Sunday, 10 October 2010

Is Christianity Dying?

I live in Europe now. Here, there are more Atheists than religious people. In fact, it's quite alarming how many avowed Atheists occupy the highest levels of government; (see newly-elected Labour Leader Ed Miliband and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg for examples).

In the circles that I move in during my doctorate studies here, I seldom meet like-minded people with my own faith. Concealment is virtually impossible. Any alumni of BYU when asked about where they have studied ostensibly lets the cat out of the bag about what faith they practice. This is not an imposition. I had an inkling that this would be the result of attending an institution run by the Church Education System.

I am not a religiously extroverted individual. I play my cards close to my chest, I listen, observe the other players and, if the time or circumstance feels right, I divulge. I am cognizant of the dangers of chucking my pearls before the proverbial swine, so this might explain my reluctance. I am not ashamed of my faith, but just wary about whom I share it with. I mean, I doubt if Michelangelo would've invited people to use his paintings as napkins or a doormat. For 33 years I've developed a spiritual masterpiece for my soul, and I get reticent about sharing it with everyone.

With this in mind, I am, I guess, more globally minded than I've ever been. It is hard to just quietly observe the world falling to moral pieces and not say anything. The world seems to be on a progressive trajectory, advancing thought and thinking in ways never before imagined. If Richard Dawkins is right about his theory of how thoughts and ideas (otherwise known as Memes) develop and propagate commensurate with Darwin's Theory of Evolution, then perhaps this idea of 'religion' in all its permutations is destined indeed, like the homosapian's vestigial tail for the past.

A dominating world-view is that religion has been and still continues to be the prime mover for all wars, all atrocities, and the main impediment for global peace.

Mention the efficacy of Christianity today, and you're deluged with sordid tales of the medieval atrocities of half a dozen Crusades throughout the Middle East, David Koresh, Jim Jones, the scourge on American society of the seemingly Fundamentalist agenda of the Christian-Right, and the billions of dollars tied up in pending litigation and out-of-court settlements from pedophile priests.

The prevailing sentiment with religion is that it is indeed a vestigial tail, a remnant of an underdeveloped, inferior system of values that humankind embraced for thousands of years, and just not the sort of stuff relevant anymore in the 21st century.

The age of the revered, religious intellectual are gone. No one is embracing any 21st century C.S. Lewis's anymore. We've replaced them with vociferating Atheistic fantasy writers like Philip Pullman who, it can be trusted, will not be appropriating any Christian symbolism in his novels.

The tide has turned. The world has spoken. Christianity is on the ropes. The smell of victory is still in the nostrils of our Middle East enemies who can boast followers, regardless of how our media demonizes their reasons, who are prepared to die for their beliefs. That kind of religious fervor deserves a special kind of respect; one that Christianity cannot command or engender amongst its own purported followers.

No. The real problem with the world is that Christianity doesn't stand up tall enough, doesn't do enough, and hasn't really earned the right to make demands on the world and how they're perceived. For too long Christian-living took things for granted and failed to respond to the dangers of immorality, the disintegration of the family and marriage, and has been slowly sinking into the quicksand of irrelevancy.

I'm beginning to think Ebenezer Scrooge might not have been all that wrong in his disdain for Christmas (for very different reasons). I'm "humbugging" Christmas for the well-observed sentiment that it's no longer about Christ. This is why, before a single present was opened on Christmas Day, my family read in the New Testament about the Nativity.

Anyone in disagreement about Christianity being in decline need only look around during this last Christmas and ask themselves if any major networks paid any attention to the birth of Christ. I wasn't in the United States for the Christmas holiday, but I can tell you that here in England..Frosty the Snowman got more air time than the Savior.

So, the world goes one way, and Christianity must, to survive, not adapt until we are fully assimilated and eventually indistinguishable. If you're a Darwinian sympathist, then perhaps you can agree that Chimpanzees remained Chimpanzees on the evolutionary scale because, despite occupying the same geographical region in Africa as other hominids, they just decided, for one reason or another, to stay the way they are. And, millions of years later, they're still here. Resilient, and determined, willing to throw their feces at their more developed hominid counterparts at your local zoo.

