American Rhetoric: Let’s Place A Ban…on Talk of Banning

Sheryl Sandberg wants to "lean in" and ban the word "bossy."

Sheryl Sandberg wants to “lean in” and ban the word “bossy.”

“The power of a word lies not so much in its mere utterance, but in the CONTEXT in which it is given utterance, and how it is received by those hearing it.”
-The Cybersattva

     There are times when the national discourse takes a turn that causes me a fair amount of concern, and this is one of those times. This past week, Facebook COO and author of the women’s empowerment tome, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” Sheryl Sandberg, launched a campaign via her book’s namesake “Lean In” organisation, in cooperation with Girl Scouts USA. The campaign’s goal? Ban the word “bossy.”

     According to Sandberg, the schoolyard term and “gender-specific insult” has been used to deter young girls from having the highest of aspirations, and therefore impairing their ability and willingness to succeed upon entering adulthood. Her effort to counter this long-suffered problem has been mapped out and presented via the “banbossy” website, and “#banbossy” hashtags have been cropping up all over the interwebz.

     I wish I knew exactly what Sandberg means when she says that the word should be “banned.” Is she suggesting a change in the language that school-aged children are allowed to use in an educational setting, or the complete disuse and disavowing of the word by society on the whole?

     At this point in the story, I’d like to state that I am very pro-woman. I honestly believe that the “fairer sex” has been getting a bad rap, ever since that whole “Eve and the apple” bit. Even now, women are still being denied an equal share of the wage and advancement opportunities in this country, and something definitely needs to be done about it. I am not confident, however, that the banning of a word or words, is quite the answer that the question requires.

     When we talk of “banning” words, I fear that this may be the first few inches on a steep and slippery slope. Those of us who have kept a weather eye on humanity’s past, know full well that things like this have happened before, and have led to some very dark places. Thought police. Book burnings. The control and limitation of free, unfettered speech. (I’ve been chided for connecting Mrs. Sandberg’s suggested ban with these concepts already, however upon further examination through the prism of history, I feel my concerns remain valid. I’ll expand on this in a bit, but let’s continue…)

     In my own, not-so-humble opinion, we should be discussing context instead. This goes back to my earlier piece on “What Makes Bad Words Bad.” When we say that someone is acting or being “bossy,” what do we mean? If someone is being proactive and assertive, while also taking others’ thoughts, opinions and feelings into consideration, then no, the word “bossy” should not be used to discourage or denigrate them. On the other hand, if someone is simply issuing orders or attempting to “throw their weight around” inconsiderately, then yes, they’re being bossy, and should be called out for it.

     I also have an issue with Sandberg’s “pigeon-holing” of the word “bossy” as a gender-specific insult. Of course, it can certainly be utilised as such, just as much as a kitchen knife can be used as a street weapon. And of course, neither should be acceptable. Just because a word or a kitchen knife can be used as those things, however, does not make them those things ipso facto.

     Instead of all this talk of “banning” words, perhaps it’s time to talk about redefining them. Perhaps we should be discussing how we employ our words, when we employ them, who we employ them with regard to, and how they might be received. At any rate, we as a society should be having this dialogue, instead of simply suggesting that we “ban” something that we don’t necessarily like, regardless of context.

______________________________

“Pleased to meet you,
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah.
But what’s puzzling you,
Is the nature of my game.”
– Rolling Stones, “Sympathy For The Devil” c1968.

     What’s puzzling me with regard to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook, and her foundation’s connections, goes right to the heart of my concerns over her suggestion of banning words. Since Facebook went public, it appears that the site has begun a slow transformation from social networking, to social engineering. Case in point, Facebook has started penalising its users for sending “friend requests” to people on the site that users do not know personally:

social_networking

     In addition to this, “The Baffler’s” Susan Faludi revealed in an article penned last year, that Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” organisation has connections to a number of “Platform Partners” with equal opportunity histories that are, shall we say…”impeachable”? The following is an excerpt from the Faludi / Baffler piece from 2013:

“Lean In Platform Partners Mondelez and Nestlé: In 2013, an Oxfam investigation in four countries where the two companies outsourced their cocoa farms found that the women working in the cocoa fields and processing plants that the companies relied on “suffer substantial discrimination and inequality.” When women at a cocoa processing factory demanded equal treatment and pay, the investigation noted, all of the female workers were fired. The same companies that “put women first in their advertisements,” Oxfam concluded, “are doing very little to address poor conditions faced by the women who grow cocoa.””

