Let Them Not Eat Cake

“Cakes have a message and this is one I can’t create.” – Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Today Show, June 5, 2018

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Delta House homecoming parade float, Animal House, 1978

This week, the United States Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips who, in 2012, refused to make a cake to be served at the wedding reception for a same-sex couple.

The Court got it wrong.

Although Colorado law prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public accommodation, the Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated Phillips’ free exercise of religion. The Commission, according to the Court, was biased and demonstrated hostility toward Phillips’ religion. The Court ruled that the Commission had treated Phillips unfairly.

After the ruling, Phillips’ attorney claimed that “Government hostility toward people of faith” was at issue and that “the state of Colorado was openly antagonistic toward Jack’s religious beliefs about marriage.”

Phillips appeared on national television the day after the decision and flatly denied that he discriminates against anybody. He claimed that he serves everybody who comes into his shop, but said there are certain messages he would not create and occasions for which he will not make cakes (Halloween, for example). He went on to assert “This cake is a specific cake. A wedding cake is an inherently religious event and the cake is definitely a specific message.”

Wait, what? A cake for a wedding reception — a cake with no explicitly requested message at all — holds some special religious significance?

When did wedding cakes become holy relics?

The truth is that Mr. Phillips is and was discriminating. And while I absolutely agree that he cannot be required to make any statement in his work which is contrary to his conscience, a blank cake is not a statement. It’s a dessert.

What if the patrons weren’t obviously the same sex? What if they had simply lied? What if they said the cake was for a relative’s graduation?

I’m having a really hard time wrapping my head around the idea that a baker’s free exercise of religion was in any way infringed by expecting him to sell a cake to anyone who offered to buy one. In fact, I don’t think this case has much at all to do with freedom of religion or freedom of speech.

I think it’s about privilege. The Supreme Court ignored the fact that the same-sex couple was denied the opportunity to buy what would have been sold to anyone else and instead focused on whether the merchant was offended by being expected to treat people equally.

The implications of this case are huge. What happens when “free exercise” involves something more important than a wedding cake? What happens when it concerns women exercising authority over men or even their own bodies? What happens when someone’s sincerely held religious beliefs require them to act in ways that are detrimental to other individuals or to the community in general?

Respect whose religious freedom?

We have a neighbor a few blocks away who has signs all over his vehicle and lawn promoting an extreme anti-abortion/pro-religion viewpoint. This is someone who has very definite religious, political and social beliefs. He apparently has little awareness or concern about the effect of all that signage on property values. Should we assume that he knows or cares about what it means to require a woman to have a child against her will? Is there any regard for HER beliefs? HER life?

There is a difference between belief and action. Believe what you will, because that primarily affects you; it’s what you do that matters.

Somehow a huge number of Americans have come to believe that their righteousness or salvation is tied up with what other people do — that the way to heaven is making other people behave.

Jack Phillips is well within his rights to believe that homosexuality is wrong, sinful, icky or you name it. He was not, in my opinion, within his rights to deny a same-sex couple a cake.

The baker’s beliefs weren’t at issue, his actions were. Putting the blame on a state civil rights commission is a dodge, because Phillips was the oppressor in this case, not the oppressed.

The heart of this case was really very simple and the Supreme Court majority missed it by a mile.

Roseanne v “Roseanne”

On March 27th the reboot of “Roseanne” debuted to huge audiences and high praise.  On May 29th the series was cancelled. Nine weeks. Anybody else’s head spinning?

It was only six weeks ago that I blogged about Roseanne the series after having watched the first three episodes (read it here).

I had been reluctant to give the new series a chance, having burned out on the old one long before its eventual demise, but that’s to say nothing about the star of the show.

Roseanne Barr is a controversial figure. Whether or not you find her funny or thought-provoking, as I often do, there is an equally good chance you’ve found her utterly baffling or profoundly offensive. Intentionally or not, Roseanne is sometimes maddening.

Roseanne’s tweetstorm this week isn’t by any means the first time she’s given offense, it’s just the latest. Taking another look at a prior meltdown helps to put the current one into better perspective. I give you 1990.