I don't subscribe to the above stated Darwinian view, but I only make mention of it because as human beings we have reason and rationality. We can make choices, suppress appetites and thereby have more control and dominion over the lives we lead.

If you're Christian, do something about it. I'm writing this precisely because it no longer feels right to stand idly by while the world laughs at Christianity and toasts its impending demise. In 2011, fight the good fight. If you don't, please don't complain while the world throws feces at you.

Monday, 4 January 2010

One Suggestion to Help Fix America's Economy...

It's quickly becoming apparent to anyone with an I.Q. as low as a Department Store mannequin that the February '09 $787,000,000,000 [billion] Stimulus Bill signed by Obama was a complete and unnecessary waste of taxpayer money. In Internet-ese:


Tax rebate checks have already had a proven FAILED history when Dubya in all his wisdom began doling them out during his second term (May 2008) to stimulate the economy. It failed, the economy continued its precipitous decline and by summer's end...Americans were rightly seeing RED, most of them 'undecided' suddenly voting BLUE thereby boosting Obama into the White House.

Yet, in just under a year, Obama, unabashedly using Bush's failed policy, gave it the 'ole college try once more...further burdening the nation's economy with even more debt. It's nearly a year on...and the $787 billion has been a costly [exponentially costly too] mistake.

Obama failed, as Bush did, to understand that the bulk of consumers who keep the economy running by-and-large have substantial credit card debts, beyond-their-means mortgages, new-car loans, and, yes, even student loans...cumulatively in the billions and billions. (Could the combination of all these be in the trillions?) The stimulus checks, ironically, 'stimulated' nothing, and were, for the most part, dissolved into consumer debts. This is why unemployment is now over 10%...and holding at least into mid 2010.

How to fix it:

It's a Hail Mary Pass. But a brave one. If Obama was courageous enough to get behind it...he would have bipartisanship support, millions of 'thankful' voters in the tank for 2012...and (in my hopeful opinion) save the nation's economy and restore the greatness of the dollar on the Global Market within mere years. In short, do THIS one thing...and reap immediate rewards.

Write off ALL Student Loan Debt. Every cent. Amnesty for the educated and those who seek to better themselves in the Land of Opportunity. Forgive it now...and guess what happens?

The millions of students who pay (with interest) Sallie Mae et al millions (billions?) each month...would suddenly have hundreds, if not thousands more each pump back into the economy. Those thousands quickly turn into billions and billions per month. And that always bodes well for the economy.

Sallie Mae is the biggest Fat Cat profiteer on all this debt; it's no wonder that they keep laughing all the way to the bank year after year. Some alarming facts worth noting:

*Between the years 2001-2006 (according to College Board), tuition fees across America's colleges & universities rose by 57%. The rise remains on pace at TWICE the rate of the nation's inflation. So it's nice that Obama allocated 6 billion dollars to future borrowers, but with annual borrowing estimates of over 80 billion per year, it's barely a morsel. This doesn't bring doesn't even make a dent.

To break it down...the current system is analogous to a Hamster on a Treadmill. Consider:

College Tuition fees are continually rising...

So students are borrowing MORE money to offset the cost...

So the government makes MORE money available for students to borrow...

Which [consequently] makes financing a collegiate education affordable, right?

Wrong! Colleges and universities see money flowing in...and decide to raise tuition costs yet again...

So students are borrowing MORE money to offset the cost...

So the government makes MORE money available for students to borrow...

And as colleges and universities see money flowing in...invariably they decide to raise tuition costs yet again...

So students borrow even MORE money to offset the cost...

Which results in the government making MORE money available for students to borrow...

And as colleges and universities see money flowing in...invariably they decide to raise tuition costs yet again...

(You get the idea).

And grinning ear-to-ear year after year? Sallie Mae. It's no mystery why (according to the Wall Street Journal) Sallie Mae' stock has risen a whopping 1900% since 1995, made mafioso-style off the backs of the children of the Middle Class with crippling interest rates.