     So, my question is, what exactly is Sheryl Sandberg playing at? What is the “nature of her game”? Why is it that she talks about banning words and limiting the national dialogue, under the guise of women’s empowerment, while at the very same time, “holding hands with the devil”? Why is her company, Facebook, actively impeding users from advancing this same dialogue, through the process of free and open social networking?

     Something is fishy in Denmark, my fine young readers. We as netizens now require our own bit of “empowerment,” to be able to glean the answers that Susan Faludi was unable to glean.

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The Cybersphere: Facebook Likes The IRS

zuckerberg_1m_bill     As a Facebooker, my eye is caught whenever a news article pops up with regards to my favorite social networking haunt. What can I say? I love Facebook! It helps me keep in touch with people that I haven’t seen face-to-face in over 20 years, provides me with occasional fodder for the blog, and gives me an outlet for spreading good (or bad) news, increasing my readership, or simply venting my frustrations on a particular topic. In return, the nice peeps at Facebook have given me several interactive features with which to do these things. Having a Facebook account is tantamount to having my own website, replete with mail, chat, picture and video sharing, a bulletin board and search capabilities to find long-lost friends and acquaintances…all for free. As Facebook has stated on its sign-up / login screen since its inception; “It’s free and always will be.”

     Since its February, 2004 beginnings, Facebook has decimated then-popular “Myspace”. (There’s a joke making the rounds in the “Face-space”, that if you go far enough back on your Facebook timeline, you’ll end up back on Myspace!) In 2012, Facebook went public with an IPO negotiated at $38 per share. Since their rocky start on the market, the company has thrived. Now, Facebook is reaping some very surprising rewards.

     According to a recent Fox News article, Facebook raked in over 1 billion dollars in profits in the 2012 tax year, on which it will pay…zero dollars in federal and / or state taxes. That’s right, my fine young readers. Facebook is effectively tax-exempt for tax year 2012! What makes this story even sweeter for Zuckerberg, et. al. is the fact that they (the company) will be receiving refunds totaling $429 million, and in the next three years, totaling $3 billion. (1) (I would kill to be getting that large of a tax refund!) If the Internal Revenue Service has a Facebook page, you can bet that Mr. Zuckerberg is clicking their “like” button repeatedly.

     [SOAPBOX=ON] Which brings me to the point of this piece; since Facebook has come out smelling better than ten dozen of the finest roses on God’s green earth, what do we, the faithful Facebooking multitude, get as a reward? In my way of thinking, Facebook wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for its users. Now, I’m not suggesting that Mr. Zuckerberg start writing checks to each user, but that some increase in consideration for user input and suggestions might be nice. For example:

  • How about adding a “Dislike”, or a “Thumbs Down” button? There are indeed some posts that friends have made that would have occasioned the use of this proposed button, like the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or other social issues. In addition, bad jokes, smack talk and other ill favored posts could fall under this category. Then, similar to You Tube, the average between “likes” and “dislikes” could also be displayed.
  • How about making the Timeline an option? I have several friends who absolutely hate the new Timeline format, and would rather have their old pages back.
  • How about an option to turn all game invites off? There are those of us who don’t care about “Superfarkles”, “Cityvilles”, “Farmvilles”, “PotFarms” and such, and use our Facebook accounts for other, more straight forward things like social networking, chatting and things of that nature. We don’t want to be bothered with the incessant game invites. (My aunt actually cited this as one of the reasons that she was leaving Facebook.)
  • How about bringing back the option to send a quick message with friend invites? We could do this once upon a time, but that feature seems to have pissadeered!
  • How about getting rid of those advertisements and “suggested page” entries from my newsfeed? Keep the ads over on the right-hand side of the screen where they belong, si vous plait!
  • How about being a bit more responsive to user concerns about posts that blatantly violate the Facebook TOS? (I have personally brought three of these to their attention, with only one being removed. Things like hate speech definitely need better policing by the folks at Facebook.)

     In my humble opinion, things have in fact gotten better with Facebook overall, as time has gone by. There are however, those few things that I cited that need improvement, and I think they would be well worth the $429 million of free money that Facebook is receiving from the coffers of the American taxpayers.

Faith and Religion: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished…

They say a picture is worth 1k words; that means I'm giving you abut 58% here! :-)

They say a picture is worth 1k words; that means I’m giving you about 58% here! 🙂

     As an ever-increasing number of Christendom’s faithful begin to wonder just why it is, that an ever-increasing number of people are falling away from Christendom, yet another prime example has reared its horrid head. In St. Louis, Missouri, a faith-based snide comment has been penned, a receipt has been posted online, a waitress has been fired and a pastor has been outted…and the furor grows.

