Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

olivia leeA sudden ray of sanity, and a joy to the world.

http://www.theage.com.au/world/jews-and-arabs-refuse-to-be-enemies-20140724-zw7q0.html

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if something as simple as a hashtag on Twitter re-framed and refocused the debate in the Middle East, talking peace to the leaders on both sides, and hastening an end to the conflict?

We would urge everyone to express their sentiments on Twitter, Facebook, boy on shouldersInstagram and anywhere else you can think of.

You just never know.

God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.

girl and boy

dislikeOK, I am getting seriously – SERIOUSLY – over fu*king FB’s “suggested posts”.

They are just a continual irritation which makes using the social media site frustrating beyond belief, especially on a mobile phone.

I am sure they're delightful people. What the hell have they got to do with me?

I am sure they’re delightful people. What the hell have they got to do with me? Seriously?

Not content with regularly asking me to support other Premier League clubs – it’s Southampton, bitches, shut the fu*k up! – now Facebook suggests I join a group called Latvians Living In Australia.

Why?

I have never been to Latvia.

I do not know any Lats.

I do not speak Latvian.

I have never eaten Latvian food.

I have never heard any Latvian music, read a Latvian book, or dated a Latvian girl.

I don’t want to lick a Latvian girl’s feet. I am Lat-toes Intolerant.

(Sorry, it just occurred to me while I was writing, so I thought I’d throw it in there. I apologise.)

OK, I am vaguely pleased they are no longer part of Russia. For now, at least.

So why, FB, why?

I think the people should be told.

‪#‎whyFBwhy‬ ?

Two quite different stories making news today reveal how the descent of political debate into hatred and abusive propaganda can have an awful effect on innocent lives.

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk we are often in discussion with friends, colleagues and commentators who essentially believe in unfettered free speech. We often hear an argument which runs something like this: “The correct response to this nonsense is ridicule: given the oxygen of publicity, these people condemn themselves out of their own mouths. It is more important to preserve the liberty of all at the price of allowing nutters to say what they like, rather than curtail freedom of speech.” This argument is advanced regularly by the right in America, but is by no means limited to there. It occurs in all corners of the blogosphere, it is evidenced by recent moves by the Australian Government, just as one example, and it is a favoured line by libertarians worldwide.

Disgusting "humour" like this is freely available all over the internet. Should concepts of "free speech" protect those who produce it from sanction? In our opinion: No.

Disgusting “humour” like this is freely available all over the internet. Should concepts of “free speech” protect those who produce it from sanction? In our opinion: No.

We respect the passion of those who advance this argument against, for example, anti race-hate legislation, but over many years we have come, reluctantly, to disagree with it.

Yes, we recognise that the “elephant in the room” is “Where do you draw the line once you start to censor free speech?” but we nevertheless also believe that a line must be drawn.

And the reason for that line being drawn is the encouragement given to those who would take extreme ideals and translate them into real-world violence, whether because they take the comments to their logical conclusion, seeing no moral distinction between holding a violent thought and acting on it, or merely because they are mentally unhinged.

We see no desperate need to be able to advocate ridicule and violence that justifies the fact that it leads, as night follows day, to real injury and death for innocent people.

For example, in recent days we have seen yet another shooting perpetrated by members of the far-right in America.

A day before going on a shooting rampage that left two Las Vegas police officers and a bystander dead, Jerad Miller, one of the killers, posted this on Facebook:

“The dawn of a new day. May all of our coming sacrifices be worth it.”

Amanda Miller created and posted this Bitstrip comic to her Facebook six months ago.

Amanda Miller created and posted this Bitstrip comic to her Facebook six months ago.

Witnesses reportedly said Miller, 31, and his wife, Amanda, shouted, “This is a revolution” and “We’re freedom fighters” when they ambushed the officers who were on their lunch break at a pizza restaurant.

If their social media accounts are any indication, rants about attacks and disgust with authority were a common thread in their lives.

“To the people in the world…your lucky i can’t kill you now but remember one day one day i will get you because one day all hell will break lose and i’ll be standing in the middle of it with a shot gun in one hand and a pistol in the other,” Amanda Miller posted on Facebook on May 23, 2011.

 After killing Police Officers Alyn Beck, 41, and Igor Soldo, 31, who were having lunch having clocked off, and taking their weapons, police said the Millers fled across the street to a Walmart store, where they shot and killed customer Joseph Wilcox, 31, who apparently confronted the shooters with his own weapon, before apparently taking their own lives in a suicide pact.

SurvivalistThe couple, who married in September 2012, moved from Lafayette, Indiana, to Las Vegas, Nevada, in January of this year. Photos on 22-year-old Amanda Miller’s Facebook page shows the couple celebrating Christmas with family two weeks before departing for Nevada. In one photo, she poses with copies of the “Shooter’s Bible” and “Extreme Survival.” “My new books that my Grandma Paula got me!” she wrote on Facebook. The merging of influences between the “survivalist” community, gun aficionados and extreme militia-style groups, laced with racist and white supremacist groups, is a key concern for both community organisations and law enforcement in America.

It is not the lawful promotion of legal activities or legitimate opinion that causes concern, rather it is the ability of those on the fringe of those movements to hijack the genre and spread concepts of ‘legitimate’ violence to the soft-minded.

According to the Lafayette Journal & Courier, Jerad Miller had a long history of arrests and convictions for drug offences while in Indiana.

In a July 8, 2013, video he posted to YouTube, he vents about the government making a profit from an ankle monitor he has to pay for and wear while under house arrest. He also rants about the local courthouse and questions why citizens need permits.

“You have to go down to that big stone structure, monument to tyranny, and submit, crawling, groveling on your hands and knees,” he says on the video. “Sounds a little like Nazi Germany to me or maybe communist Russia.”

On Monday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that a neighbour said the Millers might have been planning a larger attack on an unidentified court building. According to the story, the couple’s next-door neighbour and friend was holding documents for the couple that included detailed plans to take over a courthouse and execute public officials. Other reports link the couple of the recent Cliven Bundy ranch saga when armed militia lined up against government officials to protect the ranchowner’s right to continue to illegally graze his cattle on public land, although hard evidence has yet to be produced that they were there. UPDATE 12 June, video has now emerged of Jared Miller speaking at the Bundy ranch, from which he and his wife were asked to leave because of their extreme views.

JokerJared Miller used the handle “USATruePatriot” on another YouTube account where video titles included “second amendment logic,” “Would George Washington use an AK?,” and “Police confiscate guns and threatened to kill me.”

In two videos, he stands in front of an American flag dressed as the Joker and rambles about what it would be like to be president of the United States.

“A new world order under the Joker,” he shouts while belting out an evil laugh.

Jerad Miller’s profile picture on Facebook is of two knives behind a mask and the word “PATRIOT” in stars and stripes. Much of his social activity was centered on Second Amendment gun laws, government spying and drug laws. Six days before Sunday’s rampage, he posted on Facebook that, “to stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed.”

“We can hope for peace. We must, however, prepare for war. We face an enemy that is not only well funded, but who believe they fight for freedom and justice. … We, cannot with good conscience leave this fight to our children, because the longer we wait, our enemies become better equipped and recruit more mercenaries of death, willing to do a tyrants bidding without question. I know you are fearful, as am I. We certainly stand before a great and powerful enemy. I, however would rather die fighting for freedom, than live on my knees as a slave.”

Investigators with the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center aid the Millers’ web writings were typical of right-wing, militia-type thinking. But the SPLC’s intelligence files don’t show the couple to be members of an organized group.

“It’s just the two of them doing this crazy thing that the two of them decided to do,” the director of the SPLC’s intelligence project commented.

The ADL says in the past five years, there have been 43 separate incidences of violence between domestic extremists and U.S. law enforcement. All but four of the attacks were perpetrated by right-wing extremists, according to the ADL.

“The two police officers who lost their lives are only the latest in a series of casualties in a de facto war being waged against police by right-wing extremists, including both anti-government extremists and white supremacists,” Mark Pitcavage, ADL director of investigative research, said in a written statement. “Some extremists have deliberately targeted police, while others have responded violently when meeting police in unplanned encounters. The killings are not the effort of a concerted campaign, but rather a series of independent attacks and clashes stemming from right-wing ideologies.”

It is the propagation of these ludicrously extreme ideologies – of left and right, which is where strands of political thinking actually merge, in our opinion – that needs to be carefully examined. The capacity for unhinged individuals to create mayhem is simply too obvious to allow their mental furies to be whipped up. Indeed, anti-terrorism experts now say that the ability of propaganda materials to provoke murderous behaviour by previously unobserved and not-formally-aligned individuals is actually their biggest headache. As “spectacular” attacks on a more alert West have declined, so the capacity to use words to enrage and empower lunatics becomes a more ever-present threat. One madman with a “dirty” low-blast nuclear weapon (which apparently is not that difficult to create if you can access the right materials) could take out the population of a small city. Anywhere.

pakistan attackMeanwhile, the other end of the scale was also on tragic display. Thirty people – ten of them insurgents – were killed as Pakistan’s military fought an all-night battle Monday with Taliban gunmen who besieged Karachi airport.