Student Loan Debt in the US?

It's one of the biggest, under-reported scams in modern history and it is hurting millions. It stifles economic growth, it discourages education, it punishes the middle and lower classes and rewards the opportunistic Fat Cat lenders, like Sallie Mae.

This system is broken. It smells of corruption; (evidenced by all those end-of-the-year bonuses execs at Sallie Mae are always receiving). It must change or else a painful bubble will burst economically, intellectually, and spiritually.

Obama's been barking up the wrong tree all year with his ObamaCare. He's divided the nation, polarized independents and has put at risk his reelection plans in 2012. He could reverse this damage by canceling Student Loan debt. He has that power and it's a much easier 'sell' to politicians on both aisles who would jump on the Free-Education bandwagon to please their various special-interest constituencies.

I fail to see why this cannot be done. Other countries (mostly in the EU) have been doing it for generations and have reaped the rewards too numerous to list here.

America calls itself 'The Land of Opportunity'...why not earn it with 'Free Education' for the strata of society who wish to improve the nation with their trades and skills? If our government is so hell-bent to spend money we do not have, why not put it where young Americans need it most? Imagine the economic benefits of millions of young Americans, free of student loan debt, able to work and contribute after their under/post graduation? This isn't a Utopian fantasy...but a suggestion to make things better. To truly bring HOPE and CHANGE to America. With millions of Americans with more money in their wallets will come demand to move the money around. Demand engenders surplus, surplus creates jobs. Jobs stimulate the economy.

Do this Obama...and my children's children will be thankful.

Don't do it...and it's business as usual. And Pat Buchanan's grim retrospective of the last 10 years bodes ill for the upcoming decade as well. I don't care 'what' Party wants to do this...but someone should get it done and run in 2012 with this as one of their primary campaign promises. Education and ingenuity once made America the envy of the world. I think we've lost our way...but it's not impossible to get back on track.

(Props given to the Facebook Group: "Forgive Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy" for inspiring this blog. With a quarter of a million members, it never fails to surprise me how out-of-touch our politicians are who continually ignore public tips and suggestions to make America better).


Which debt is the least lenient?

a) Mortgage
b) Gambling debt
c) Credit Card debt
d) A Sallie Mae student Loan


Tuesday, 8 December 2009

My Top 100 Films of the past decade!

Here they are. The following list comprises hundreds of hours I found truly rewarding both at the cinema and in the comfort of my own home. Don't read into the 'order' of the films...each has its own place. True, I love some more than others. I truly believe that if you didn't see all of these films over the last 10 missed out on something special. There is so much here on offer to peruse, I will understand the tendency to immediately observe what isn't on the list. So yes, 'Slumdog Millionaire' isn't on the list. Neither is 'Pan's Labrynth'. Though good films, they just didn't 'hook' me in the way I was told they would. 'Rambo' you say? I can explain. But before I do, have a gander...and discuss. (I have italicized the films with corresponding pictures).
1 Everything is Illuminated
2 Zatoichi
3 There Will Be Blood
4 Amelie
5 Gladiator
6 Black Hawk Down
7 Let the Right One In
8 The Proposition
9 A.I.
10 Kingdom of Heaven
11 LoTR (all three)
12 The Prestige
13 Million Dollar Baby
14 The Pianist
15 Hot Fuzz
16 Gerry
17 Punch Drunk Love
18 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
19 Zodiac
20 Children of Men
21 Casino Royale
22 Capturing the Friedmans
23 Coraline
24 Dancer in the Dark
25 The Lives of Others
26 Batman Begins
27 Pirates of the Caribbean
28 The Incredibles
29 Russian Ark
30 Traffic
31 Darjeeling Limited
32 Snatch
33 Michael Clayton
34 Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
35 Narc
36 Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
37 Training Day
38 Master and Commander: Far Side of the World
39 Good Night and Good Luck
40 Little Miss Sunshine
41 Donnie Darko
42 The Others
43 Bourne Ultimatum
44 City of God
45 Kill Bill 1 & 2
46 Requiem for a Dream
47 Big Fish
48 Into the Wild
49 Gran Torino
50 Collateral
51 Kung Fu Hustle
52 Napoleon Dynamite
53 High Fidelity
54 School of Rock
55 The Salton Sea
56 No Country for Old Men
57 Paranormal Activity
58 Road to Perdition
59 Death at a Funeral
60 Kung Fu Panda
61 Best in Show
62 Apocalypto
63 Rambo
64 Star Trek
65 Belleville Rendezvous
66 Downfall
67 Hunger
68 Lost in La Mancha
69 Open Range
70 The Dark Knight
71 The Polar Express
72 Catch Me If You Can
73 Minority Report
74 Last King of Scotland
75 Being John Malkovich
76 Man on Wire
77 Good Night and Good Luck
78 Grizzly Man
79 The Beach
80 About a Boy
81 The Painted Veil
82 3:10 to Yuma
83 Finding Nemo
84 Wall E
85 Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
86 Moon
87 Lost in Translation
88 O Brother Where Art Thou
89 Supersize Me
90 About Schmidt
91 The Reckoning
92 Unbreakable
93 Lucky Number Slevin
94 Inside Man
95 Syriana
96 Finding Forrester
97 The Good Shepard
98 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
99 Thank You For Smoking
100 Layer Cake