     A number of my fine, young readers know exactly to what and to whom I am referring. For those that don’t, her name is Pastor Alois Bell, of the Truth In The Word Deliverance Ministries, of Saint Louis. As the story goes, Pastor Bell was part of a large party dining at a local Applebee’s restaurant, with each person in the party paying a portion of the bill. When presented with her copy of the bill, Pastor Bell was evidently “overcome with a spirit”, and expressed this state of being in writing, on the receipt, with the following words;

“I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?” (1)

     Because there were a lot of people in the group, the receipt included an automatic gratuity (an “autograt”) of 18%, or as applied to Pastor Bell’s portion of this particular meal, $6.29. The gratuity amount was scratched out, and the additional gratuity line filled in with a nicely written “0”. It was even signed “Pastor Alois Bell”. Evidently, another server was somehow able to capture a copy of this receipt, and it was subsequently posted online. In the ensuing efforts to verify the veracity of the story and the progression of the posting into “viral” status, the pastor was informed of the receipt’s posting. She in turn, has contacted Applebee’s, which has resulted in the dismissal of the server. At the same time, the pastor has stated to various media outlets that she “used bad judgement”, but did in fact leave a tip on the table. (2) (Uh huh, as comedian Bill Cosby said in his 1963 “Noah” routine, “riiiight!”)

     Ladies and gentlemen, servers traditionally do not make that much in wages, and in today’s depressed economy, don’t take away that much in tips either. They do their best to eke out a meager existence in this “land of plenty”, often working two or three jobs in total just to make the ends meet and keep the bill collectors at bay. They are quite honesty, some of what the Bible refers to as “the least of these.” (Oh yes, my fine young readers, the Cybersattva is ’bout to pontificate up in this hizzy, because the “pastor” has it coming!) In Matthew 25:34 through 46, it states that; (3)

(34) “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
(35) For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
(36) Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
(37) Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
(38) When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
(39) Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
(40) And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
(41) Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
(42) For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
(43) I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
(44) Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
(45) Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
(46) And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

     I’m sure that pastor Bell knows what it’s like to be among the “down and outters”, at least she purports to. According to the ministry’s website, Alois Bell “..gave her life to Christ in 1997 while she was pregnant and homeless with her youngest son. She was living in a Catholic homeless (sic, shelter).” (4) One would think that, having come from this type of “hard-up” situation, getting a hand up and now being better off, a pastor would pass on what she has been blessed with; that she would “pay it forward”. Nope, not in this instance.

     Pastor Bell was further quoted in the Blaze article that I cited above, as having stated that “…although her comment may have been in poor taste, she and her ministry do good work in the community and “would never want to tarnish the light of Christianity.”” (“Tarnish the light of Christianity”? Hmm, I’d say that someone definitely has their hand on the dimmer knob!) If I’m not mistaken, the Bible also counsels against being boastful about your works and worship.

     It would therefore appear, at least on the face of things, that the “ten percent” that Pastor Alois Bell is giving her God (and Christendom) should be counted in grief, because she has definitely proffered at least eighteen percent of that upon her (now former / dismissed) Applebee’s server(s). For shame.

AUTHOR’S UPDATE:

     It does bear mentioning here, that the waitress did overstep her bounds in causing the receipt to be photographed, which then led to its subsequent posting by yet another waitress from what I gather. The fact remains however, that but for this pastor’s pithiness and actions, coupled with the fact that she is a pastor, this entire imbroglio would never have occurred. Cause and effect is a pain.

     As of today, 01 February, the ministry’s website has apparently been hacked. Pastor Bell’s bio has been removed, therefore the link for that citation in the article (source item 4) no longer displays the proper content.

More on this viral news item:

1) “Applebee’s fires waitress who posted receipt from pastor complaining about auto-tip” // Yahoo News

2) “Waitress Who Posted No-Tip Receipt From “Pastor” Customer Fired From Job” // The Consumerist

3) “Pastor Apologizes For Snide Remark On Meal Receipt” // The Smoking Gun

Faith and Religion: Of Faith and Friendship

It's all about PERSONAL accountability.

It’s all about PERSONAL accountability.

“Ain’t many guys travel around together,” he mused. “I don’t know why. Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”
(“Slim”, from the novel “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck.)

     Last night, I lost a friend. No, this friend didn’t pass on to the great beyond, (despite suffering from serious health issues) nor did I misplace them. Quite the contrary, this person dropped me as a friend, quicker than dropping a fire-heated stone. “Over what?” you might ask. The answer unfortunately, is religious perspective and how it relates to Friday’s tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut.