The assault has left Pakistan’s nascent peace process with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in tatters and officials in the northwest reported that some 25,000 people had fled a restive tribal district in the past 48 hours, fearing a long-awaited ground offensive.

The assault on Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport was just the latest spectacular offensive to be launched by the TTP in an insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives since 2007.

Authorities were checking reports that seven airport workers were trapped in cold-storage facilities after apparently shutting themselves inside to escape the carnage.

“We are looking into this and according to the families some seven people were trapped inside the cold storage and were in contact with the families on cell phone,” said Abid Qaimkhani, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority.

bodiesThe attack began just before midnight Sunday. Some of the gunmen were dressed in army uniform, as authorities put their mangled bodies, assault rifles, grenades and rocket launchers on show for the press. At least three detonated their suicide vests, witnesses said, and one severed head formed part of the grisly display.

“The main objective of the terrorists was to destroy the aircraft on the ground but there was only minor damage to two to three aircraft,” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told a press conference at the airport late Monday. “Pakistan’s national assets are safe and secure.”

The administration in Washington condemned the attack and offered to assist with the investigation. UN chief Ban Ki-moon also condemned the airport siege and a separate attack in the southwest targeting Shiite Muslims which a local official said killed at least 24 pilgrims.

Ban was “deeply concerned by this upsurge of violence across Pakistan” and urged the government to increase its efforts to address terrorism and religious extremism, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

The bodies of the 18 victims – including 11 airport security guards and four workers from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) – were taken to a Karachi hospital where another 26 wounded people were being treated, a hospital official said.

The charred remains of two cargo terminal employees were later recovered on Monday night, to bring the total dead to 30, Qaimkhani said.

PIA spokesman Mashud Tajwar said no airline passengers were caught up in the incident.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office issued a statement “commending the bravery” of security forces and saying normal flight operations would resume in the afternoon, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai – who is battling his own Taliban insurgency – condemned the attack in a statement.

The attack took place just three kilometres (two miles) from the Mehran naval base, which the Taliban laid siege to three years ago, destroying two US-made Orion aircraft and killing 10 personnel in a 17-hour operation.

The group also carried out a raid on Pakistan’s military headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi in 2009, leaving 23 dead including 11 troops and three hostages.

Latest revenge

The TTP said the brazen attack on the airport was its latest revenge for the killing of its leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike in November. TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said the government had used peace talks as a ruse, and promised more attacks to come in retaliation against recent air strikes in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Talks to end the TTP’s bloody seven-year insurgency have been under way since February, after Sharif returned to power last year, but little clear progress has resulted and more than 300 people have been killed in militant strikes since then. Analysts say Sharif is under pressure to act and risks angering the army if he does not authorise a swift retaliation.

Thousands flee tribal district

In restive North Waziristan tribal district some 1,000 kilometres north of Karachi, residents and officials told AFP 58,000 people, mainly women and children had fled the area for different parts of the northwest, fearing a long-awaited offensive was imminent.

The exodus has increased rapidly in recent days, with more than 25,000 fleeing their homes in the last 48 hours alone, a government official in Peshawar said.

“I am taking my family to a safer location,” said one resident who did not wish to be named.

The latest rumours of an operation began after government talks with the TTP broke down in April, and were further stoked by the air strikes and the widespread distribution of a leaflet from a local warlord last week warning residents they should leave their homes by June 10. An offensive in North Waziristan has been rumoured for years but analysts remain cautious about whether the military has the capacity to attempt such a move without assistance from the Afghan side of the border where militants are likely to flee in the event of an attack.

What do we think?

Well, this new survey revealing that 92% of Pakistanis report having seen hate speech online is sobering indeed. We cannot imagine it is much different elsewhere. It may well be that we are crucially under-estimating the role of hate speech online in creating real-world violence.

Whether it is three dead in a shopping mall, thirty dead in Pakistan, or tens of thousands maimed, made homeless, or killed in conflicts all over the world, it is surely the power of words to justify the unthinkable that should concern us.

A challenging question that demands an answer.

A challenging question that demands an answer.

Whatever the root causes of societal tensions, and the world is full of injustice, to be sure, both minor and major, the casualacceptance that “violence is the answer” is a cancer that grew up in the relativist 1960s and has been growing and spreading ever since.

It must be said that the instinctive resort to violence is, unquestionably, exacerbated by the wanton use of government force, official and unofficial, whether it is foolhardy killings of people by gung-ho police officers, (a trend which seems to be increasing), the assassination of leaders such as Salvador Allende and Patrice Lumumba, drone strikes, dis-proportionate attacks on the Palestinian community by the IDF, the fuelling of the contras and others slaughtering hundreds of thousands in Central and South America in the 1970s and 80s, the massacres of Chechen civilians, the slaughter of Tamil civilians, and so many more examples the list could be virtually endless.

 

We are concerned here with the knee-jerk resort to violence, with the assumption that such violence is warranted in all cases by national interest, rather than the admittedly more complex discussion of when and if violence could be justified. Governments everywhere seem, to our eyes, to be becoming far too wedded to the idea of “shoot first and ask questions later”, both domestically and internationally. It is a slippery slope, and we seem to be sliding down it, willy nilly.

And while government continues to behave as if life and liberty are irrelevant to their own interests, so individuals will consider they are similarly exempt from moral restraint, as we saw with Baader-Meinhoff and the Red Brigades.

Hate speech does not equal free speech. In our opinion.

Hate speech does not equal free speech. In our opinion.

And yet, none of us are exempt from moral restraint. When we all cry, in bewilderment, “How could someone do such a thing?” it is because we are from the sane majority, those who would no more shoot a fellow citizen on the streets over a political or religious principle than we would try to fly to the moon by flapping our arms.

And yet, that same sane majority cowers silently behind the free speech argument while others pour mental filth into our communities unchallenged and unrestrained.

In our view, it is not enough to outlaw someone actively arguing and presumably planning for armed revolution, it is also necessary to curb the enthusiasm of those who “wink” at the concept of it, who pat elements on society on the head and murmur “There, there, settle down children”, when they should actually be as outraged as us that anyone can actually voice the type of vile propaganda that leads individuals to gun down women’s health practitioners, attendees at a Holocaust museum, or a Jewish school.

We do not pretend to know where or how the line should be drawn in each and every case. We simply feel we know hate speech when we hear it, and we don’t want to hear it. So as a starting point for the debate:

Killing people is wrong. Always wrong. Under any circumstances. It is an inadequate, tragic and awful way for us to resolve our differences, whether with a neighbour over a wall or a neighbouring country over a border.

Killing people is just plain wrong. And saying it’s sometimes OK to kill people is wrong, too.

Let’s just start there, and work on?

stoning

In case anyone was wondering what the nature of the extreme Islamist groups running the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)” are like, reports are emerging that they just stoned to death a young Syrian girl for membership of the Facebook social network.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Arabic: الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام‎ ad-Dawla al-Islāmiyya fi al-‘Irāq wa-sh-Shām), abbreviated as ISIS, is an armed resistance group active in Iraq and Syria. It was established in the early years of the Iraq War, and pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004, becoming known as “al-Qaeda in Iraq”. The group was composed of and supported by a variety of insurgent groups, including its predecessor organisation, the Mujahideen Shura Council, Al-QaedaJaysh al-FatiheenJund al-SahabaKatbiyan Ansar Al-Tawhid wal SunnahJeish al-Taiifa al-Mansoura, etc., and other clans whose population is of Sunni faith. It aimed to establish a caliphate in the Sunni majority populated regions of Iraq, later expanding this to include Syria.

In an unprecedented move in February 2014, al-Qaeda cut off all ties to the ISIS. The new generation of radicals appear too extreme even for what has hitherto been considered the world’s most extreme terrorist organisation.

The ISIL militants took the Syrian girl, Fatoum Al-Jassem, to Al-Reqqa religious court and the judge ruled that membership in Facebook is tantamount to adultery and sentenced her to death by stoning, the Iranian news agency FNA reported on February 12 quoting the Arabic news and opinion website Al-Rai Al-Youm.

ISIL, an Iraq-based militant group, is now fighting against Syrian government. Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011 with organised attacks by well-armed terrorists and militants against the Syrian army and civilians across the country.

Thousands of people have been killed since terrorist and armed groups turned protest rallies into armed clashes.

The Syrian Government – also one of the most murderous regimes anywhere in the world – blames outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups for the deaths, stressing that the unrest is being orchestrated from abroad.

What is also certain, however, is that some of the groups fighting them make the cure look worse than the illness. How ironic, too, that the Syrian rebel forces are being armed by the West, and that many of those arms are now in the hands of groups like ISIL, which wages war against the West relentlessly in other countries.

syria-strangling

Alleged strangling of a young woman in Manbij, Aleppo

Ironically, rebel groups frequently make full use of social media including Facebook to publicise their beliefs and actions. YouTube is full of scenes of beheadings and, in one particularly tragic case allegedly involving ISIS, that came to light about two days ago, the unverified murder by strangulation with wire of a young woman who refused to agree with the prevailing philosophy of the group. We forced ourselves to watch the video out of respect to the woman concerned. If a death is not witnessed, the murderers live on with impunity.