Most of us who were alive at the time will recall Ms Barr’s infamous rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner at a Major League Baseball game on July 25, 1990. The crowd didn’t get it or didn’t appreciate it and neither did the country at large. The performance created a media firestorm. Barr was rebuked and reviled all the way up to the President of the United States. Some of the criticism was justified, at least as a mistake of judgment on Barr’s part, if not as an act of intentional disrespect to the national anthem, baseball and America. Some of the criticism was threatening, personal and extremely hurtful, as we are about to learn.

In researching this blog I stumbled across a 2015 Washington Post article about Roseanne’s national anthem debacle, Roseanne on the day she shrieked ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ grabbed her crotch and earned a rebuke from President Bush.

Roseanne Barr was threatened, ridiculed, humiliated, and by her telling, abandoned.

This week history repeated itself and Roseanne blew up her career for at least the second time. Roseanne tweeted insulting and inaccurate statements about former President Barack Obama’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, along with Chelsea Clinton and her husband’s family. And when I say insulting and inaccurate, others are saying racist lies. Roseanne characterized Jarrett as the child of Islamic Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes. She attempted to smear Clinton by some fictitious association with George Soros, then by insults and allegations about Clinton’s father-in-law.

Co-stars and colleagues quickly condemned the tweets. Roseanne apologized, said she was leaving Twitter, deleted tweets, returned to Twitter, tweeted some more, apologized some more, deleted some more, took issue with her co-stars and colleagues, took issue with her network… For its part, ABC pulled the trigger quickly. The network condemned the tweets and cancelled Roseanne. Boom, like that, the biggest hit of the Spring 2018 television season was done, only a week after the season finale.

Barr claims that all of it (the Twitter rampage) was a bad joke. She said that she was “Ambien tweeting”. Was Barr being racist when she called Jarrett an ape? Barr says no, that she didn’t even know Jarrett was black. In 2013 Barr referred to Susan Rice, another prominent African-American member of the Obama administration, as “a man with big swinging ape balls.”

I don’t know if Roseanne Barr is prone to labeling white women as male apes. It seems, at the absolute least, that there is some kind of unconscious bias that rears its ugly head from time to time. Nothing I’ve read so far indicates to me that Ms Barr has given serious consideration to that possibility, as she’s now defensive and lashing out in all directions.

A television series that had huge potential to get people talking in constructive ways has crashed and burned while detractors and supporters argue.

This is what happens when high profile people click Send or press Enter on egregiously stupid remarks.

Twitter should probably come with a warning label.

This is also yet another reminder that no matter what you may later delete, the Internet doesn’t come with an Undo button. It doesn’t exist. And the more famous you are, the more you have to lose, and you can lose it all in the blink of an eye.

As for Roseanne the series, we watched all ten episodes this season on Hulu and enjoyed the series a lot. Did I agree with everything? No, but that’s part of the point. It was like being able to have a conversation with your annoying friends and family members without putting actual relationships on the line.

Roseanne the show is now probably doomed everywhere and forever. ABC had no real choice but to condemn the tweets and cancel the series. Lawyers will probably be fighting over who owns what and who wronged whom.

Roseanne the comedian needs to keep her word, get off Twitter, and get some counseling. If the 1990 national anthem debacle didn’t leave her with PTSD, the 2018 Twitter meltdown certainly will.

 

 

The Oracle and the Sausage Factory

It’s said that people who like sausage should avoid seeing how sausage is made. This is sort of a story about the making of sausage, except, instead of talking about a tasty food item, we’re going to talk about a staple of American party politics: the platform.

Have you ever read a party platform? I’m guessing that most people haven’t. I’ve been interested in politics for a very long time and actively engaged for over a decade, but I’ve read very few of them all the way through. Yesterday I attended my party’s congressional district convention as a delegate. In a community college auditorium in a small Midwestern town, a couple hundred delegates convened to listen to countless speeches, elect members of the party’s state central committee, and fight about rules and the party platform.

As so often happens, those fights about rules and platform language consumed much of the day and most of the oxygen in the room.

Why do we punish ourselves and our fellow party activists — almost all of whom are unpaid volunteers — so relentlessly? Why would two hundred adults give up a perfectly delightful Saturday in late April to engage in intramural spitball fights?

I wish I knew, because I’m usually knee deep in the hoopla. I think this is what happens when you get a bunch of true believers together and make them tell you what they believe in. A platform, according to our friends at Merriam-Webster is “a declaration of the principles on which a group of persons stands; especially: a declaration of principles and policies adopted by a political party or a candidate.” Simple, right?