     You see, many people are still in a state of shock over the shooting, and that’s understandable. Out of that shock, many are starting to look for someone or something to place blame in / on. Some, including this friend of mine, are placing the blame on the declining role of religion in modern society. In an effort to express this assertion, she posted the following text graphic to her Facebook wall;

Blaming the "Godless society."

Blaming the “Godless society.”

     Immediately after she posted this, I responded with the following question; “”Godless society”? Are we really going there again?” No sooner had the screen refreshed a second time, then her post was gone…all of her posts were gone from the newsfeed. My friend…had “unfriended” me.

     At this point, please allow me to clarify a few things. First, this friend is someone that I’ve known for over twenty years, dating back to my time in high school. I always thought of her as being pretty level-headed and reasonable. Second, regarding the text graphic on the left, I agree with the assertion that if someone wants to commit harmful acts, they will find a means to do so which doesn’t necessarily involve firearms. But I digress…

     Immediately following the “unfriending”, I sent her e-mail, asking her “what gives?” A second message followed, in which I expressed the following sentiments;

“If I placed you in a position where you felt you had to choose between our friendship and your faith, and you chose your faith…I can’t fault you for that. I won’t lie and say I’m not hurt by this, but what ev.”

     She responded, accusing me of…let me reread the reply and make sure I get this right, “…bashing my Christianity.” I replied in turn, assuring her that it was not my intent to do so, and that I was simply positing an interrogative statement. I also stated that I supported her rights of free speech and religion, as guaranteed by our constitution. I wound the whole thing up with the following thought;

“If you want to burn bridges with everyone who disagrees with you, I can’t stop you. All I know is that if I did that, my world would become a very lonely place, wicked quick.”

     I apologised for having troubled her. I also posted to my own wall, a counter-assertion graphic, the same one presented at the top of this article. She in turn…blocked me.

“Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.”
(Luke 12:51, KJV)

     My immediate (gut) reaction was to blame Christianity, and religion on the whole for the loss of this friendship. The divisiveness of religion can most assuredly be a real pain in the arse, and has been since the advent of the institution. Then however, I started thinking. If I blame religion for this friend dumping me, then I am no better than those who blame society for the actions of one person. It would be yet another in a long litany of pots calling kettles black, wouldn’t it?

     As I’ve stated previously within the hundred-or-so entries here at The Cybersattva weblog, I have faith. I believe in God, Christ and the Trinity. I have faith that basic truths regarding the nature and purpose of our existence here on this ball of dirt, can be found in the Bible. I also believe in not foisting my faith off on others, favoring instead the freedom of each person to choose their own way in life. In addition, I believe that each person is, and should be held, accountable for their own actions and statements. As for Friday’s tragedy, I hold the shooter accountable, not some nebulous concept of a “Godless society”. Likewise, I’m hurt by my friend’s actions in dumping the friendship, simply due to her own beliefs and an overactive sense of persecution.  It saddens me, more than anything else, that so many people of faith these days insist on wearing the “victim here!” shirt. (Then again, the constant shaming and ridicule by some of the atheistic factions of society can’t be helping that situation either, can it?)

     What it boils down to is this; we’re all living in the same reality, the same society and the same timespace. We each must deal with the things that we are dealt in our own way, and we must be accountable as individuals for the ways in which we interact with the world around us, as well as those in it. They are our fellow travelers here on spaceship Earth.

“Be excellent to each other.”
(Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure)

Technology and Internet: BREAKING NEWS – What Is Google’s REAL Gameplan?

     News breaking from the Wall Street Journal today revealed that internet search giant Google has been secretly tracking smartphone and desktop users of Apple’s Safari internet browser.(1) This tracking was accomplished by a small piece of code, one that tricks the browser into allowing third-party tracking cookies that Safari normally blocks by default. As a result of the Google “workaround,” a number of other advertising companies have also used this method to track users, including Vibrant Media Inc., WPP PLC’s Media Innovation Group LLC and Gannett Co.’s PointRoll Inc.(2)

     In a statement to media earlier today, Google responded with the following;

    “Unlike other major browsers, Apple’s Safari browser blocks third-party cookies by default. However, Safari enables many web features for its users that rely on third parties and third-party cookies, such as [Facebook’s] ‘Like’ buttons.

“Last year, we began using this functionality to enable features for signed-in Google users on Safari who had opted to see personalised ads and other content – such as the ability to ‘+1’ [the equivalent of Facebook’s ‘Like’ for Google’s new Google+ social network] things that interest them.

“To enable these features, we created a temporary communication link between Safari browsers and Google’s servers, so that we could ascertain whether Safari users were also signed into Google, and had opted for this type of personalisation.