As Syria lurches yet deeper into violence as the peace talks stumble, the West needs to choose its allies with great care, and a long view.

The image at the head of this article is a scene from the movie The Stoning of Soraya M. The movie makes horrendous viewing, but is strongly recommended, to understand how cultural influences rob innocent women in many situations of even the most basic human rights, condemning them to horrific deaths.

This astonishing photograph was taken by Sarah Haddid, flying into Melbourne last night.

What is most terrifying for me is that our house is so close to all that. You can actually put your finger at the end of the Eastern Freeway and pretty much cover the Wellthisiswhatithink compound. The flames came to within two blocks of our local shopping centre. Friends in the middle of it all had to evacuate to us.

And yet, bizarrely, were it not for the emergency authority website, Facebook and radio, we would not have known it was happening. The wind was in the other direction – no smoke or embers. Bizarre.

Melbourne dodged a major bullet this weekend. I find it hard to summon up enough praise for the fire authorities and the volunteers and paid firies who keep us safe, at great risk to themselves.

Incredibly, it was five years to the day since Black Saturday, which very nearly impacted, perhaps fatally, on my family, and which brought death and destruction to so many others.

This is a beautiful land. It is also very frightening, sometimes.

As we write, there are still 26 out of control fires in Victoria. Our prayers and concern go out to everyone involved.

One of the lesser known and more interesting features of the social media Leviathan that is Facebook is that every year they release some country specific data allowing us to see what different parts of the world are talking about.

They have just released their Australian data today, along with about 20 other major countries.

Most talked about topics (by Australian Facebook users):

1. Vote
2. Kate Middleton
3. Cricket
4. Kevin Rudd
5. Grand Final
6. Election
7. GST
8. Lions
9. Tony Abbott
10. Big Brother

Most talked about Global Topics:

1. Pope Francis
2. Election
3. Royal Baby
4. Typhoon
5. Harlem Shake
6. Flood
7. Miley Cyrus
8. Boston Marathon
9. Tour De France
10. Nelson Mandela

Most talked about Entertainment Topics:

1. Big Brother
2. The Voice
3. One Direction
4. Breaking Bad

Most popular Check-in Location in Australia:

1. Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

What does this tell us about ourselves?

Well, we’re sport obsessed. Duh.

We have an active and abiding interest in politics – read, in expressing our opinion – and social media is increasingly where we do it.

We seem surprisingly to still be very interested in “the Royals”.

And Miley Cyrus is, well, Miley Cyrus. We live in terror that the twerking popette will be chosen as Time Person of the Year.

Reviewing the full Facebook 2013 year in review is a fascinating glimpse into what “real people” are interested in.

Worldwide, our most commonly posted life event is a relationship. Getting married, engaged, or being “in a relationship”. How we perceive ourselves in a social sense is clearly an important part of our self-awareness that we wish to broadcast. And interestingly, sport in general seems markedly less important in Asia than it is in Europe or countries that “grew out of” old Europe.

Anyhow, you can checkout the Facebook annual report, including data from many other countries, here: http://www.facebookstories.com/2013/en-en

One of the quirks of this year’s results is the persistent success of “The Harlem Shake”. This silly internet meme was essentially tens of thousands of thirty second dance videos uploaded to YouTube worldwide. Always following the same format, the massive success of the videos was in part attributed to the anticipation of the breakout moment about halfway through the videos, and their universally short length, making them very accessible to watch.

The Washington Post opined that the meme’s instant virality by referring to the jump cuts, hypnotic beat, quick setups, and half minute routines. At Wellthisiswhatithink we were a little more cynical: the success is largely attributable to people having too much time on their hands and too little to do. Bah, humbug.

The Harlem Shake is technically very easy for fans to reproduce, as it consists of a single locked camera shot and one jump cut. Nonetheless, the simplicity of the concept allows fans considerable scope in creating their own distinctive variant and making their mark, while retaining the basic elements. In its simplest form, it could be made with just one person; a more sophisticated version might even involve a crowded stadium. Moreover, there is a level playing field for celebrities and fans alike, with no guarantee of success for either group. There is a strong vein of humour running through each video that is not dependent on language, further increasing its potential to spread virally.

Sample the best of the worst here. And a warning, this is four and half minutes you’ll never get back.

 

 

(In his “day job”, the author of Wellthisiswhatithink is a marketing and advertising consultant working for one of Melbourne’s leading ad agencies, Magnum Opus, see: magnumopus.com.au. To chat to Steve Yolland about proper grown-up paid advertising advice or to sample his communications knowledge, or maybe to get an opinion on your organisation’s current public profile, just email him on yolly@magnumopus.com.au …)

Over here at the Wellthisiswhatithink dungeon, we are very appropriately becoming world famous for our Advertising F*** Ups series. As a result, we are frequently offered (and we are very grateful, for, too) other examples of human collective insanity.

Social media is a great leveller. Here’s a few real crackers from the (very) shallow end of the gene pool, which is clearly getting murkier and more fetid with each passing year.

 

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The only real tragedy in these is that the names of the guilty parties are obscured. Name and shame, we say.

Any more for any more? Anyway, Wellthisiswhatithink is grateful for the holiday ideas. This year we are going to walk the Great Wall of Michigan, for sure.

failbook

Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.

The age-old aphorism wasn’t originally meant to describe teenagers, but it could. This article from Yahoo neatly captures a problem the granddaddy of all social networks — Facebook — seems to have. Facebook has turned in impressive financial numbers lately, and its stock has soared by more than 80% so far this year, to around $48. But company execs alarmed some analysts recently by acknowledging that teenagers are falling out of like with the site that seemed like a phenomenon when teens first discovered it. (Maybe that’s why two key FB execs unloaded hundreds of millions of dollars of stock in the last couple of days? Ed.)

This is not the age group for a new technology company to piss off.

This is not the age group for a new technology company to piss off.

In a way, that’s a good problem to have. Many companies covet the cachet (and potential future customers) that come with a high proportion of teenage users. But old folks, no matter how uncool, tend to be the ones with money to spend today. For a while, Facebook had the best of both worlds:  A robust teenage audience that kept the vibe young, plus enough oldsters to justify high ad rates and juice profits.

There’s now a lot of competition, however, and Facebook is apparently losing teenage users to trendier networks such as Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram (which Facebook owns), Tumblr (owned by Yahoo, which published this story), and lesser-known online hideouts.

To figure out why, I asked my two teenage kids (who in turn asked a few of their friends), plus a few test subjects recruited through Twitter. Here are the five biggest problems they have with Facebook:

Parents. Apparently they’re ruining everything on Facebook. “If you want to comment on something funny, and you see that somebody’s Mom already commented on it, you don’t want their mom to yell at you,” my 15-year-old son told me. Yeah, that’s a bummer, I consoled him. Many parents, of course, fear their kids will be stalked, bullied or somehow abused via Facebook, so looking over their kids’ digital shoulder is just another way of protecting them. I’m willing to go out on a limb, however, and bet that some parents simply think they’re cooler than they are, and would be crushed to know their teenage kids don’t consider them the best companions, even online.

It’s not just parents. My 17-year-old daughter told me about a friend with an aunt who routinely lurks around her niece’s Facebook account. “Every single photo that [my friend] is tagged in, she’ll write a paragraph about how beautiful [my friend] is. I’m just like, ‘okaaaaay….’” my daughter told me.

Too much pointless stuff. If you ‘re a forty- or fifty-something Facebook user and you’re wondering what all that clutter on the site is about, you’re not as out of touch as you think. “Facebook has 100 things on the newsfeed we just don’t care about,” one of my daughter’s high-school friends explained. Examples: ceaseless invites to play Farmville or other games you may not be interested in, or prompts to answer “questions about me.” Renaud, a 19-year-old Facebook user at McGill University in Montreal, finds that other networks, with far less clutter, are now better at what Facebook used to be good at. “I feel that instantaneous reactions (or what used to be Facebook status) are now more compelling on Twitter, pictures are more fun on Instagram, funny pictures and videos are more tailored for your interests on Tumblr or Vine, and messages on the wall of a friend have been replaced by Snapchat,” he wrote.

Too many ads. Teenagers, not surprisingly, are hip to corporate exploitation. “The biggest problem is the ads,” one of my son’s friends emailed. “Yes, they are needed to make money, but Facebook no longer seems like a social networking site first. It seems like a gold mine for companies to place ads and is straying from its actual purpose.” Particular gripes: Ads that pop up in notifications, and others that scroll down the page right along with the cursor when scanning the newsfeed, as if there’s no escaping them.

It’s vapid. “Everything on Facebook is to gain likes,” another of my daughter’s friends complained. “It’s like a popularity contest. It requires a lot to maintain, like having a good profile picture that will get a lot of likes.” My son said one of his biggest aggravations, after parents, is people — OK, girls — continually asking him to like their status as part of “truth is” requests, whatever those are. “It just fills up your timeline with really stupid stuff,” he said.