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The Afghan surge and some questions for President Obama

Really Obama?


You finally F-I-N-A-L-L-Y pledge 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to mollify DC Hawks but conveniently [and what is quickly becoming characteristically opportunistic] announce a withdrawal in a mere 18 months...just in time for your reelection? Just hit it and quit it?

How in a mere 18 months are you going to bring the Taliban to heel?

And if you do, if you do, what do you expect the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a government you have publicly called "corrupt" to do with the country a paltry 18 months later?

Do you truly expect this brief flow and ebb of troops to be the linchpin in forcing Karzai to eradicate corruption in his own government?

Are you aware how much of that corruption in the Afghan government is linked to the drug trade?

Are you aware Karzai's own brother is heavily in the Afghan heroin trade harvesting poppies?

If I may be so bold, but...are you aware of anything going on over there...or are you too busy preparing your Nobel Peace Prize speech, and throwing lavish, taxpayer-funded White House parties for the Hollywood elite and your fawning media?

Pardon my Glengarry-inspired candor, but Mr. President...Put. That. Champagne bottle. Down!

Champagne is for 'closers' only.

There's a reason why Afghanistan has earned its' moniker as "The Graveyard of Empires". This is no walk in the park.

As my younger brother readies himself for his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan...the efficacy of his 'service' and the efficacy of the deaths of hundreds of US and UK servicemen and women begs the question:

Why bother?

Who among us believes the 30,000 troop surge will dissolve [permanently] the Taliban, cleanse Karzai's government to run the country effectively and democratically in just 18 months?

Obama, you had a chance this week at West Point, in another one of your increasingly-vacuous, silky-smooth orations to explain this 'Minute Rice' plan to cure Afghanistan by the end of 2011...but, incongruously, you dodged it with thoroughly unconvincing Bush-themed rhetoric and vagueries.

What's the problem?

It's not too late Mr. President to explain how an 18-month surge plan will accomplish what Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and Russia with all their hubris were unable to do...

Is your teleprompter plugged in, because I await your explanation...?

Sunday, 6 September 2009

a 'from-the-hip' response on the Socialized Health Care debate...

Ladies and Dudes,

Just a quick off-the-cuff response on the issue with health care that was started on a friend's Facebook account. (Since I 'surrendered' my Facebook privileges earlier this year, I thought it best to move the issue have a gander, don't laugh too hard at my 1st draft grammar skills, share your convictions, argue with me [but be cool please!] or whatever strikes you. Your call.)