One might think that a party platform would be a relatively easy thing to craft. We all know, more or less, what the major political parties stand for, don’t we? And when was the last time you remember a candidate declaring to run on his/her party’s platform? During presidential years the campaigns get involved in trying to craft or guide the national party platforms, but even then, one is more likely to hear attacks on the other party’s platform than anything about standing on one’s own. Who, if anybody, reads these things?

What we usually read or hear about party platforms, if anything at all, is how obviously, overwhelmingly wrong the other party is about fill-in-the-blank. We scarcely hear a peep about what’s in our own declaration of principles. And there is no mechanism to hold candidates to documents built by committees of volunteers and influenced by (here it comes) fanatics.

There are flashes of inspiration and sanity in this process. At my county convention in March, it became obvious that an outspoken member of our platform committee was both inspired and sane. He had noted that a fairly outrageous “plank” in the platform from a prior election cycle had been used by the opposition to discredit our candidates. It seems that late in the platform creation process a couple years ago, some true believers had managed to insert a plank calling for the legalization of all drugs. Republicans clobbered Democrats with that one.

As a result of that experience, our friend undertook a mission to avoid a similar debacle this time. He endeavored to shorten and simplify the county party platform, making it a statement of general principles and areas of concern rather than a laundry list of policy prescriptions. The platform discussion at the county convention was short and mostly civil. My contribution to the process was serving on the rules committee, asking lots of questions in an effort to clear up confusion in the rules before unleashing them on the unsuspecting larger body. It all worked pretty well. There was reason for hope.

Unfortunately, the district convention was a very different matter. I avoided volunteering for any committees at the district level. Having already annoyed some of my fellow Democrats, I chose to attend the district convention merely as a delegate. Let other people slug out the rules and the platform report.

The results weren’t great. The rules for electing central committee members were at once oddly restrictive and ambiguous, causing a great deal of wasted time and effort  — and multiple ballots and arguments — to elect eight people.

And then there was the platform. Rather than a short, simple document, the convention was given a long, detailed one. The document was over twenty pages of high-minded talk, typos, errors in capitalization and punctuation, acronyms, abbreviations, arcane legislative references, and vague, liberal talking points. Allegedly the platform committee had attempted to remove contentious planks so that no minority report would be needed. Our rules, as misrepresented by the presiding officer, allowed for no amendments, only debate on individual planks, and then only after a motion to strike the plank, seconded by 10% of the delegates. What would happen if the entire platform were voted down? No one knew.

Consideration of the platform degenerated into the all-too-familiar death march of arguing about everything. Think of the US Congress debating, say, the federal budget, with all the ego but lacking most of the expertise and lacking anything in the way of real power.

I hesitate to confess that I got sucked into the discussions more than once. Trying to get a disgruntled group to follow its own mystifying rules was clearly one lost cause. Trying to get the group to reconsider some of the most ill-considered platform planks was another.

At one point, two men were standing in the aisle mere inches apart, red faced, yelling about what ought to be done about a dead microphone. This is where the average person starts to consider how ridiculous it all is, even if they were previously inclined to engage.

Little did I know that the platform we pointlessly debated was derived from the even longer and more detailed 2016 state platform. Gone is the hope that the state convention will produce a better platform than the sausage we manufactured Saturday; our sausage was based on the same general recipe that the state party had followed two years ago. The fact that 2016 was such a disaster for Democrats should give everyone pause. Many people talked about a “blue wave” in November as if it were some kind of mantra. Color me skeptical.

Don’t ask me how the good Democrats of this district have any hope of unseating a pandering wingnut incumbent in a place that has sent him to Congress repeatedly, in spite of being a national embarrassment and having no legislative accomplishments. We embraced every liberal impulse and cliche’ we could think of and tossed them into our platform. This is the sort of thing that might work in a safely Democratic and very liberal district. It won’t work here.

Hoping that no one will read the damn thing won’t work, either, because as painful as that experience may be, we know that the opposition will read it. And we’ve given them a lot of “planks” to swing at our candidates.

We miraculously elected some very good volunteers to the state central committee and we have some truly excellent candidates for office. If the committee people are are half as smart as I think they are, they’ll use their experience yesterday to take a different approach in the future. My guess is that the candidates will be running from any mention of the platform, rather than running on it.