Fake friends. In case you’re wondering, adults aren’t the only ones who find it weird to be “friends” with people you’ve never met. A teenager at my son’s school said one of his biggest issues with Facebook is that “it’s normal to be friends with people you don’t know.” One of my daughter’s friends agreed: “I’m friends with people I don’t even know on Facebook, so my newsfeed to me is sometimes just pointless,” she said. “I explore the lives of strangers, and it is a complete waste of my time.” Maybe teenagers and their parents aren’t so different after all.

Meanwhile, we are not expecting anyone at the Wellthisiswhatithink ranch to be cured of their FB addiction anytime soon, but we are also quite convinced that it’s time for The Next Big Thing. Overdue, in fact. And when Facebook dies, as it will, we trust they realise it was because of their own idiocy – filling a social network with ads, push-posting endless amounts of what people don’t want to see, and worst of all, banning people for spamming when they weren’t – by computer, with no human appeal. Zero customer service. it is a matter of time.
And not for the first time. Just put Facebook in our search box to see what we mean.

And not for the first time. Just put Facebook in our search box to see what we mean.

Hilarious story today about the typical computer-driven lunacy that is Facebook. Well known for suspending accounts willy nilly with no human involvement or appeal, the internet giant has now surpassed even its own previous levels of annoying behaviour.

As it seems every news outlet on the planet has reported,  Facebook user has told how he was banned from the site for saying: “I like faggots.”

Food lover Robert Wilkes, 54, was recalling his fondness for a classic English dish from his childhood.

Save the faggots! A meal fit for kings, should never be forgot. (Sorry, this caption just went all Guiy Fawksey without warning.)

Save the faggots! A meal fit for kings, should never be forgot. (Sorry, this caption just went all Guy Fawksey without warning.)

Faggots are meatballs traditionally hand-made with offal by butchers and served with mashed spuds and peas. (And onion gravy – see recipe below – Ed.)

Wilkes says he was bewildered when his Facebook account was shut for 12 hours for using “homophobic language”.

Ah, but of course. In the interconnected world we live in, cultural imperialism rules. In the United States, the word “faggot” is offensive slang for homosexual.

Wilkes, a former Ministry of Defence guard who grew up in the West Midlands, told The Sun newspaper: “It may have a different meaning in America but I used it in a food context. Facebook allows beheading videos, cruelty to animals, stabbing and terrible swear words – but not this. It’s political correctness gone mad.”

We can only agree. Especially as the same annoyance happened to Eileen Perkins, 68, when she discussed her favourite dish on the user-unfriendly website.

Meanwhile, in case you are moved to try the aforementioned delicacy (and we strongly recommend it) here’s a good recipe we found.

Faggots are an old-fashioned British food, and one that has sadly fallen out of favor in recent years. Traditionally Faggots are made from offal, usually pork, and from the bits of the animal that are generally discarded; the heart, the liver etc making Faggots a cheap and nutritious dish, as in this faggot recipe.Birmingham and the Midlands are considered the home of Faggots in Britain, along with South and Mid Wales, but with the revival of Faggots, they are now eaten all over the UK. Our personal favourite used to be in the supermarket freezer, made by a company called Brains as you can see in this TV commercial from 1980.
 
 
And as you can see here, although the packaging and brand name have undergone a bit of an update, they are still available.Faggots are traditionally eaten with mushy peas, mashed potatoes and onion gravy.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz/110g pork shoulder, roughly chopped
  • 4 oz/ 110g pig’s iiver, roughly chopped
  • 8 oz/250g fatty belly pork, roughly choppped
  • 4 oz/110g bacon scraps
  • 4 oz/ 110g bread crumbs
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp mace
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 small red chili, de-seeded and finely chopped
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Caul fat* or streaky bacon

Preparation:

Serves 4

Pre-heat the oven to 445°F/170°C/Gas 3

  • Mince all the roughly chopped meats, if you don’t have a mincer, then chop in a food processor.
  • Place the minced meat into a large bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, onion, herbs, spices and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.
  • Divide the mixture into 8 and shape into balls.
  • Wrap each ball in caul or streaky bacon. Make sure the caul or bacon overlaps as it will seal as it cooks and hold the faggots together.
  • Place the faggots onto a baking sheet and bake in the hot oven for 50 – 60 minutes.

What to Serve with Faggots

Traditionally, faggots would be served, hot from the oven with creamy, mashed potatoes, and peas, preferably mushy peas and lashings of rich, thick onion gravy.

*Caul is the membrane which holds in animal organs and it makes a good container for the faggots. If you can’t get caul, then use strips of streaky bacon. One small change we would make to the recipe, we’d lose the chilli and add extra pepper. White, if you can still find it. The taste will be more traditional.

Everyone-Has-a-Phone-Now-1

 

We wish we could say, Dear Reader, that we never use our ubiquitous iPhone at inappropriate moments. But we can’t. It’s just too damn useful. It’s a great little camera … and not a bad little video camera … but in the Wellthisiswhatithink household we do find ourselves at times moving seamlessly from snapping a cute flower to checking emails, dancing around Facebook for a while, checking the weather, playing with the latest application, or even – gasp – making a phone call or two.

Before you know it, serious time can have passed, and Lord knows what else.

We well remember being in Malaysia on business. Our local tech-savvy younger Malaysian contacts spent at least as much time photographing their meals as eating them. That was a few years back. Now the phenomenon is as common everywhere in the world.

To be frank, we rather like the instant connectedness that the world now offers us all, but it’s smart, surely, to ponder what we might be losing at the same time. This little video makes the point very cleverly, and is well worth pondering …

 

 

Sometimes, maybe, we should just … be.

Moreover, today’s smart phones obviously offer all of us increased opportunities for activities traditionally defined as sedentary behaviors, such as surfing the internet, emailing and playing video games. But despite their mobile nature, researchers Jacob Barkley and Andrew Lepp, faculty members in the College of Education, Health and Human Services at Kent State University, have linked high cell phone use to poor fitness in college students.

Barkley and Lepp were interested in the relationship between smart phones and fitness levels because, unlike the television, phones are small and portable, therefore making it possible to use them while doing physical activity. But what the researchers found was that despite the phone’s mobility, high use contributed to a sedentary lifestyle for some subjects.

More than 300 college students from the Midwest were surveyed on their cell phone usage and activity level. Of those students, 49 had their fitness level and body composition tested. The researchers’ results showed that high cell phone use was associated with low cardiorespiratory fitness. In the study, the students who were the least fit were those who spent large amounts of time on their cell phones – as much as 14 hours per day. The most fit students were those who used the cell phone the least – around 90 minutes per day.

One subject said in the interview data: “Now that I have switched to the iPhone I would say it definitely decreases my physical activity because before I just had a Blackberry, so I didn’t have much stuff on it. But now, if I’m bored, I can just download whatever I want.”

The study is believed to the first to assess the relationship between cell phone use and fitness level among any population. Barkley and Lepp conclude that their findings suggest that cell phone use may be able to gauge a person’s risk for a multitude of health issues related to an inactive lifestyle.

So. What does your iPhone say about you?

In our neck of the woods, the Wellthisiswhatithink collective is off for a walk. And leaving our phones behind. And we intend smelling the roses, not photographing them.

Erin Cox - surely the most ridiculous victim of school nonsense this year so far

Erin Cox – surely the most ridiculous victim of school administration nonsense this year. So far.

When we hear about an outrageous story involving kids – and we know there is another crazy one just about every day – we often try to put myself in the shoes of the parents at the centre of the controversy. How would we have acted? What would we have wanted our daughter to do?

In the case of a teen recently punished by her school for trying to drive a drunk friend home, we find ourselves firmly siding with the girl and her parents – and wondering what on earth the idiots masquerading as school administrators were thinking.

Two weeks ago, Erin Cox, an honors high school student who lives near Boston, Massachusetts, got a call from a friend at a party who was too drunk to drive.

Cox kindly went to the party to get her friend, and minutes after she got there, police arrived and arrested a dozen kids for underage drinking, warning 15 others, including Cox, they would get a summons for drinking, according to the Boston Herald.

Even though Cox wasn’t drinking and a police officer vouched for her sobriety in a written statement,  her school, North Andover High, charged that she violated its zero-tolerance policy when it comes to alcohol and drug use. Just for turning up to help her friend not risk her life and others, NOT to break the law.

Her punishment? She was demoted from her position as captain of her volleyball team and told she would be suspended for five games. The girl is apparently distraught.

All because she did the right thing, as far as this writer is concerned. We would hope any intelligent child would do what Cox did if they ever found themselves in a similar situation.

“She did what we teach our kids to do!! Friends don’t let friends drive drunk!” wrote Stevie Street, one of the thousands of commenters on CNN’s Facebook page expressing outrage and disappointment at the school’s decision.

For some, the issue is very personal.

“My daughter was killed at age 17 riding in a car with a drunk driver. How I wish she would have called us or asked a sober friend to drive her home. The girl should be rewarded, not punished, for potentially saving a life,” Karen Donahue Moses said, also on Facebook.