I’ve read with interest regarding the debate over socialized Health Care from afar here in Great Britain. As the developing world goes, America’s pejorative ‘older brother’ across the pond may offer ‘clues’ over what to expect if socialized health care is approved. To clarify, the United Kingdom (more specifically, England) has historically, before America, taken the first ‘steps’ towards many of today’s freedoms and social advancements worthy of mention; (abolishing slavery, granting women the right to vote, discontinuing capital punishment, and socializing health care.) [I’m at least sure there is NO debate over the efficacy of the first two ‘advancements’…]

Though the concerns are understandable and I’d like to take a few moments here to explain how socialized Health Care has affected my family and friends during our combined 5-years living here.

The NHS has made the cost of the birth of my two children…free. (Or at least that cost has been incrementally ‘melted down’ and collectively shared by myself, and the fine tax-paying citizens of the UK.)

I’m a fairly ‘private’ person by nature so it may come as a bit of a surprise to share here that during my son Corin’s first year, he developed an infection that required immediate care. Twice we rushed him to the NHS hospitals seeking assistance for his anguishing ailment. Twice we were told that his condition would require minor surgery to alleviate it. Just a simple non-threatening procedure and all would be fine.

We waited for over a year for this ‘minor surgery’ to resolve his infection. We knew that in the United States the procedure would’ve been scheduled within a week of the first instance and resolved before the following week’s time. But the NHS, despite its advantages, was making us wait, for reasons that were never clear to us, a whole year. During that time, my son's suffering increased. From me all I could offer was a blessing of comfort and love. During that time, two further emergency visits (one memorably on Halloween during his first Trick-or-Treating experience) were required to treat my son’s condition where we were again told to wait. So for a whole year, helplessly we waited. And waited.

As the scheduled date drew closer, my wife and I booked time off of work, rearranged our schedules to allow time for him after the procedure. (During that time, we tried in the best way we could to explain to our 2 year-old ‘what’ was going to happen…and I have found explaining ‘pain’ to a 2 year-old one of the most difficult things in fatherhood.) With schedules in place, our anxieties stretched thin, one week before the scheduled procedure for our son…the NHS sent us a simple letter informing us that the year-long scheduled procedure…was postponed for an additional 6 more months…with no explanation for this! (The ‘new’ date was, in a further ‘slap’ now scheduled to coincide on my wife’s birthday.)

So, despite our ire, we waited again the full 18 months for the NHS to perform a 25-minute procedure to resolve an infection with my son that would have been resolved in a fraction of that time in the US.

I’m now happy to say the surgery was a success and that our son has made a full-recovery. But when he cut his lower lip horsing around in our living room the next year…requiring a single stitch to his lip…the downside with the UK’s NHS would again be abundantly clear. Our local 60 million pound hospital --despite being full of NHS-paid doctors refused to apply the stitch and told us the procedure was done in the neighboring town hospital 20 miles down the road. So, we took an expensive taxi ride to the hospital where my son was to sit in a waiting room for over 4 hours with a bloody lip (which was dripping all over their ER.)

After the 4 hours, the staff then told us that they in fact did not have the required ‘specialist’ available to apply the single stitch and that we would need to go to another hospital an additional 20 more miles down the road. Would the NHS foot the bill to transfer us to another hospital? Of course not…and another taxi ride was required (we would spend 52 pounds—over $75 on cab fare alone to the two hospitals.)

After another 4 hours in another hospital, we were finally ushered in. But the doctor at this hospital didn’t want to apply the stitch and tried to convince us to wait until the next evening on the following day to see someone else because [and I quote] he “hadn’t had as much experience applying stitches” as his colleague.

Could you believe it? One simple stitch, three hospitals later, over 50 quid in travel cost and the NHS-paid doctors were now trying to send us away with our son’s mouth caked with [now] dried blood on his wound. It was there that we had to NEGOTIATE with the doctor to apply the stitch then and there. That’s no joke! We actually had to insist that the doctor apply the stitch! So with no anesthetic, the stitch was eventually applied (despite my son’s shrieks) and he looks fine.

When I was my son’s age, I gashed my forehead at a drive-in theatre and less than 30 minutes later I was sewn up with 5 stitches and back at home…and that was in 1977!

Now the NHS has been good to us, but it’s also been a pain in the butt as well. And we have seen others suffer as a result.