In this story, the problem isn’t just with the making of the sausage. True, seeing what went into the sausage and how it was put together was bad enough, but this sausage would have a “best by” date of never.

Who’s Jill Stein?

So…what’s the Oracle been up to lately? This week I checked out the first three episodes of the Roseanne reboot.

For anyone who either lives in a cave or is reading this blog in the distant future, Roseanne is a network television comedy about a working-class American family living in the fictional town of Lanford, Illinois. The series ran on ABC from 1988 to 1997 and has been revived in the spring of 2018. Roseanne Barr plays the central character, Roseanne Conner.

Roseanne’s character is revealed to be a supporter of the current US President in the first episode of the revived series. Politics as an issue dividing families and society appears to be one of the motivations in bringing the series into the modern day.

If your family is anything like Roseanne’s or mine, you’ve experienced hard feelings or worse with your relatives since the 2016 US election. The series has taken a bold step in attempting to talk about something that has caused a lot of us to stop talking to one another. Some of the stuff I’d seen written and said made me leery of watching the show. Some people hated it. Some people hated her.

I watched it anyway and it made me laugh. Repeatedly.

The Roseanne of 2018 instantly reminded me of the best aspects of its earlier incarnation. The characters are likeable. They are funny. They are flawed but fabulous.

I stopped watching the original series on a regular basis, long before it ended, for a variety of reasons. Mainly, the show just became tiresome. It got too weird, too preachy, too much of a downer. It started taking itself too seriously.

This one doesn’t do that.

The joy of the new series is that it pokes fun at things we all tend to take too seriously, starting with ourselves. Does anybody really care that much about our opinions on any single politician or policy? It’s not that this stuff doesn’t matter; it matters a lot. But if we just draw battle lines and stop talking, what have we accomplished? What CAN we accomplish in that scenario?

Roseanne is going to touch on issues and express opinions that upset people. This is the nature of topical humor and social commentary, especially humor dealing with anything controversial. Roseanne deals with controversial topics.

One of the things that’s important to remember is that this is just TV, it’s not real. The series is about a fictional family in a fictional town. Roseanne is not a documentary or the news, and it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s also not Leave It To Beaver. Think more along the lines of All In The Family or South Park. The humor is modern and edgy, but it’s still just fiction. These aren’t real people.

It’s also important to distinguish between the actor and the role. Most people are clear on the fact that Carroll O’Connor only played Archie Bunker on television and Eric Cartman is only a cartoon character. Yet many people seem to have trouble differentiating Roseanne Barr from the character she’s playing.

Barr has been outspoken and politically active in real life, but it would be a mistake to view the show based on one’s take on Barr’s politics. The show is not exclusively, or even primarily, political. Politics is just one aspect of life in Lanford.

As an example, Roseanne and her sister Jackie finally talk about their differing views of Hillary Clinton:

Jackie: “You kept saying what a disaster it would be if she got elected and how I wasn’t seeing the big picture and how everything was rigged, and then I go into the booth and I voted for Jill Stein!”

Roseanne: “Who’s Jill Stein?”

Jackie: “Some doctor. You did such a good job of making me doubt myself and feel so stupid that I choked, which helped get him elected.”

Is that scene about politics or about someone feeling bullied by a sibling?

Roseanne Barr certainly knows who Jill Stein is, having run against her as a Green Party candidate. As for Barr’s politics, she recently said, “It’s up to us… Get out there and vote. Change it if you don’t like it.” Tough to argue with that one.

I don’t watch much television of any kind these days, but I make an exception now and then. Roseanne is worthwhile. It made me laugh and it made me think. I didn’t agree with all the opinions that were expressed, but that’s OK.

In an age of cable news and social media echo chambers where we choose our news and exclude people and opinions we don’t like, I think we need to hear other viewpoints. It’s even better to be able to laugh at some of the things we’re fighting about. In fact, it may be a big step toward a more constructive dialog.

Better Angels

“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

With those words Abraham Lincoln concluded his first inaugual address as the 16th President of the United States. Lincoln, as almost everyone knows, was the first Republican to be elected president, and by inauguration day, it seemed that he might be the last — not the last Republican president, but the last President of the United States. Seven states had already seceded, four more would soon join them, and the future of the country was very much in doubt.