“I know someone … who was raped at a party after passing out drunk. Her friends had left without her,” a commenter named David wrote in an e-mail. “Looking out for your friends, making sure they get home safe, that’s the responsible thing to do. If that student had just left her friend there, she could have been assaulted, she could have driven drunk or ridden with a drunk driver.”

Administrators nil, commonsense 1. This decision should be reversed immediately and an apology issued to Erin. If you agree, let us know.

(From CNN and others)

Annie Lennox on Miley: “as long as there’s booty to make money out of, it will be bought and sold”.

 

Annie Lennox, best known as the singer in Eurythmics and who now tours as a solo artist, posted a short missive to her Facebook page earlier today alluding to the debate regarding Miley Cyrus’s overtly sexualised performances.

The full statement is below:

“I have to say that I’m disturbed and dismayed by the recent spate of overtly sexualised performances and videos. You know the ones I’m talking about. It seems obvious that certain record companies are peddling highly styled pornography with musical accompaniment. As if the tidal wave of sexualised imagery wasn’t already bombarding impressionable young girls enough..I believe in freedom of speech and expression, but the market forces don’t give a toss about the notion of boundaries. As long as there’s booty to make money out of, it will be bought and sold. It’s depressing to see how these performers are so eager to push this new level of low.Their assumption seems to be that misogyny- utilised and displayed through oneself is totally fine, as long as you are the one creating it. As if it’s all justified by how many millions of dollars and YouTube hits you get from behaving like pimp and prostitute at the same time. It’s a glorified and monetized form of self harm.”

“A glorified and monetized form of self harm.” Yes, well that’s what we were trying to say the other day here, and again here, but nothing like as eruditely.

Interesting comment from a hugely successful and talented woman. Who was also “sex on stage”, by the way, but never, to my knowledge, got her tits out.

It's real. It destroys lives. And you can help stop it.

It’s real. It destroys lives. And you can help stop it.

Almost every week, it seems, we hear of another tragedy where a young person (it’s usually a young person, battling their twin demons of peer pressure and their self-expectations, not to mention their hormones) kill themselves because of the cruelty of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is especially pernicious and awful. It is often soul-destroyingly harsh – people say things they would never say to people face to face – and it often spreads seemingly inexorably, backing the young person who is being victimised into a corner, feeling that they will never be free of the curse.

Young people reporting cyberbullying sadly sometimes don’t find themselves taken seriously. “It’s just words on a phone, ignore it” is still sometimes the response of tragically unaware or unsympathetic parents and teachers, who fail to understand that in a world where electronic devices are ubiquitous, for some young people they are much more than just words on a phone, or laptop. They represent their entire peer community turning against them, and often overnight.

In reality, of course, cyberbullying is like any other form of public embarrassment. With luck it can be yesterday’s news as fast as tomorrow. Those with strong self-assertiveness or excellent support systems around them will survive. Most kids thankfully tough it out, leave school and move on. But some will never make it. And it’s those kids we need to protect with all our might.

The best protection for all kids is simply to make it increasingly socially unacceptable to bully, because bullying, like everything else, is subject, above all, to the pressures and fads of teenage opinion.

Even more than listening carefully and intervening when necessary, we need to arm teenagers with the weapons to argue that cyberbullying is never acceptable, because so much of their regulation of what is and is not OK to do or think is decided within their own peer group, far from the gaze of adults.

That’s why I urge you to help make this simple but brilliant video “go viral”. It’s the work of a young friend and work colleague, and I think it’s one of the best of its kind I have ever seen. It’s compellingly viewable, and beautifully simple. Just click and watch.

Directed by: Pat Langton
Director of Photography: Matt Langton
Actor: Meghan Langton
Visual Effects: Matt Langton

Take one minute to watch it, and then one minute to share this blog with everyone you can think of, and on all social media you use. Use the hashtag #cyberbullyinghurts

You could save a life. Maybe more than one. Worth two minutes of your time, eh?

Thanks.

Not always, but often.

Not always, but often.

Regular readers of Wellthisiswhatithink will know that we have weighed in before about the disgraceful standards of material that Facebook allows to be posted on its pages.

In one case, companies dropped advertising because Facebook allows content that promotes violence against women while banning women’s health adverts, in another situation Facebook refused to remove content that jeopardised a police case against a rapist and murderer.

Facebook photo sharing

That photo you don’t want your future employer to see? Checkout our story on FB photo sharing now.

We have also pointed out how questionable Facebook’s privacy settings as regards photographs are; and if you use Facebook, you need to read this article.

Anyhow: much as we enjoy using the platform in general, in our view, some of the content on the massively popular site is morally questionable, and quite possibly illegal in multiple domains.

And we remain of the view that they need to review their general terms of service urgently.

Especially as entirely innocent posters frequently get banned because someone tags their post as Spam merely because they disagree with it – a phenomenally common cause of complaint, against which there is no appeal that we can discern.

(If you don’t believe us, hop onto Facebook now and see if you can find a link to customer service that doesn’t just direct you to a bland series of FAQs, or even, yet, a customer service email address or – gasp – phone number. If you make any progress, let us know …)

Banned Facebook content DOES include images of breastfeeding, apparently, as this Australian mother discovered to her cost.

Banned Facebook content DOES include images of breastfeeding, apparently, as this Australian mother discovered to her cost.

In fact, Facebook is now so large that they seem to handle such matters automatically by computer rather than with human intervention, and in our experience there is no way to get such bans rescinded.

So much for free speech.

I have seen complaints of such bans from all sides of the political and social spectrum, from extreme left to extreme right and everything in between, and from non-political posters who simply add material that someone or something in Facebook apparently decides is offensive.

Many posters simply migrate to a different Facebook name in order to keep posting, (the same problem afflicts Twitter), and it’s clear the problem needs resolving urgently.

If someone comes up with a social network with real customer service Facebook and Twitter will go the way of MySpace and others, taking investors with them. Anyhow, here’s the story of one lump of pressure against Facebook that did win out – because it targeted their revenues, of course.

Facebook removes ads from controversial pages to avoid boycott

Social media pressure increases against, ironically, social media providers.

Social media pressure increases against, ironically, social media providers.

Some recent consumer pressure on FB advertisers has produced rapid and meaningful results.

What is becoming increasingly fascinating to me, having spent a lifetime in marketing, is how social media pressure can now bend corporations – even bend social media providers – to its will, and with some ease.

Clearly, the days of companies blithely acting in defiance of popular will are declining.

This from the Technology correspondent of the BBC:

Facebook has announced a major revamp of its advertising systems in an attempt to deal with concerns about offensive content.

There will now be new restrictions on where adverts appear on the site.

Marks and Spencer and BSkyB were among companies to suspend advertising after complaints that adverts had been placed on pages with offensive material.

The social network is now planning to remove any advertising from many of its pages.

Facebook’s move follows complaints about a Sky advert promoting an M&S voucher.

The advert was placed on a Facebook page called “cute and gay boys”. The page featured photographs of teenage boys.

In a blogpost on Friday, Facebook said: “We recognize we need to do more to prevent situations where ads are displayed alongside controversial Pages and Groups. So we are taking action.”

‘Gold standard’

The company said that from Monday it will implement a new process to determine which pages or groups should feature adverts alongside the content.

There will be no adverts on pages that feature any violent, graphic or sexual content, even if such content is not in violation of the company’s rules.

According to one source, Facebook will create a “gold standard” of around 10,000 pages that are deemed suitable for adverts, and then inspect other pages to see if they can be added to the list. All adverts will be removed from other pages.

A spokesman said this would be a labour-intensive process but we take this” very seriously.”

BskyB said it looked forward to discussing the new measures and would keep the situation under review.

M&S had asked BSkyB to remove the advert, and it suspended some of its own advertising campaigns on Facebook.

BSkyB suspended all of its advertising on the social network, where it has been a major customer.

Misogynist content

Both companies had said they were keen to use Facebook again, but needed to be sure that their advertising would not appear next to offensive content, or material that might reflect poorly on their brands.

Speaking before Facebook announced its policy change, a spokesman for BSkyB told the BBC: “We have asked Facebook to devise safeguards to ensure our content does not appear alongside inappropriate material in the future.

“We will review the situation in due course.”

Sources at Marks and Spencer said Facebook had been taking the issue very seriously at the highest level.

In an additional statement, an M&S spokeswoman said the company did not “tolerate any inappropriate use or positioning of its brand and has very clear policies that govern where and how our brand is used”.

She added: “We take any suggestion that these policies are not being adhered to very seriously and always investigate them thoroughly.”

Earlier this month, Facebook was forced to act against misogynist content on its site after protests from women’s groups led some advertisers to suspend campaigns.

Now: if we can just get rid of Rush Limbaugh …

Other stories:

Sexism protests target Facebook

Facebook bows to anti-hate campaign

Facebook hate speech row: Sky joins ad boycott (guardian.co.uk)

With thanks to ThinkProgress

Last week, activists (or as I prefer to call them, civilised people with a conscience) launched a campaign that urged companies to boycott Facebook advertising because the social media network allows users to post images of domestic violence against women, while banning advertisements about women’s health.