“But we designed this so that the information passing between the user’s Safari browser and Google’s servers was anonymous – effectively creating a barrier between their personal information and the web content they browse.

“However, the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser [by other advertising companies using the DoubleClick network]. We didn’t anticipate that this would happen, and we have now started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers. It’s important to stress that, just as on other browsers, these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.”

“Users of Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome were not affected. Nor were users of any browser (including Safari) who have opted out of our interest-based advertising program using Google’s Ads Preferences Manager.”(3)

     [SOAPBOX=ON] This has got to be the one of the most troublesome news items to ever hit the internet in the past year. Google, the same company that will soon be compiling and integrating its accounts and privacy policies from the many Google-held internet websites, such as You Tube and Google +(4), the same Google that just received the go-ahead to buy smartphone manufacturer Motorola Mobility(5), just got caught doing something that users thought that it could not do, and by buying Apple and using Safari, implicitly did not want it to do.

     The implications of this are far-reaching. If Google is capable of engaging in shady shenanigans such as this, how many other such shenanigans are they really currently pulling? Think about it. How many of us have our browsers set to use the Google search engine by default? How many of us have Google’s toolbar? (I was one of these users until recently, electing to strip away as many added extras as I could, just in case something like this actually happened!) How many users have Google’s Chrome browser installed? How many of us enjoy the feature-packed offerings of “Google Earth” and “Picasa”? How many of us have recently climbed on the Google + bandwagon?

     At this point, one has to ask themselves if they are ready to surrender what remains of their internet anonymity. Ladies and gentlemen, since its inception in 1998, Google has become almost “God-like” in its omni-presence on the internet. With the purchase of Motorola’s Mobility business, it has more firmly leveraged itself in the mobile / cloud computing arena as well. I would encourage each and every one of you to ask this question of your state and federal representatives and senators; what is Google’s real gameplan, and where is the accountability?

Threat To The Internet: Please Share A Hoax

For every "share," 1 point will be added to the ripeness scale.

     As more and more people find their way onto sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the inherent vulnerabilities of the “human condition” are carried onto these networks as well. My fine young readers, what I will be explaining to you in this article is something that has been happening since the early days of electronic mail, and even earlier in the form of faxes and mass-mailings. In our current day and age, it’s called the “share hoax.”

     Please allow me to first explain the reason behind writing this most important of articles; I’m concerned. I’m troubled by the implications to the very websites that we rely on to stay in touch with our friends around the world. It’s not that I’m angry with the people who are unwittingly creating these vulnerabilities…I’m not. I just wish that more people would pay a bit of attention to what they are doing online, instead of simply engaging in emotional, “knee-jerk” reactions. But I digress, on to the “meat and potatoes” of the matter.

     Earlier today, I noticed a picture appear in my Facebook “news feed.” The picture, one of a scarred and abused puppy, was accompanied by a message that for every “share” of the picture, a dollar would be donated by the Humane Society to pay for this poor puppy’s care. Now, I tend to be a more logical than emotional thinker, so this immediately set off my “BS alert.” Aside from already knowing that the Humane Society does not do things like this through Facebook, I decided to do a bit of “on-the-fly” datamining. I popped open another browser tab, and googled the term “a dollar donated humane society,” looking for any Snopes articles in the results. Sure enough!(1)

     This is just the latest permutation of the share hoax. Others have included stories such as that of the fictitious “Amy Bruce,” a 7-year-old dying of lung cancer,(2) and another of a baby dying of facial cancer.(3) In each of these cases, the accompanying text states that some charitable entity will donate a specific sum for every share of the picture.

     Ladies and gentlemen, these hoaxes are specifically designed to play on the emotions of the user. The perpetrators behind these hoaxes, either instinctively or logically, know that the best way to get you to do something that they want you to do, is to give those ol’ heartstrings a tug. In addition to this, these hoaxes also take advantage of the user’s unawareness of how the charities or businesses mentioned actually work.

     “And don’t just follow your heart, man; ’cause your heart can be deceived. But you gotta lead your heart.”
(from the 2008 film, “Fireproof.”)

     Now, I’m not saying that emotion and compassion are bad things. Actually, the world could do with a lot more compassion! What I’m saying is that people need to pay a bit more attention and be a little more cautious, especially when they’re online. Don’t just take the ability to share that photo or link for granted, because you may just be unwittingly helping to take down the very website you’re using!

