May 2019

A Facebook History

Back when Facebook was quite new, two trendy friends kept pressing my dear friend and longtime companion Louis to join, so he did. Being a nice guy, he gave me his password so I could look, too.

And it was interesting. Then some problems arose. First, quite rapidly Louis had enough Facebook friends that together they uttered way too many posts for him to keep up with, especially since he got around to looking only every few days. Another problem was that people he barely remembered from distant points in his life, with whom he’d never been friends, somehow tracked him down and wanted to Friend him. Alas, if he had any memory whatsoever of the person, he went ahead and Friended them, which increased the deluge. Besides, he finally realized that there were things he wanted to say that he didn’t want all those new “Friends” to see.

So he closed down the account, waited a couple of months, and started it again, this time making sure that all his Friends were friends. It ran along that way for years even though the reduced number of Friends did not solve the problem of Louis’ not looking very frequently and thus missing delightful posts because he has four FB Friends who post very interesting material at least once daily. But hey, he looked at it when he felt like it, and that kept it enjoyable.Well, until a couple of years ago or so when it gradually started sinking in that there was still no such thing as a free lunch, and that the price we were paying for this wondrous utility that let us stay in touch with our friends was giving up little slices of our souls so that Mark (“They trust me, dumb fucks”) Zuckerberg could sell those slices to whomever he wished.

As that sank in, Louis found himself profoundly grateful that when he’d set up his Facebook profile, he’d somehow got his birthday wrong and had made a clever joke about the name of the institution that granted his degrees. So all that Facebook had right was his name and city of residence.

Even so, that was too much, so he warned his friends that they needed to Friend me because he was closing his account down and deleting it, which he did last fall. As for me, y’all who Friended me can still be confident that I look at Facebook every few days and will probably see your posts.

Regarding the fake news that Facebook spreads, I sat down wondering why I was missing out on this American treasure and then noticed that over on the left side of the page Facebook provides something called “News Feed” followed by a bunch of widgets that you can use to tailor what you see on your screen so that nothing you disagree with will ever appear. Of course. Wouldn’t want stuff about that global warming hoax to disturb your day. The alternative is to just ignore all that left side stuff, as I’ve been doing all along.

Regarding security, I haven’t cut as wide a swath as Louis did, so there’s not all that much data on me out there and nothing in my FB profile that would help anyone track me down. It’s a good feeling.

Meanwhile, for years I’ve been attending concerts put on by Noe Valley Chamber Music at the Noe Valley Ministry, a handsome little Presbyterian church on Sanchez Street, where I’ve kept admiring a stylized cross floating in the corner of the sanctuary, a cross so handsome that it appeals to even the heathen. Went up to examine it at the last concert and discovered that it’s by Ruth Asawa. No wonder it’s beautiful.



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Perfect Timing

What might save us from a slow death by global warming would be the arrival of Chicxulub II.

Several years ago I had a long dialogue with an older cousin about how lucky I was to have been born at the very beginning of the 1940’s. This meant that my parents had by then clawed themselves out of the Great Depression, so my childhood was marked by none of the hardship they suffered. In fact, my parents became more prosperous, if far from wealthy, as I grew up.

I was too young to be sent to Korea, and I graduated from college just in time to join the Army and be sent to Germany when our presence in Vietnam amounted to just a few thousand “advisors”. Johnson didn’t escalate until the following summer, by which time I had less than a year of my enlistment obligation remaining. So while friends were dying in the jungle, I sat safe in Germany developing a taste for continental cuisine.

And when I was discharged, I went to graduate school paid for by the freshly reinstated GI Bill. Yes, perfect timing and a charmed life that continued with my being able to move to San Francisco and, after some thrashing around, get good jobs that gave me an income more than adequate to meet my modest needs. Ummm, “modest needs” means that I didn’t need to have expensive cars or clothing or furniture or the other things on which so many Americans spend lots of money. That said, the fact is that my life has been rather luxurious, at least by my middle-class standards. I’ve lived in nice apartments, eaten in good restaurants, and, after I retired, made eight visits to Amsterdam, each a month long. There, I lived in an efficiency apartment while I worked with marginal success at learning the language, made lots of friends while burrowing into the society, and had a grand old time.

Just how very charmed my life had been became obvious a few years ago as I was retiring when I realized that the ground had been cut out from under the middle class when the 1% figured out how to make even more money by offshoring our jobs and turning our economy into one based on manipulating financial instruments while producing nothing.

Thus, it was no longer possible to go to the city and make one’s fortune as I and my cohort had. In the first place, it was no longer possible to find an affordable place to live in the city unless you were one of the fortunate few who’d just been hired at a princely salary by one of the tech companies. So it was clear a number of years ago that the next generation would not, as we had, grow up in the confident expectation that we would make a better living than our parents.

And that was before the developments of the past few years when the specter of global warming darkened the horizon of everyone halfway well informed even as so many of our fellow citizens were still drinking the Republican Kool-aid and thinking of global warming as either a liberal hoax or a Chinese one. I’ve just finished reading all 300 scrupulously documented pages of David Wallace-Wells’ The Uninhabitable Earth:  Life After Warming, and I sit here marveling at how, since I’m 78 and in failing health, I’m going to miss it all: the droughts, the floods, the catastrophic weather, the crop failures, the famines, the wars, and the tsunamis of refugees swarming toward food and shelter.

One last thing I’ll miss is the rising totalitarianism as people all over the planet discover that that populist leader they elected because he sounded so good has now declared that until the current crisis has passed, the press must be reined in to avoid fake news and elections will need to be postponed. The revitalized Secret Police will maintain order.

So yes, what we face now is a perfect storm. We have gone forth and multiplied until the world population has reached 7.7 billion when the sustainable number is routinely estimated to be about one billion. This has been made possible by a combination of our exploitation of the planet’s resources well beyond the sustainable level and most particularly by the explosion in the use of fossil fuels over the past century, which has delivered the global warming.

And global warming will be next to impossible to stop or even slow because our corporations, especially those in fossil fuels, will continue to focus on short-term profit, passing the cost of their environmental damage on to society. This is the way it works. A simple example is the contamination of the waters of San Francisco Bay by mercury leaching from the tailings of the old cinnabar mines that were dug during the gold rush. A century and a half later, fish from the southern lobe of the bay still have dangerous levels of mercury, but the owners of the cinnabar mines paid not a dime for the ongoing damage.

Yep, my timing was perfect. Meanwhile, here’s the Falun Gong meditating in front of the Ferry Building.

Falun Gong at the Ferry Building
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