More than a dozen companies have pulled their advertising as a result, including online bank Nationwide UK, Nissan UK, and J Street.

But many larger companies – including some who should definitely know better – have been slower to respond, including two companies that market brands specifically to women.

Dove, a Unilever brand that is running a “self-esteem” ad campaign for women, is facing pressure on Twitter, while Procter & Gamble’s response was, “We can’t control what content they [our advertising] pops up next to. Obviously it’s a shame that our ad happened to pop up next to it.”

Pathetically, Zappos replied that users who are upset by an ad appearing next to a date rape image “click the X to delete the ad.”

Equally wimpishly, Zipcar has not stopped advertising but “expressed to Facebook the critical need to block this content from appearing.” Who-hoo.

And Audible.com has responded that it will not take down advertising, because it “takes pride in and respects the rules that govern our Facebook community.” Blah, blah, blah.

Facebook’s rules, however, appear to be enforced unevenly.

A Facebook spokesperson told ThinkProgress that content featuring battered women, rape, and violence falls under “poor taste” or “crude attempts at humor” and does not violate its policies.

And while Facebook screens anti-Semitic, Islamaphobic, and homophobic hate speech, the same standards do not apply to images of violence against women.

But at the same time, the astonishingly conservative and out-of-touch Facebook rejected an ad about breast cancer because it showed a woman’s breast. Presumably because, you know, breasts are “dirty”.

At Wellthisiswhatithink we have a simple message for Zuckerberg and his cronies. This is not humour. This is incitement to violence. It should be illegal – it sure as hell should not be on Facebook. Fix it.

And if you agree, you might like to post a link to this article somewhere. Like Facebook, for example.

20130528-173010.jpg

Multi-tasking, as seen by Picasso

Multi-tasking, as seen by Picasso

I have long instinctively suspected that multi-tasking is a nonsense, and what happens in reality is that a multiplicity of tasks get done less well rather than any real time being saved. Watching people trying to juggle incoming text messages and emails on their phones while attending to what’s going on in a seminar or a meeting is just the most obvious example of the problem.

Now, there’s proof. The word is: turn other devices off and focus on the task at hand. Shut your door, don’t let people interrupt you, and stay off Facebook and Twitter, at least while you are concentrating on something else. (Research does show that access to social networking increases productivity overall in the workplace: it replaces the kind of social interaction that was more common in a less structured group environment and keeps us “grounded”. It provides a useful break. But it is a “BREAK”, people, not a “DURING”.)

So here’s the story. Mandatory reading for anyone who does, er, well, pretty much anything. But I hope you’re not reading it while you’re trying to nut something else out.

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/brain–interrupted-173621758.html

I am so grateful for my fellow Stooshpr member Kenneth Weene for this great little short story. It is full of good humour, pathos and cleverly-observed childhood lives. I commend it to you. Stooshpr is a wonderful Facebook group that enhances the networking of all types of creative people – singers, musicians, radio personalities, writers of all kinds, and so on. If that’s you, I recommend you find out more. And/or checkout #stooshpr on Twitter.

Horatio at the Game

 

baseball-kid

Horatio tries to chew his gum in a manly way. He wants desperately for the other boys to think him one of them, to count him a teammate. They do not. He doubts they ever will.

It would help if he could blow a bubble – not a puny popper, but a real bubble – the kind that would leave a skein of pink gum to peel from his pasty face.

Horatio hates his face. He hates the nickname, Ghost, it has earned. In fact, there is little in his life that Horatio doesn’t hate. For the moment, sitting in the dugout knowing that the coach, Mr. Leven, will reluctantly put him up to bat for a certain out and even more reluctantly order him into the outfield with a muttered prayer that no balls will loft in his direction, for this moment all that hatred is focused on the three sticks of Bazooka that he knows will never yield to his tongue, will never smoothly expand into a giant chicle ball, and will certainly not burst in a moment of ten year old hilarity.

In the bleachers, his mother, determined to humiliate him, waves and points as if his brother – only seven and already a better athlete – cares what Horatio might be doing. Albert is as dismissive as his teammates. He would rather be out on the field throwing and catching and hitting. Horatio knows that his team would prefer Albert out there with them, and Horatio – though he hates to think it – knows that he too would be happier if he were in the stands watching sturdy, muscular, dark-tanned Albert playing for the Steinhartz Cleaners’ Braves.

Horatio had not wanted to play Little League. He knows and fears his limitations. He knows and fears the derision of other kids. That his teachers love him for his reading and arithmetic does nothing to reassure; adults – other than his father and Coach Leven – are easy. They do not require running and jumping; they make believe that throwing and catching are unimportant.

His mother waves again, this time with more energy, more feigned excitement. Without raising his arm, he gesticulates and hopes it will be enough. Why did she have to come? he asks himself already knowing the answer.

Part of him wishes that his father, too, were in the stands. Another bigger part is glad that he is not.

On his right are the other benchwarmers. They sit in the order of their uselessness – Tony closest to the empty space where the nine boys now on the field will sit. Next to Tony – shoulder-to-shoulder – a boy whose name Horatio still doesn’t know. That boy, too, gives a half wave, an embarrassed acknowledgment. Horatio sees the boy’s mother somewhat higher in the stands and somewhat to the left of his own. She is waving, but her movements seem more appropriate, less dramatic, less demanding of attention.

Next to that boy, Roy, blond and heavyset, lots of power at bat but slow as a freight train. The coach calls him Tubby just to watch his cringe. Roy talks about quitting the team, but something keeps him coming back – practice after practice, game after game. Perhaps it is the dream, the fantasy that the moment will come, that he will hit the game winning homerun, that someday he will be the hero. Any boy can dream.

Between Roy and Horatio sits Scott. Scott is new to America, new to baseball. He grew up playing something he calls rounders. The coach keeps saying, “You’ll get the hang if it. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.” He never says anything like that to Horatio, which is just as well – Horatio would never believe him.

Horatio watches the sweat on Roy’s temple. It is trying to escape from beneath his robin-blue cap – just like the one on Horatio’s head.

When the season started, when the regulars and the benchwarmers had first been sorted, Horatio and Scott had sat shoulder-to-shoulder; over time – as if by some mysterious process – a space has grown between them – a space big enough for another boy, a player to be named later.

In the moment – as often when they are sitting on the bench waiting for their moments of play – the boys – as boys do – tease and hit each other in a playful way that says we are together in this boat called baseball and that makes us a unit, a team, a possibility. The moment flows downhill – starting with Tony – a whack to the next boy’s shoulder and so on until it comes to rest on Scott, who is tempted to pass it along to Horatio but stops to think and decides to not.

As Tony squirms his failed attention and tries to decide what silly thing to next send down the bench, the inning mercifully ends. The Blackbird Chevrolet Panthers have only scored four runs; the game stands at nine to four favor to the Panthers; two innings are in the books. Four more innings to play; it will be a long afternoon.

Coach Leven is yelling, “Hustle, you guys, hustle.” His son, Alex, the pitcher, leads the Braves from the field. He jogs as his father expects. Alex spits as he runs. Alex spits a lot; so do the other boys. Horatio spits sometimes; he would spit more often, but he knows his mother does not approve. He knows that he doesn’t spit well, that he doesn’t spit like a real baseball player.

The other kids do not call the coach’s son Alex; his nickname is Jughead, after the Archie Comics he loves to read and after his loose-jointed way of walking when his father is not present. The coach doesn’t like his son’s nickname; he takes it as a personal affront so the boys don’t use it on the field. Jughead prefers the moniker to Alex, but he has never said that to his father; he knows he was named for his father’s father’s brother, a man he never met but who died earning a medal in a place called Vietnam. The medal sits in a plastic case on his dresser. Jughead would love to put it away in a drawer, but Alex leaves it where his father wants.

As the other team takes the field, the benchwarmers stand up and twine fingers in the chicken wire fencing that protects the dugout. They are glad to have a moment when they are allowed to stand; they are glad to be yelling. They yell encouragement to their teammates and taunts at their rivals. Even Horatio yells. For the moment his bubblegum is forgotten. Scott, too, yells. His words sound strange to the other boys; his accent is from far away. Sometimes they tease him about it; sometimes they try to copy him. One time Ray, the regular second baseman, asked, “How do people say ‘fuck you’ in your language?”

Scott thought for a moment and replied, “They say ‘Go Ray yourself,’” and laughed.

Everybody except Ray had laughed, too. Ray was pretty pissed, but the other kids all slapped Scott on the back or hit him in the arm. Even Horatio had slapped Scott that day; he had slapped him and wished that the other kids were slapping his back and giving him shots.

“Go Braves,” the boys yell; “Yay team.” Their high-pitched voices are excited more because they finally have a chance to stand than from any involvement in the game, which has already exceeded their attention spans. Other teams’ benchwarmers are less orderly than the Braves’.