Two years ago we attended the funeral of a work colleague of my wife (held in the same church where Shakespeare is buried), a mother of two in her mid-forties. We sang hymns, we cried, we gave flowers and marked the August occasion with hugs and conciliatory grief. In the woman’s courageous honor to the cancer that took her and her tremendous spirit in the face of death--(she was still doing cancer walks and hikes just weeks before she died) we named our daughter after her.

So what happened?

Jane had been visiting with the NHS for years complaining of stomach pain…and her health issues were often discussed at length with my wife. Each time, full-examinations were never forthcoming--[in fact she was advised that they were not necessary] and her ‘pain’ was temporarily alleviated through prescribed medication. (If you’ve ever lived in the UK, one thing the NHS does VERY well is prescribe medication to treat literally everything…for reasons that, on occasion are a bit dubious.) So the pain continued, and in lieu of wider, more-expensive/expansive examinations, Jane was told that her ‘discomfort’ was treatable.

And so the months rolled on. And the pain increased…until it was too late. When her health predicament became obvious to even the untrained medical eye, Jane was given mere weeks to live in an inoperable cancerous condition. The bitter side was even more crushing as she was eventually told that had her cancer been detected earlier, her life might’ve been spared. Too little too late.

We were a bit astonished that there wasn’t a deeper sense of outrage for the failings of the NHS in this affair. There seemed to be acceptance that people live and die in this life and when it’s your time, it’s your time. Perhaps there’s something in the saying that ‘familiarity breeds acceptance’.

[This also happened to the wife of one of my professors at my college a couple years ago…who for months complained of back pain, which was medicated, only to discover that it was cancer all along which when diagnosed gave her only 3 weeks before she died.]

These are some of the experiences we’ve had and observed with the NHS here. The NHS isn’t evil. It’s not some Stalinist program designed to take away each others' rights. But over the years, by declension, it has devolved into a bit of a joke. It’s now in need of a serious overhaul. And one of the many blunders here of the NHS is the ethos of ‘treating’ the symptoms rather than ‘preventing’ them. Preventable care seems to be the bastion in the private sector for health care.

Now I don’t want to beat up on Obama. I didn’t vote for him, but then again I wouldn’t have voted for the feckless McCain either. Love him or hate him, Obama is our president and is trying to ‘fix’ our nation’s health care…and I think it needs some attention and some type of option for everyone is a dignified and humane endeavour. But the bill is [reportedly] over 1,000 pages long. I haven’t read it. You haven’t read it; [have you cover-to-cover?] Most of our politicians haven’t read it either. I have questions and concerns like anyone else. I don’t know if there will be ‘death panels’ or not.

But how people can so blindly abdicate their right of being ‘informed’ to one party’s claims on a document that they themselves haven’t read is remarkable. Whether or not you’ve carried a gun to a town hall meeting, bit the finger off an old man or not is beside the point. Though I don’t know what the long-term implications of foisting a socialized health care program on the US will be, I do however know from experience some of the ups and downs from socialized health care here.

Maybe the US will be smart enough to avoid the problems here. Maybe not. (In fact, judging by history, probably not.) I don’t know if the purported millions of illegal aliens residing in the US will have access or not. But there are questions to be asked in a dignified manner and judging by the track record of the NHS here, there ought to be sufficient pause. Some pause is good. Too much pause is procrastination. Something needs to happen...

Friday, 27 February 2009

In case you're still sweating the small stuff...a little perspective never hurts.

Life is far, far too short to quibble over the many differences we may have with one another as we travel from one moment to the next. The following pictures (admittedly, appropriated from an earlier email sent to me from a good friend) I think illustrates how infinitesimally small we really are in the universe. We truly are mere blips in existence. Make the most of your 'blip' and remember, don't sweat the small stuff.

(The Hubble's view of space...)

This is also worth musing over as you watch...
All the petty things that I have held onto over the years...what a complete waste of my time! In a cosmic-scheme of things, we are barely even 'here' to begin with. Stewing over differences with a co-worker, family member, spouse, child, or the dude in the SUV who just lane-changed without a turn really shouldn't be worth a moment of our ire. Not. A. Single. Second. Why not go through the rest of our lives, right now, starting this very moment, with love, kindness and laughter in our hearts and 'let go' of the silly and ineffectual trifles that do us no good today or after we are gone? In the end, after all is said and done, "the rest is silence."