Yet here was Lincoln speaking hopefully and confidently about something no one could see and few likely believed: Americans would be reunited when their memories were touched by their better angels.

Republicans are still referred to as the party of Lincoln, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of Lincoln in the Republican Party these days. The 45th President of the United States, nominally a Republican, seems as determined to divide the country as the 16th was to hold it together. Not long ago a Republican US senator announced that he’d had enough of what his party had become and announced that he would not seek reelection in 2018. In his closing, he too cited Lincoln’s better angels.

Elected on the slogan “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” (it’s in all caps like that on the hats), Donald J. Trump left a lot to the imagination as to what his slogan might possibly mean. His supporters quickly filled the void.

Apparently slogans are in the eye of the beholder.

For a lot of voters — though not a majority; the Democratic Party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton, won the nationwide popular vote by nearly 2.9 million — making American great again was a compelling idea.

There’s an old joke about country music that poses the question “What do you get when you play a country song backwards?” You get your job back, your truck back, your wife, your dog, your sobriety…

A lot of Trumps’s base of support is hurting. Unemployment is up, wages are down. Substance abuse is up. Suicides are up. And life expectancy for younger and middle aged white Americans is down. Trump won white voters without a college degree by 39 points. Things are not great for whites without a college degree.

But things once were great for whites without a college degree. It once was possible for someone without a college education, without even a high school education, to work his way into the middle class and to support a family on one income. When did this mythical white male utopia exist? About 50 years ago. I happen to know this because my dad did it. Worked hard, made decent money, drove a new car, joined a country club… Great, no?

Not so great was the African American or Hispanic experience of 50 years ago. It also wasn’t too great for women of any description, who despite having the vote since 1920 had (and still have) no equality with men. And it wasn’t great for LGBT persons or people with disabilities or a bunch of others who weren’t straight, white, able-bodied, English-speaking males.

Thus, making America great AGAIN meant making it great for people who’d had it great in the past. And they knew who they were.

Facebook has a feature that brings up items posted on the current date in previous years. Five years ago I posted a link to an article about Donald Trump’s much ballyhooed “bombshell” revelation about President Barack Obama turning out to be a dud. No problem for Trump, who seized the attention to rant about Obama being the “worst” and “least transparent” president ever and to bait him to release college and foreign travel records in return for a promised $5 million donation to the charity of Obama’s choosing. Obama ignored Trump and went on to win reelection. We don’t know what happened to the five million bucks.

Unfortunately, failure in any conventional sense is no discouragement to Donald Trump. He built his brand, fame and fortune largely on an amazing ability to say ridiculous things and garner lots of publicity for it. Trump’s long promotion of phony claims and conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace and citizenship were a GOLD MINE for Trump. And mine it he did. For years. Trump got all sorts of media coverage for free, along with the admiration of a lot of people who wanted justification for hating someone as smart, well educated and successful as Barack Obama (who just happened to be black).

The success of Trump’s Obama bashing was a model for personal attacks and bogus charges that he would use again and again during the 2016 presidential campaign, first against Republican rivals, then unceasingly against the Democratic nominee, who was smarter, better educated and vastly more experienced (and who just happened to be female).

Seeing a pattern here? Trump’s modus operandi is to attack, call names, threaten, bully, and lie about anyone who stands in his way, using any tool or proxy at his disposal. It has not gone unnoticed by Trump’s core supporters that his targets are generally NOT white guys. Haters of various stripes now feel they own the White House. By selecting Mike Pence as his running mate and cozying up to the religious right, people who say they are pro-life Christians now believe they have a friend in Jesus AND in the White House. Fossil fuel lobby? You bet. “Second Amendment people”? Absolutely. Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent? Photo op! Russian ambassador? Da! (Sorry, no American press allowed)

It’s a game of endless division, not unity. Trump has assembled a coalition of shamelessly self-interested supporters who seem perfectly willing to knock anyone else down to take what they want. America is one continuous Black Friday door rush at Walmart.

Our better angels aren’t throwing elbows. They aren’t spewing venomous, personal attacks. They don’t engage in name calling, character assassination, or scapegoating. They aren’t in it for themselves, damning all others and the consequences. Our better angels aren’t spreading rumors, falsehoods and outright lies. They aren’t boasting about sexual assault, nor are they complicit in it.

