computes, then The Computer Paper, and finally We Compute!

old cell phonesFrom Parade Magazine:
The Evolution of the Cell Phone
• 1973 – The first cell phone. The phone Martin Cooper designed for Motorola weighed 2.5 pounds and had a battery life of 20 minutes.
• 1983 – Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. …
• 1984 – The Nokia Mobira Talkman. …
• 1995 – The Motorola StarTAC. …
• 1996 – The Nokia 8110. …
• 1998 – The Nokia 5110. …
• 2004 – Motorola Razr. …
• 2007 – The iPhone.

I had a cell phone in the late eighties, early nineties, but it was enormous, and cost hundreds of dollars a month to service. Very few people, beyond those who could write it off as a business expense, bothered with cell phones back then.

We moved to Scarborough in 1998, and I found a new career selling collectibles on eBay (which had debuted in 1995.) Most of my transactions were done by cheque or money order, until PayPal launched in 1999, and forever changed international commerce.

There was no Wikipedia prior to 2001, and though it may feel like you’ve always been on Facebook, that site launched in 2004, eventually burying MySpace, which had launched in 2003.

Youtube came along in 2005, and Twitter arrived in 2006. Mixtapes were effectively put out to pasture when Spotify debuted in North America in 2011.

And the smartphones .. ohhhh the smartphones! It was 2007 before we began arguing over which iteration of LG, Samsung or iPhone was best. Can you imagine that? In only eleven years, trillions of dollars have been generated for an industry that didn’t even exist before 1973.

It’s hard to envisage how we lived prior to all of this tech. Cast your mind back to 9/11, for instance. At that point, with almost no one being on any form of social media, the North American phone network became impassable in hours, as we all tried to connect with people who might have been affected by the tragedy.

The cell phone changed our life. The smart phone put an incredibly powerful computer into our pockets and purses. And most of us can’t envision leaving the house without that lifeline.

You know what else didn’t exist, even ten years ago? The iPad (2010,) and tablets in general. Uber (2009) and Lyft (2012,) AirBnB (2007,) Pinterest (2010,) 4Square (2012,) Instagram (2010,) and KickStarter (2009.)

And that’s just a few of the apps we believe we can longer live without .. and we have no idea what leaps and bounds of thought and tech might be coming down the pipeline to blow our minds in the 2020s.

There’s only one way that this relentless tech explosion could feasibly be stopped – if someone, a powerful person, so out of touch, so narcissistic and so megalomaniac, believed that it was within his right to take over the heart of current tech – the cell phone – and bend it to his needs.

That would be a bridge too far, I believe, and might even cause those who rely on the convenience of this ‘computer in their pocket,’ to opt out … to reject the very instrument that has become their lifeline to the rest of the world.trump on cell

But that would never happen .. right?

 

oh oh ….

 

 

 

Thinking About Thinking


Ain’t I a wonder, and ain’t you a wonder too!

cheese_and_internet_memesOr so we’ve been led to believe, by all of our ‘likes’ and ‘loves’ on social media, which is where we go to show off our funny, pretty, and intelligent sides. It’s where we go to get our ‘strokes’ of approval, to find out who’s doing what, and it’s where some of us go to air our opinions and beliefs, and to challenge the opinions and beliefs of others.

“(As of August 2017) For the first time in the Pew Research Center’s surveys, more than half (55%) of Americans ages 50 or older report getting news on social media sites. That is 10 percentage points higher than the 45% who said so in 2016. Those under 50, meanwhile, remain more likely than their elders to get news from these sites (78% do, unchanged from 2016).”

There really isn’t anyone moderating what we say on Facebook. Oh, the book of face would have you believe that, like McDonalds, “we do it all for you,” but anyone who’s been slapped with a three day suspension for uploading a picture of a woman breastfeeding would disagree. No one seems to really know what FB will decide is pornographic or unseemly. Even Facebook itself is unable to provide a hard and fast policy, since it changes with whatever the loudest voices declare to be currently correct.

And Facebook’s acceptance of Russian payment for the placement of ads that ultimately swayed voters in the last election – well, that’s for the courts to decide, but I’d say that might be considered a Russky Bridge too far.

grown ups on the internetWhat is indisputably true, in the world of social media where reputations can be made or destroyed in the space of a tweet, is that there aren’t many grown ups in the room.

And the barrier that might have once existed between terrestrial media and internet social media is gossamer fine.

Because it’s that kind of world, now, where the highest rated radio and TV shows are filled with loud, opinionated, and often grossly under informed ranters who toss the red meat of controversy to the most rabid of listeners who will wait, slavishly, by their phones, in order to add their own voice to the cacophony, and be part of the fun. It’s a world where a reality TV host gets to be president. It’s Idiocracy.

How did we get here? Well, I’d say the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) played a very large role in this slide into mis and disinformation. Created in 1939 to license and renew the license of broadcast stations, the FCC did not originally have the power to censor what was aired. Until the 1950’s, most people got the bulk of their information from radio, and news was sold strictly as news, not entertainment. However, then as now, radio stations needed advertisers to keep in business, and the Commission worried that station owners would be influenced by their advertisers, and by what the conservative owners might decide to pass off as truth.