Monday, 29 December 2008

What's wrong with Facebook and why I'm quitting it...

I don’t like Facebook anymore and I'm trying to quit it.

It seemed like the long overdue breath of fresh air…much-needed oxygen from the stifled and suffocated ‘Emo’ infested Myspace.

The unobtrusive white backgrounds and soothing ocean blue borders was a welcomed change from the cacophonous and eclectic individualism of ‘everyone is special’ [and I am reminded of Ayn Rand’s rejoinder “then no one is”] of Myspace.

First impressions were made, and I liked what I saw. I dipped my toe in the pool…and slowly waded in.

I’m now up to my neck in the deep end in this Orwellian swimming pool and I’m looking for a way out.

Facebook isn’t the devil. It’s no doubt enjoyed by a lot of people. So ‘what’ is Facebook? It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together. (Sorry Obi Wan).

Seriously though, Facebook has tremendous power…and it can change your life. But is it for the better?

Want to seem environmentally conscious? Join a Facebook environmental group.

Want to seem actively devout in your faith [any faith!]? Join a Facebook religious group.

In fact, you can join any group on Facebook on any issue…and, depending on your inclinations, reap the [hidden?] benefits of elevating your ‘profile’ among your fellow Facebook pals. In a matter of minutes I can transform myself from being a culturally insensitive irreligious ignoramus, into a deep thinking, caring, religiously devout socially cognizant world issue thinker. A simple click of the mouse and you can become part of an online community within Facebook who, for example, do not support the genocide in Darfur; or want to boycott the recent Chinese Olympics (*wink, *wink); or love the religion of Kabbalah with its kitsch bracelets; or hate the music of The Jonas Brothers, etc. One click…and that’s all you have to do. One click to give yourself a personality makeover. One click to take away your guilt.

For many people, Facebook has finally given the attention-starved an ontological reason to exist. If you like being adored...Facebook can and does help.

Another effect of this "Look at me! Look at me now!" online phenomenon is that Facebook has made voyeurism socially acceptable. When Jimmy Stewart sat in his wheelchair and, in boredom, started spying on his neighbors in Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’…we all recognized that as rude and intrusive [but we all watched with could any of us look away? We were all Jimmy in the wheelchair as far as I'm concerned.]

I don’t think I ever woke up one day and decided to be a nosey neighbor, (Ruth Gordon’s Oscar-winning turn as the quintessential neighbor-voyeur in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ also springs to mind)…and neither [I’d like to think] did my ‘friends’.

And yet, within months as the social net enmeshed one after another after another, I found myself suddenly interested in the lives of others. (Incidentally, go out and buy ‘The Lives of Others’…clearly one of the best foreign films made in years).

It’s not a one-way street either.

People I haven’t spoken to in over 10 years eventually found me…and, with an obedience born out of my own high school-era angst for acceptance, [a phase I thought I'd thoroughly outgrown in my adulthood] I always accepted. Always. (In my mind’s eye, I pictured a spiked-punch bowl chat at my High School reunion with a couple Facebookers where my name gets mentioned…not so nicely…well, it shouldn’t matter to me…but it unfortunately did.)

Colleagues, co-workers, cousins, old missionary companions, people from my college days, a step-parent’s new wife, friends of friends, sisters-in-law, someone I met in a pub in London once, you name it…I added them.


I’ll admit it right here. I was curious. (And maybe, just maybe, you were too.) How did people turn out? What is everyone doing with his or her lives? Anyone a college dropout? Straight? Gay? Left our faith? What’s your politics? Liberal leftist? Conservative righty? Your photos? Gain any weight? Lose some hair? Is that a beer in your hand? Your kids are cute.

Slowly, imperceptibly, I became Ruth Gordon!

Well, I’m not proud of it. In fact, I’m ashamed.