Martin Luther King, Jr. noted that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” King was not the first to make such a statement, it goes back at least as far as a mid-nineteenth century minister and abolishionist. Theodore Parker said also “Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. …Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just.”

No one is saying that the path to justice is a straight line, but that right will ultimately prevail. Our better angels are around, we just need to start listening to them again.

Objects in the Mirror

Reflections on my experiences leaving Facebook

Day One:

Monday April 2nd was a day off work for me, thus a pretty good time to make the break. In recent days I’d seen a friend’s link to a video comparing leaving Facebook to leaving a party. Whatever. On Sunday I posted a farewell. Early Monday morning I unfriended everybody, backed up my data, cleared out my page, and sent the request to shut it down. Facebook says essentially that I have up to two weeks to change my mind. I read and wrote, ran some errands with the missus, did a little volunteer work and got a nap.

Rediscovered an excellent discussion of social media, what’s wrong with it, and the possibility of a subscription-based alternative to Facebook:

https://www.businessesgrow.com/2018/01/03/social-network-subscriptions/amp/


Day Two:

Stayed up much of my night off, which is not unusual considering my work schedule (I work nights). Got about six hours sleep. Spent less time than usual on my smartphone in the past 24 hours. Removed Facebook and Messenger apps from a couple older devices. Googled myself and found a bunch of Facebook profiles of people sharing my name, but not my own. This is encouraging.

I read that Facebook was retaining draft video uploads for reasons no one can explain. Considering that such videos may have consumed a lot of storage space, one wonders how they could escape attention. Is Facebook really that out of control?


Day Three:

Spent a little time weeding email during a break at work overnight. Over time, my email has become choked with crap and I have started opting out of distribution lists.

Found myself wanting to click “Like” on an actual email message written by an actual person I know and like (a cousin). Ever do that? I’ve wanted to click “Like” on text messages, too. It reminds me of a time after buying a car with a remote unlock button when I consciously found myself wanting to unlock my mailbox and apartment door with the remote.

Clicking “Like” on a Facebook post is an easy, almost passive, way of expressing approval. It requires nearly no effort whatsoever. Thus, much of what happens on Facebook isn’t participation so much as observation — we observe and we are being observed.

Facebook users become stars of their own reality show and viewers of a bunch of others. The news feed is like channel surfing, with someone else choosing the stations, controlled by some inscrutable algorithm. We get posts by our “friends” and ads in an endless stream and we provide feedback constantly. We tell Facebook what we like and by extension what we don’t, because they know what we have been presented; Facebook is watching all the channels, all the time, and recording… well, we really don’t know what they’re recording.

And you thought you were just clicking “ha ha” on a cat video.

NBC News reported that Facebook is now saying that not 50 but 87 million user profiles, mostly those of Americans, may have been “improperly shared” with Cambridge Analytica.

https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/facebook-data-harvesting-scandal-widens-87-million-people-n862771


Day 4:

Early Thursday the Washington Post’s lead headline read “Facebook: ‘Malicious actors’ used its tools to discover identities and collect data on a massive global scale”. It seems that personal data belonging to most of Facebook’s two-billion-odd users had been “scraped” and shared with outsiders.

Thursday evening NBC News was promoting an interview with Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, scheduled to air during Friday’s Today Show. Sandberg says that users would have to pay to opt out of ads while also stating that user data is the lifeblood of Facebook’s service. First, I will pay, but not to Facebook. Second, if our data is Facebook’s lifeblood, why aren’t we the ones getting paid?


Day Five:

Today we learned that Facebook has deleted certain messages sent by Mark Zuckerberg and other top executives via Facebook Messenger. The messages were removed from recipients’ inboxes. This option, of course, was not available to ordinary Facebook users, though the company now says it will be.

What was in those messages and why were they deleted?

“Unsending” a message is not a new idea, but it’s one that has largely been wishful thinking for most people, most of the time. Microsoft Outlook running within an organization on Microsoft Exchange, for example, allowed users to unsend messages which had not been read.