     Internet hacker group Anonymous has been successful in breaching sites belonging to federal agencies, law enforcement unions and other public and private concerns. In January of this year, a video surfaced on the internet in which the creator, claiming to represent Anonymous, stated that the group would seek to shut down Facebook.(4) One has to ask themselves, how Anonymous would be capable of doing this. As any good tactician will tell you, before mounting any kind of active attack on a target, the would-be attacker first engages in passive measures designed to figure out the target’s weaknesses.

     If I were a hacker bent on taking down Facebook, I would definitely use human vulnerabilities to help me do it. Why work hard, when you can work smart, while using others to further your objectives? How would I put this plan into action? I would use a “share hoax” to track how “ripe” a network is for the spread of a more malicious piece of code. If several thousand people are “wearing their heart on their Facebook wall,” I now know that I can attach a tiny bit of virus code to a picture or link of a poor puppy or baby, state that it / he / she is suffering, and tug on the user’s heartstrings to get them to spread it around for me. From that point, success is pretty much fait accompli.

     What I’m getting at here, is for the users of online services such as Facebook and others, to be a bit more prudent in their use of these services. Right now, Facebook is free. If Zuckerberg, et. al. have to start taking drastic measures to ensure that their sites stay up and protected from these attacks however, then look for that to change, and rightly so.

LGBT Issues: The Precursors of Hate, Deconstructed

     (It should be noted that since this article was published, Shima Uma’s actual age range was narrowed down to the mid-40’s. An appropriate update was added to the tail of the article.)

     Long before I started this weblog, I made the conscious decision not to use it to falsely attack or defame any single person. Defamation is one of those things that I tend to take very seriously; not only due to the legal ramifications, but also because I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, unless they’re a public figure that has said or done something so against the grain that it has already been vetted out in the mainstream media. Then again, calling someone out who is not a public figure, over publicly posted statements on a publicly viewable Facebook page is another matter entirely…

     I’m going to break with my rule regarding a focus on private citizens, and I’m doing this for a good reason; to expose the mindset behind the issue of bullying and intolerance where LGBT youth are concerned. The person whose comments I will be exposing, parsing and refuting here is a Facebook user named “Shima Uma.” Since there are several Shima Umas listed on Facebook, some degree of anonymity will be maintained. In addition to this, in an unusual step for The Cybersattva weblog, I will be posting the actual screenshots of this user’s comments so that everyone who reads this article will know that I am not simply making any of this up. (I will also be using linked text source citations, as opposed to the customary superscript notations.)

     The important thing to keep in mind here is the differentiation between out-and-out “Homophobia” and simple, uninformed youthful ignorance. Shima Uma fits into the category of the latter, being a young (possibly even high-school aged) female. A quick perusal of her Facebook page reveals a conservative bent on issues. Within the past day, she has posted several comments to the Support Viki Knox page on Facebook. Let’s begin by observing what she has to say regarding the LGBT community on the whole;

Simplified: LGBT people are “warped.”

     From the point of view of the “traditionalist” or conservative crowd, there’s just something “not right” about LGBT people, something that the former does not understand about the latter. It has been my observation (and experience, I still remember what it was like to be young!) that youth tend to be far more reactionary than rational, given to basal instincts and behavior(s). Fear of the unknown is a basal instinct, one that has played a significant role in the survival of humans throughout our time on this “big blue marble.” As a response to this fear, we have developed the “fight or flight” reaction. If we think we have a strong advantage over that which we fear, we attack it. If we doubt the advantage, we flee. Since words and ideas are easier to fight with, verbal and typographical attacks become the default reaction in this case. For the uninformed, the only way to possibly overcome this fear / attack cycle is through information and enlightenment.

You gotta be cruel to be kind?

     Shima posted these words from her perspective; that others who were angered by what she was positing on the page were posting things about her, that she was “telling the truth” and that since she wasn’t about to be “hurt by their meanness,” she blocked the respondant(s). In fact, the same can be said about her initial statements; that she was posting things about people and a concept that she was attacking, even in the face of these people (the LGBT community) being truthful, and that these people could be quite hurt by her meanness.

     Now let’s look at some of the “truths” that she posits:

Thank God, we've found a cure!

     Having googled this, I found several conservative websites that posit this misconception, including WND (formerly WorldNet Daily) and Hobbs Ministries. Again, this is a case of willful ignorance being propagated to the uninformed youth. While it is true that abstinence may slow the spread of many STDs including HIV, it is not a “cure” per se, since a cure would also be applicable to those already infected with the virus. Also, there are several other vectors for transmission of STDs other than intercourse, including blood transfusion, intravenous drug use and incidental blood-blood contact (e.g., a “good samaritan” in the same vehicle accident as a poz person assists that person without either knowing that the poz person is in fact poz, by whatever means.) Oh, but don’t take my word as gospel folks, these facts can also be readily found online, in such places as the UK Coalition website.