The remedy?

Clean out my ‘friends’ on Facebook.

A few months ago, I dumped over 150 in one fell swoop. I thought it was pointless to have people on my account that I had long since lost any interest in years ago. I assumed that feeling was mutual; I still do. I also deleted a few spouses of ‘friends’ since I thought: Well, I’m ‘friends’ with one half of the couple, so there’s an established communication link if I must be contacted.

And guess what happened?

I deeply offended several people. Many took my ‘rejection’ of them personally. Feelings got hurt. Guiltily, I re-added many of them back (including a few, who in my haste, I had erroneously deleted). And that’s just the ones who asked to be re-added.

This reminded me of [yet another film] Al Pacino in ‘The Godfather III’ (in perhaps the only scene anyone remembers): just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in!

But my concerns about the social challenges of trying to placate a few hundred ‘friends’ are of minimal concern when weighed against the intrusiveness of what Facebook offers the world wide web.

Google my name on ‘images’ menu (“Joe Curdy”). Go on. Try it. What do you see? Well…you get to see, without my control, a list of several of my ‘friends’ (17 at my last count) on the Google search engine. This essentially alerts the world that I’m on Facebook and more surprisingly also informs you of several of my ‘friends’ who have me added on their Facebook profiles. It’s an unauthorized distribution of my online existence outside of the confines of the Facebook profile search engine…and conversely it is also an unauthorized distribution of the names of my Facebook ‘friends’.

Now I have nothing to hide. I’m sure there’s a file on me somewhere. But with all of Facebook’s privacy control features…it has fundamentally failed to keep my participation on their site my business. I have no control over that.

My life is interesting – to me, (most of the time.) I like the occasional pat on the back, a high-five or kudos for my opinions. But I’m no zeitgeist. Mark Twain nailed it I think when he observed

“I am persuaded that a coldly-thought-out and independent verdict upon a fashion in clothes, or manners, or literature, or politics, or religion, or any other matter that is projected into the field of our notice and interest, is a most rare thing--if it has indeed ever existed.”

Twain’s sarcasm is instructive to me. (And, no, the irony of his words appropriated into my blog isn’t lost on me.) Opinions are a wonderful thing. And while Facebook engenders their breeding, too many times I have been tempted to focus on the differences and opinions I have with very good friends. Some of those opinions have, shamefully I must admit, caused me to make judgments (privately) about my friends. Perhaps we all do it. But I don’t want to focus on them anymore. I’m not a Daniel Plainview.

And I don’t expect anyone to be more interested in the minutiae of my day-to-day affairs than I am in theirs. It’s nice you made snow angels with your dog Fluffy today, did a McDonald’s run, found yourself bored at work, or you’re sleepy after your weekend. Facebook is full of Bromides…and I’m one of them.

I’m getting very tired of trying to appear interesting, hip, witty, and accomplished. Basically, I don’t think Facebook helped me become a better person…it’s probably made me more insecure than anything else. I suddenly feel very responsible for carefully managing my online persona…and I volunteered for this!

Facebook was an interesting ride. (I'll always be a little proud of my Zombie Global rank: number 135 out of over a million worldwide ranks!) At times funny, at other times a very rewarding reunion with old friends. It's also been an occasional place to embrace your inner-idiot. Poke me? Poke you! (I'm still not sure what that's all about.)

Perhaps I’ve just outgrown it now because it seems a bit unnecessary. Email. There was never anything wrong with email. I have control over email. And email helps me divide my friends from my Facebook ‘friends.’ A very good friend once suggested your true friends will actually take the time to write you a letter. I think he was probably right. In this busy world we live in, perhaps that’s the barometer of true friendship: taking the time to send an email message now and then. Or call me. There are still better, more meaningful modes of communication...

Email me:

Shouldn't someone introduce sub-categories with Facebook? Friends-book; Acquaintance-book; Jerk-book; Relatives-book; Colleagues-book, etc. This would effectively delineate between our Facebook 'friends' don't you think?
I particularly enjoyed this tidbit from the article:
"Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young pLink
eople more self-centred."