Once I worked for a large company where a disgruntled IT worker gained access to a high level user’s computer and aired his grievances with the entire organization. The message was especially critical of the chief information officer. The IT department scrambled to try to retrieve the mass mail. It was a spectacular disaster. While some unread copies of the message were deleted, if I recall correctly, the email system notified recipients that the sender wanted to recall the message. Nothing screams “Read this now!” quite like somebody important saying they don’t want you to read something they sent. The more the organization tried to limit the spread of the rogue message, the more widely it was shared.

Message to Mark Zuckerberg and his crew: what’s done is done. You can’t unsend or unsay. Yes, you can delete postings and messages and entire files and profiles, but you can’t turn back time.


It’s after 5 PM on Friday. Facebook has been in the headlines every day during a week when there was a lot of other stuff going on. Mark Zuckerberg said this week that the data scandal had no “meaningful impact” on the company.

It’s had a meaningful impact on me. I am happy to be off the platform. I don’t need to have every click recorded and analyzed for the sake of posting some thoughts online. I don’t need to be subjected to a barrage of ads intermingled with the random musings of hundreds of online acquaintances. I don’t need to be wired-in, 24 by 7, living on the Internet. I definitely don’t need to do business with a company I don’t trust. It had become a bad relationship and it needed to end.

It’s been refreshing to spend some quality time with my own thoughts and get some of them into words. I like the prospects for more of that.

There IS life after Facebook.

Blundering What?

Some of you may be wondering why this blog is named “Blundering Oracle” and what’s up with the subtitle “Challenging Blind Obedience.”

Both phrases are derived from a single sentence in Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”:

“So much for blind obedience to a blundering oracle, throwing the stones over their heads behind them and not knowing where they fell.”

I had remembered the phrase “blind obedience to a blundering oracle” from prior readings and thought it had potential. So what does it mean? Merriam-Webster’s two main definitions of an oracle are “a person (such as a priestess of ancient Greece) through whom a deity is believed to speak” and “a person giving wise or authoritative decisions or opinions.”

Minor definitions include “a shrine in which a deity reveals hidden knowledge or the divine purpose through such a person,” “an answer or decision given by an oracle,” and an authoritative or wise expression or answer.”

Up until now I hadn’t thought too much about the oracle Thoreau was talking about, but knowing about it helps make sense of his comment. Google and Wikipedia helped a lot here. Thoreau referenced a Greek myth about the deluge. In it, Deucalion consulted an oracle about how to repopulate the world after the flood. The oracle told him “cover your head and throw the bones of your mother behind your shoulder.” Substitute rocks for bones and Gaia (Mother Earth) for mother, and you have it: Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha repopulated the world by being blindly obedient to an oracle, throwing stones — bones of Mother Earth — and not knowing where they landed. The stones turned into people. It seems that Thoreau didn’t have a very high opinion of the oracle.

Was there really a time when we read this stuff in American public high schools?

At any rate, “Blundering Oracle” felt like a perfect bit for someone offering opinions on an obscure blog. It is pretentious and self-deprecating at the same time. The world is full of people claiming to have some kind of authority and demonstrating little humility while being utterly (or at least arguably) wrong.

As to “Challenging Blind Obedience” part, I have a problem with authority. No, it’s not that I cannot acknowledge or respect credentials and qualifications. I have a problem with people who think or assert they can tell me what to do while lacking credentials and qualifications. You could say that I have a problem with self-appointed or sketchy “authorities”.

Really, I have a problem with authoritarianism.

I used to think that liberty was an American core value. We claim it is. We have a Statue of Liberty, the motto “Liberty” on our coins, and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in our Declaration of Independence.

What I’ve learned (and what the last presidential election demonstrates to me), is that some portion of Americans can be persuaded to vote for a candidate who promises — threatens, really — to impose his will on others. Essentially, we threw liberty under the bus for a populist authoritarian. Authoritarianism is one of the defining characteristics of the current American administration, in my opinion, and they’re not shy about it. It obviously resonates with somebody.

We also claim to have a high regard for facts and fairness. What was Superman fighting for? “Truth, justice, and the American way.” Yet our discourse is often untrue and unjust. Truth is labeled as “fake news” by people who hold opposing opinions, beliefs or interests. Fake is anything they don’t like. Justice is getting their way.

Blind obedience deserves to be challenged, not for the sake of being contrary, but for the sake of doing the right thing — speaking truth to power. Authority needs to be challenged and limited or there is no making America great for anybody other than the powers that be.