And so, the Mayflower Doctrine was put into place by then FCC chairman Larry Fly, “fearing a further commercialized, conservative-biased and corporate dominated medium.” The Doctrine declared that broadcasters have “an obligation to allot a reasonable amount of time to treatment of controversial issues and that they have an affirmative duty to seek, to provide representative expression of all responsible shades of opinion.”

The Mayflower Doctrine gave way to the Fairness Doctrine in 1949.
fairness doctrine Reagan“It established two forms of regulation on broadcasters: to provide adequate coverage of public issues, and to ensure that coverage fairly represented opposing views.  The second rule required broadcasters to provide reply time to issue-oriented citizens. Broadcasters could therefore trigger Fairness Doctrine complaints without editorializing. The commission required neither of the Fairness Doctrine’s obligations before 1949.” (wiki)

But even that modicum of control was removed in 1989, ushering in a whole new way of presenting information. No longer did radio or TV have to be held to truth – instead, it became permissible for broadcasters to present, higgledy piggledy, views that directly benefited their paid advertisers and corporate owners. it was the beginning of ‘fake news,’ paving the way for owners like Rupert Murdoch to found stations based upon the rantings of radio and TV shock jocks, those highly emotional if often low informed and biased talk show hosts ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

fox-news-hostWhile this sort of blathering can be very entertaining, and kickstart the hearts of those who either lack their own opinions or love to air their ideas and conspiracy beliefs, it really didn’t do much good for those people who are easily led to often ill informed and hard right theories.

The thing about life is that most of us come to our ideas through our very limited experiences. And yet somehow we believe that our conclusions on goings on outside of our own personal spheres are as valid as those of the people who have dedicated their lives to understanding those events.

Thinking like that is naive, and is what led to America electing one of the most incompetent presidents of their history. Believing that success in business equates to success in government is an enormous lie of epic proportions and horrifically sad consequences. The very qualities that comprise ruthless thinking and lead to success in business are the direct antitheses of the qualities necessary for a wise, compassionate, and humane leader able to put the needs of the Nation before his own.

know it all diploma

Why is it so hard for most of us to realize that we don’t have all the answers? To understand that there are people out there who are smarter than us, or who have more information about a topic, or maybe just have that intuitive flash of brilliance that allows them to weigh up an issue, thoughtfully and with ALL of the data considered, and then come up with a solution that actually works for all involved, something that we’ve somehow missed, no matter how long and hard we’ve worried the question?

genius does what it mustWhy is it so hard to understand that there are very few of us capable of holding every aspect of a quandary in perfect balance for long enough to solve the equation?

Time and again I have seen businesses and governments weigh up a problem with all of their combined brainpower .. and still come up empty. It’s truly infuriating for all of us – the entity trying and failing to find a solution, and those impacted by their lack of a properly considered conclusion in which all of the players needs are considered.

Fr’instance. In British Columbia, homelessness and drug addiction are a crushing burden to those who suffer from these issues. Trying to help and control the realities of how these problems impact upon not just those who suffer, but those who live within a society that bears the financial and legal brunt of these issues, is something that the BC government and policing agencies have to deal with. At this point, a tangle of laws, rights, and ugly reality have created an impasse. There’ seems to be no answer to this question. The result is an uneasy standoff, that benefits and pleases no one.

I don’t have the answer. But somewhere out there, someone does. He or she just hasn’t been asked the right question.

smug gifCorporate and political entities are not the only ones that often have a smug belief that they are the only ones with the answers.

Take the subject of phasing out oil powered vehicles vs electrically powered vehicles. Pretty much every driver who is of a certain age has little belief that the demise of fuel will happen any time soon. And yet, the Chinese government is following in the footsteps of countries like India, France, Britain, and Norway, which have already announced plans to ditch gas and diesel cars in favour of cleaner vehicles in the coming years.

I’ve heard all of the arguments, and the cries that trucks and other heavy vehicles will never be able to be replaced by electric or electrified vehicles, for at least the next fifty years.

electric-vehicles-2016But it IS gonna happen, and much sooner than those who picture electric vehicles being powered by a trunk full of double AA batteries can conceive. Barring a nuclear holocaust, which would put paid to pretty much all of civilization, electric vehicles will be the only new vehicles manufactured in many countries, as soon as 2021.

When the Fairness Doctrine was tossed aside as though the citizens of 1989 were far more intelligent and civilized than the yokels who’d laboured under these doctrines for the previous fifty years, we ushered in a time when any fool with a platform and a theory could control large groups of people, without any constraints, be they of decency or truth, covering their speech.

The internet and the ubiquitous social media furthered the range of those loud voices, and multiplied the numbers of potential followers their words could reach.

But without any control, or any way to establish rules of argument and debate, the loudest voices tend to be the ones most likely to resort to schoolyard bullying tactics, like name calling, the distortion of truth, and outright lies being repeated until the lies themselves are woven into the fabric of society.

bully pulpit trumpDespite the miracle of the internet allowing each of us to research, in real time, any questionable information presented to us by even the loudest and most authoritative voices, the demand that truth be spoken is often overridden by the Bully Pulpit of those in power.

I’m pretty sure that this is not where the inventors of broadcast media hoped that we’d arrive.

But it is the situation in which we now find ourselves drowning.