     Shima also makes the assumption (something she holds as being “truth”) that all gay people are sexually active. This also, is not entirely accurate. She goes on in the same thread to explain the origins of the HIV virus…or more accurately, her misguided assumptions as to its origins;

A new version of the "Monkey Trial"?

     Let’s get this straight. According to our resident “expert” (keeping in mind that an “ex” is a has-been, and a “spurt” is a drip under pressure!) Shima Uma, HIV happened because a man had intercourse with a monkey, and that’s a “fact.” (Pardon me at this point, fine young readers, while I snee…..ah…ah….BULLSH**! Sorry, I’m just highly allergic to bullsh**.) Given the behavior of simians in the wild, I find this extremely unlikely, and so do several established authorities in such fields as Anthropology and Epidemiology. The leading theory (and it’s all “best guess,” since we weren’t there to witness the event!) is that the practice of “Bushmeat hunting” caused the transmission of the SIV virus between simians and man, at which point SIV mutated into HIV. (HIV has been traced back to the SIV virus.) Applying the principle of “Occam’s Razor” (latin: lex parsimoniae) in this case seems not only prudent, but also feasible. As before, please do not take my word as gospel…instead see the correlating data here, and here.

     Also evident in the above thread is the degree of Shima Uma’s committment to her lie (yes, let’s call a spade a spade at this point!) in that she will go so far as to actively block those who disagree, thereby willfully disregarding any evidence that contradicts or debunks the lie. It is at this point, that true homophobia starts to emerge. Youthful ignorance crosses over into willful ignorance, which precludes the possibility of rational thought. As we all know from previous discussion on the topic, homophobia is an “extreme or irrational fear or aversion to homosexuals and / or homosexuality.”

     Being as Shima Uma is still young, I don’t blame her entirely for this saddening display of utter ignorance. I blame the people that are providing her examples. I blame her parents, her teachers and her role models. I blame the people who are providing the rhetoric and talking points that she’s drawing from, to form the opinions (not facts!) that she has formed. The thing to pity here, is that this young woman will quite likely go on to pass these misconceptions and prejudices on to the next generation.

     Update, 07 February: Prod someone enough, and they’ll let on a bit more as to who they are. It seems that Shima Uma is actually in her forties! (A forty-something female who is also a ComicCon fan and plays D&D?) Reading her posts since this article was published, it becomes even more evident that this person is entrenched in the mire of willful ignorance and discriminatory language where the LGBT community is concerned. Sadly, homophobia has claimed another victim.

LGBT Issues: Life Without Fear

My awesome friends, Mark and Bart

     While the Viki Knox case winds its way through the educational and legal systems in New Jersey, the debates still rage on the Support Viki Knox page at Facebook. Two opposing views are at play; support of Ms. Knox and opposition to homosexuality, and vice-versa. The expression of these views has taken on many forms, including picture posts, logical arguments and flat-out finger-pointing from both sides. Concepts of respect, tolerance and acceptance have been discussed, as well as fear and hate. The latter is what I want to expand on in this article, only because I think there’s a gross misunderstanding on the part of some as to what the exact issues are. The word we’re going to focus on, is “Homophobia.”

     Now, there are some in the “straight” camp that have gone so far as to deny the very existence of homophobia, such as one Enoch Glover III, who recently posted a reference to a video he recorded on the topic.(1) Mr. Glover’s video approaches the topic from what I would consider to be a severely uninformed / under-informed basis, completely discounting widely-accepted word definitions and etymologies. Indeed, this seems to be an underlying issue with many anti-LGBT arguments in the Facebook venue.

     Those who have read my weblog, know exactly where I stand on issues impacting the LGBT community. So, in an effort to clear up the misconceptions surrounding homophobia, I’ll start by clarifying the definition(s). In my opinion, any reasonable person with a modicum of intelligence will acknowledge the following definitions as being accurate.