Other coaches are less in charge, less demanding than Coach Leven. He has made it clear to the boys that they will behave themselves on his team. At the beginning of the season he had written a letter to all the boys’ parents. “Baseball teaches boys how to work, how to take life seriously. It prepares them for growing up. That is why I expect so much from all our sons.”

Most of the parents – especially the fathers – told their sons Mr. Leven would be a good coach. Most of the parents, especially Horatio’s father, thought it was just fine that their sons learn how to work, how to take life seriously.

The boys are not so sure. They see the other teams having fun. They see the other teams playing just as well as the Braves. They wonder why they can’t have more fun. But, like Roy, they keep coming back.

Horatio has asked his parents if he can quit the team. His father told him that he has to play out the season. “You wanted to play. You made a commitment. Now you should be a man and keep your word.”

He knew there was no point in reminding his father that he had not wanted to play, that he had not made a commitment, that it had been his father’s choice for him to be in Little League.

He wanted to remind his father that all he had said was that he wished he had more friends. He had said it hoping to find a book club, an activity at the library, maybe something at the science museum. He wanted to remind his father but knew that would only mean a yelling.

Horatio had nodded his head in unhappy submission.

The players sit; the regulars sit in batting order. Only Tim is still standing. He is just in front of the dugout swinging a bat and waiting for the umpire to call “Play ball!”. Coach Leven checks the team with a jaundiced eye – ready to yell at a squirm, at a show of disinterest. The boys are still so he turns his attention to Tim. “Challenge him,” the coach instructs. “Crowd the plate. Make him pitch.” Tim nods his head the way children do when adults talk at them.

Tim grounds out, but the team manages to close the gap. It is nine to seven, two outs, nobody on base. Coach Leven sends Horatio to bat. He knows it won’t matter if he strikes out. He will have had his one required at bat. He will then go into the field for his one required inning in the field. He feels like a fool, but Alex shouts encouragement. Of all the kids sitting behind him, Alex is the only one to shout.

“Go, Ghost,” he yells. Suddenly the nickname doesn’t seem so bad.

Horatio takes a couple of practice swings. He feels awkward, he handles the bat badly, and he is afraid of the ball. But Alex has yelled encouragement, and that makes the moment worthwhile.

Horatio takes his place in the batter’s box. He taps the dirt from his shoes and twists and scrapes his feet the way he has seen ballplayers on TV do it, the way the other kids do it, as if he is digging in, as if he expects to use the torque of his entire body to belt that scuffed white ball into long flight. He copies the big leaguers and the other kids even though he knows it is a lie.

“Strike one,” the umpire, who is himself no more than fifteen, shouts with a pumping motion. He, too, is mimicking the big leagues.

“Strike two.” This time Horatio has swung late and without real effort.

“Keep your eye on the ball,” Coach Leven yells.

“Hit it, Ghost,” Alex calls.

“Go, Ghost,” another boy.

“Ball.”

There is a moment of relief. At least it isn’t three straight strikes. He almost wants to run out to the mound and thank the dark-skinned boy who is staring past him at the catcher, who is in turn signaling as if the next pitch will actually matter.

“Ball two.”

“Good eye!” one of his teammates hollers.

Horatio is almost happy. He digs in once again. Lifts his elbows the way the coach has taught them, cocks his bat the way he has learned.

The pitch comes in; he starts his swing. It is, he is sure, the greatest effort of his life. He feels the jolt of metal against ball. It isn’t a solid bang – not the sound of a hit. Rather it is the muted sound of …

“Foul,” the umpire yells.

He can hear his mother cheering.

“Go, Ghost.” Is that Tony’s voice?

“Strike three. You’re out.” Another pitch has flown past him.

Dejected yet triumphant, Horatio heads back to the dugout. Alex meets him at the bats, which are leaning against the protective fencing. Alex is carrying Horatio’s glove. “Good at bat,” he says as he hands Horatio the glove. Horatio can feel his chest swell.

The game is kind. No balls are hit to right field where Horatio tries to look ready. But balls are hit. It is Alex’s last inning to pitch; those are the rules – only 85 pitches. Alex struggles. Walks, a hit batter, and a number of solid hits: an eight run inning. The Braves are at the edge of the mercy rule when they return to the dugout. If they had given up one more run, the game would have been called. As it is, they will play on.

The other boys know that Alex is not a good pitcher. They know that he really shouldn’t be in the starting nine. With a different coach he probably would sit in Tony’s spot on the bench, maybe even in the spot of the kid whose name Horatio does not know.

But Mr. Leven is the coach, and no other parent wants the job. So Alex pitches and plays third base when he isn’t pitching. Sunday afternoons he plays catch with his father. His father crouches like a catcher and flashes signs. Alex throws and wishes he were reading Archie comics or watching television.

Greg, whom the kids call Mr. Cool, is easily the best player on the team. He is the second pitcher; he should be the first. When Gregg isn’t pitching, he plays first base. He’s good at first, but he is awesome on the mound. Behind his fastball, the Braves battle back.

Alex, like the rest of the team, knows that Mr. Cool should pitch as often as possible. He knows that Tony should be on third instead of him. He wishes his father would be fair. He doesn’t think the other kids resent him; he knows that they resent his father. He resents his father, too. Sometimes he wonders if he’d like playing baseball on another team. He knows that he hates playing on the Braves. He has tried to talk with his mother about it, but she doesn’t want to listen. She is busy taking Marie, his older sister, shopping. Marie likes boys and clothes; she watches TV shows about dancing and cooking. She and their mother spend a lot of time together. “Talk about it with your father,” Alex’s mother had told him. He knew that he would not.

Alex’s birthday is in September, long after the Little League season ends; but the professional season, the real season, is still on. Every year Mr. Leven takes his family to a game to celebrate Alex’s birthday. Alex would prefer to go to an amusement park, but he is not given that choice.

His father has already purchased the tickets. They are excellent seats. Marie has a party that evening. Her mother insists that a teenaged girl’s parties are more important than baseball. Mr. Leven doesn’t argue; baseball is – after all – for boys. There has been some discussion of letting girls play Little League, but at the organizing meetings he has consistently voted against the idea. He tells Alex that he can bring another boy with him to the game.

Mr. Leven has Greg or possibly Ray in mind. He wants Alex to invite a kid who will be interested in the fine points of the game – not in the hotdogs and peanuts and doing the wave. He wants to teach the boys how to keep score. He wants to give them tips on batting and fielding and especially on strategy.

Alex invites Horatio. “Hey, Ghost, it’s me, Jughead. My dad is taking me to a ballgame this Sunday. It’s for my birthday. Want to come?”

“Who else is coming?”

“Nobody. Why? Do you want to come?”

“I figured he was taking the team.”

“No, just me. My sister doesn’t want to come this year so he said I could bring a friend.”

“Me?”

“Yeah, sure. I bet we’ll have a good time.”

“Yeah, a great one. Let me ask my mom.”

“OK.”

“Hold on.”

“Yeah, sure. Go ask her.”

Moments later. “She said sure.”

“Great.”

“I’ll see you Sunday.”

“Yeah, we’ll pick you up at 10.”

“Great. See you then.” There is a pause. “Hey, Jughead.”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks. Wow, really, thanks.”

“Glad you can come.”

Alex hangs up. He has a smile, almost a smirk. Boy, will this piss him off; and he can’t say anything. He told me I could invite another kid. That Ghost is the worst player on the team; well whose fault is that?

His parents are going out. Marie will be at a friend’s. Alex’s mother calls to him, “What do you want to eat tonight. You’ll be home alone. I can order you a pizza if you want.”

He thinks for a moment. “No, how about a couple of hotdogs?”

“Sure. I’ll get them set up for you. All you have to do is turn on the microwave and take them out when the bell goes off.”

“Great.” He knows that he’ll do them right, in a frying pan. She doesn’t have to know.

I wonder how many dogs Ghost can eat. We’ve got to have a dog eating contest. He’s sure his new buddy will like the idea. Better, his father will hate it. The ballgame may be fun.

Horatio slurps a long piece of spaghetti. It whips about, hits his nose, and leaves a brand of bright marinara. His mother smiles knowing that her son is, for an unexpected moment, happy.

Albert, her younger boy, his face a mask of sauce and a small strand of pasta clinging to his chin, complains, “I want to go. I want to go, too.”

“You can’t,” their father explains for the fifth time. “You weren’t invited. It’s one of Horatio’s friends.” He turns to his older son. “What did you say his name is?”

“Jughead. I mean it’s really Alex, but that’s what we call him.”

“I meant his family name. What’s his family name?”

“Leven.”

“Leven, Leven?” He is searching for a connection.

“Yeah, my coach, Mr. Leven; he’s Mr. Leven’s son.”

“Yes, Leven. He’s an insurance man, isn’t he?”

“I don’t know.” Horatio really doesn’t care, but he doesn’t say that. He feigns interest because he needs something. He needs money for the game, and he needs money for a present. “He used to play second,” he adds as if the information will mean something to his father.

“Yes, I’m sure he’s in insurance.”

Horatio clears his throat. “Dad?”

“What?”

“I need to get Jughead a present.”

“What?”

“He’s right, Dear,” his mother adds.

“Yeah, sure. What are you getting him – a game, a model?”

“What about a nice sweater?” his mother suggests.

“No,” Horatio answers emphatically, “I want to get him something he’ll really like.”

Albert snickers in the way seven-year-olds can, in the way that says, “You’re just stupid.”

“I’m going to get him a box of baseball cards,” Horatio says triumphantly.

Ken

Ken Weene: learn more about Ken, his novels and his other writing at http://www.kennethweene.com

 

 

Note to self: this rarely does any good. “Can you help me, I am in a real bind here?” usually elicits a better and faster response.

This article was originally published on Australian Business Traveller and was republished by The Age. I thank them for it, it’s excellent.

When things do go wrong with an airline, it’s often difficult to get your problems resolved immediately.

Every airline makes mistakes — admittedly some more than others — and every traveller has been caught out by delays, lost luggage, faulty seats, a borked in-flight entertainment systems (Ed. so annoying on a full long haul flight) or other items on the seemingly very long list of Things That Can Go Wrong.

And when things do go wrong with an airline, it’s often difficult to get your problems resolved then and there.

Frontline staffers and cabin crew often lack the authority to sign off on fixing your problem – or they’re just completely swamped with hundreds of other customers in a similar boat to you.

So you’re left to complain to the airline.

But how do you maximise your chances of getting what you need? Here’s some hard-won advice on how to complain — and get results.

1. When something goes wrong

First off, document whatever’s happened. Seat not working or dirty? Outfit stained by a flight crew accident? Luggage problem? Downgraded to economy?

Use your smartphone to snap pictures or even a short video if you can, including the problem and ideally some kind of marker for the date and time. (A clock on the wall? Your watch? A newspaper? Your laptop clock?)

Note down who you first speak to about the problem, what was said, and what the airline said you should do next — and when.

2. Start with the end in mind

Figure out what you want: an apology? Monetary compensation or even a full refund? A credit voucher? Frequent flyer points? Compensation for a hotel stay or emergency necessities? Replacement for a bag or possession that the airline ruined? Something else?

But be realistic: ask around to see what you can reasonably expect the airline to do about it.

angry passenger3. Keep track of things in one place

It’s important to keep track of your dealings with the airline, both for follow-up reasons (“I’ve spoken to five people since October 4th, and here are their names and what they said”) and to save yourself time finding the details for a second call.

So keep track of things in a Word document,  or on an old fashioned piece of paper.

4. Use the phone

Start off with a phone call, which is the best use of your time: often, problems can be resolved with a call rather than needing to sit down and crank out a stiffly-worded email or letter.

As much as we’d often prefer to start off with an email, most airlines don’t do email well. There’s almost always an initial barrage of standard questions, and their online enquiry forms also have a frustrating habit of going astray.

Even if you do need to write in, a quick call can ensure you get to the right place and that the initial circumstances of your problem have been logged.

As for Twitter, most times we just wouldn’t bother. The standard Twitter response from too many airlines is usually “call our contact centre”. An exception might be if you’re overseas and don’t want to make a long-distance phone call, and are trying to get the airline to ring you.

5. Make notes before you dial

  • Before you dial, make a few quick notes to steer your end of the conversation.
  • The number you’re calling (for next time, or if you get disconnected)
  • The date and time you’re calling
  • The case number, if you have one (from a baggage problem, say)
  • Your flight particulars
  • Your frequent flyer number
  • Any insurance details you have

A few bullet points of what’s happened and what you want: this helps you to articulate your discussion with the agent on the phone

Above all else, remember to keep your cool. Don’t just vent your frustration on the poor sod who’ll answer your call. You won’t get what you want if you’re still angry about things.

6. Start writing when the phone starts ringing

While you’re navigating the airline’s interactive call menu, jot down:

The time when you started the call

How you reach a real live person (press 4, then 6, then 8, for example)

Who you talked to and in which department

Of course, it never hurts not to be an arsehole in the first place.

7. Don’t hang up without a “next action”

So you’ve made it through to a real live human and said your piece.

Before hanging up, seek agreement with the airline’s agent on what happens next. Note down:

What the next step is (for someone to call you back, or for you to put your concerns in writing)

When you should follow up if you haven’t heard back

How you’ll follow up: direct line? A person-specific address?

The time when you ended the call

8. Be sure to follow up

It’s all too easy for things to get lost — and it’s in the airline’s interests if they don’t get back to you with that promised update or a resolution.

So if you’re told this is a “check back in two weeks” situation, make a note in your calendar to remind you to follow up. Be persistent and polite and you’ll win out in the end.

All seems like really smart advice, doesn’t it? Funnily enough, I am flying off on business tomorrow – timely!

From AFP and Forbes

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s sister evidently tripped on the social network’s privacy settings, landing in the midst of a debate about “online etiquette.”

Just any old billionaire American's family

Just any old billionaire American’s family

Randi Zuckerberg, who launched a Silicon Valley themed online reality show after quitting her job handling Facebook public relations, kicked off the controversy after a family photo intended for friends went public.

The picture, copies of which were at Buzzfeed.com and elsewhere on the Internet, showed Mark Zuckerberg in a kitchen with family members dramatizing reactions to messages sent with a freshly launched “Poke” feature at Facebook.

Poke lets people send messages that self-destruct in what is seen by many as a spin on popular smartphone application Snapchat.

Is it just me, or is it really difficult to take someone called Randi seriously?

Some have joked that Poke is a boon for “sexting” risque pictures because senders can have them quickly erased.

Randi Zuckerberg posted a copy of the family photo to Facebook for the eyes of close friends only, but evidently it was also shared with friends of those tagged in the picture due to privacy settings at the social network.

That meant the fun photo popped up in the news feed of someone outside Randi Zuckerberg’s circle, who then shared it on popular messaging service Twitter.

From there, the photo went viral — much to Randi Zuckerberg’s chagrin.

“Digital etiquette: always ask permission before posting a friend’s photo publicly,” Mark Zuckerberg’s elder sister said in a Christmas tweet. “It’s not just about privacy settings, it’s about human decency.”

The comment sparked heated debate at Twitter and other online forums, where a vocal contingent saw poetic justice in Zuckerbergs being exposed by the way the social network handles the privacy of users.

“How terrible that someone might take something that belongs to you and use it in ways that you had not anticipated, and for which you had not given explicit permission,” Dan Lyons said facetiously in a post at ReadWrite.com.

“What kind of world are we living in when just because you post something on a website, someone else can take just take that stuff and do things with it?” he asked rhetorically before finishing with “Oh, wait…”

In a Twitter message on Wednesday, Randi Zuckerberg said the topic of online etiquette elicits “passion, debate, anger & Twitter crazies” to the extent that it might be the subject of her next show.

What you need to know about Facebook image sharing, courtesy of Forbes.

The subscriber, Vox Media marketing director Callie Schweitzer, thought the photo was a public one when she spotted it in her newsfeed. In fact, she saw it because she was friends with a person tagged in the photo, one of the Zuckerberg sisters. She was able to see the photo because of a privacy setting that you may or may not realize exists.

When you post a photo, you have a range of options as to who gets to see it, from the generic ones — Public, Friends, Fill-In-Your-Schoo-Here, Fill-In-Your-Work-Here — to any lists you may have created — Creepers, Ex-Boyfriends, People I barely remember, Family, People I Secretly Hate, etc. You may choose “Friends,” as Randi Zuckerberg did, and think your photos can then only be seen by your friends – but you’d be wrong.

By default, your photos can also be seen by the friends of any people you’ve tagged in the photo. That’s why a person that Randi Zuckerberg didn’t know — but that her sister did know — ended up seeing and sharing her photo. To change that setting, you have to choose the “Custom” option in your photo sharing settings:

Then it will let you decide who you share the photo with. To prevent friends of your tagged friends from enjoying the photo you’ve uploaded, un-check that box.

It’s not super complicated, but it’s not exactly intuitive either. When Forbes recently talked to Facebook product manager Sam Lessin about Facebook’s latest “simplified” privacy controls, he told them that they try to design privacy controls in ways that make sense to the Facebook community. “When users are surprised, that is a bad thing,” he said.

Assuming you care, you have been warned. And this is the privacy setting I want FB to take care of – STOP SENDING ME BLOODY ANNOYING SPAM “SUGGESTED POSTS”!!! Thank you.

Facebook is either a complete waste of useful time (I hate to break it to you, but I really do not care what you had for dinner or where you are getting drunk – honestly – coz you didn’t ask me) or it is that most interesting thing, a portal into opinions, and opportunities, and just, well, really good stuff.

Sometimes one stumbles across little gems, like this story called “Blind” by Kenneth Weene, which I saw “advertised” (“networkised”?) on a FB page I follow called StooshPR.

It’s a cracker of a little story, just 470 words or so, almost a poem in its brevity, just a breath of intense thought drifting on the air, Hemingway-esque in its sparse writing.

Take two minutes. Click the link. Feed your mind. Feed your soul.

http://cerealauthors.wordpress.com/2012/11/10/blind/