     The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “homosexual” in the following manner:

     homosexual (\ˌhō-mə-ˈsek-sh(ə-)wəl, -ˈsek-shəl\) 1: of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward another of the same sex. 2: of, relating to, or involving sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex.(2)

     The word “homosexual” is derived from the root words “homo” and “sexual”:

     homo- (1) comb. form meaning “same, the same, equal, like,” before vowels hom-, from Gk. homos “one and the same,” also “belonging to two or more jointly,” from PIE *somos (cf. Skt. samah “even, the same,” Lith. similis “like,” Goth. sama “the same,” samana “together;” see same.(3) E.g.: “homophone,” “homonym.”)

     sexual- 1650s, “of or pertaining to the fact of being male or female,” from L.L. sexualis “relating to sex,” from L. sexus (see sex). Meaning “pertaining to copulation or generation” is from 1766; sexual intercourse attested by 1778; sexual orientation by 1967; sexual harassment by 1975. Sexual revolution attested by 1962.(4)

     Now, let’s examine the word “Phobia”:

     phobia (\ˈfō-bē-ə\) 1: an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation.(5) An extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something: “he had a phobia about being under water”; “a phobia of germs”; “a snake phobia”.(6) 1786, “fear, horror, aversion,” Mod.L., abstracted from compounds in -phobia, from Gk. -phobia (in widespread popular use with native words from c.1800), from phobos “fear,” originally “flight” (still the only sense in Homer), but it became the common word for “fear” via the notion of “panic, fright” (cf. phobein “put to flight, frighten”), from PIE base *bhegw- “to run” (cf. Lith. begu “to flee,” O.C.S. begu “flight,” bezati “to flee, run,” O.N. bekkr “a stream”). Psychological sense attested by 1895.(7)

     “Homophobia” therefore, can be defined as an extreme or irrational fear or aversion to homosexuals and / or homosexuality (or some aspect thereof). It is in this light that we all need to examine our statements, actions and responses. For those in the LGBT community and their supporters, I think that whenever we come up against someone or some statement that opposes homosexuality, we need to consider whether that person’s words or actions are borne from a genuinely rational approach, or if they exhibit an “extreme or irrational fear or aversion.” The words “homophobe,” “homophobic” and “homophobia” tend to get bandied about quite a bit whenever we come across opposing views. Even I am guilty of having engaged in this type of knee-jerk reaction from time to time.

     On the part of the straight community, a thorough inventory of motivations needs to take place at some point. Each person needs to ask themselves what it is exactly, that bothers them about the concept of homosexuality. Could their actions or statements be considered fearful or irrational by any reasonable person? A good indicator of fear and / or aversion is to examine (honestly) how your personal interactions with those in the LGBT community differ from those with straight people. If you notice a marked difference between the two, you might be homophobic! If you find yourself engaged in willful ignorance towards homosexuals or homosexuality, I would encourage you to examine the motivations behind the “I don’t want to know” mentality. Fear of the unknown, while being an understandable basic human reaction, can only be overcome by enlightenment.

     As for Enoch Glover III and those like him, I think it’s safe to say that their statements attest to a degree of homophobia, based upon their irrationality and blatant disregard for established facts. More’s the pity.

     Straight, not narrow!

The Cybersattva: Reflections on Creation

The Genesis Story:

(1)In the beginning, the writer created the weblog and the page. (2)The page was empty, a formless mass cloaked in blankness. And the hands of the writer were hovering over the mouse and the keyboard. (3)Then the writer said, “Let there be enlightenment!” and there was a vast amount of feverish typing. (4)And the writer saw that it was good.

     That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Enlightenment, and the sharing of knowledge through something of our own creation? Or is it much, much more…

     I personally believe in God. I really do. In fact, I also believe in the concept that we were created in his image. Since God is a triune being, (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,) so we are also triune beings! (Mind, Body and Spirit.) And, since God is a “creator God,” so we also possess within each of us, that “creative spark.”

     As writers, we in the “blogosphere” do a lot of typing, editing, proofreading and refining of our work, and I believe the same could be said for the way this entire physical existence was brought into being. You see, I also believe in “Intelligent Design,” in that God used the evolutionary process as the means to create all that we see and know today. Now, that’s not to say that God doesn’t have the power to also “snap his fingers” and make something happen, as I’m not about to put God in a box! No, quite the contrary. I believe that the evidence of this “divine finger-snap” can be seen in (what we conceive of as) the theory of “Hyper-inflation,” as posited by Professor Alan Guth at MIT.

     I think that authoring a blog…hell, any creative effort is our physical means, either consciously or subconsciously, of connecting with our maker on some level. It’s also a noble method of “paying it back, and paying it forward.” To make it truly count, I believe that each of us should also endeavour to use our creative skills in whatever form they take, to benefit others and enrich this wondrous creation that we exist as a part of.

     As for you, my fine young readers, I would encourage each and every one of you to find that “creative spark” within yourself, if you haven’t already done so. Connect with your divine inheritance, nurture it, and use it to become “creatively philanthropic.” If you want to see the miracle, then be the miracle! If you already have a gift, then again grow the gift and give of its fruits to others, while doing your level best to make sure the fruit is good.

     While you are doing all of this, never be afraid to ask questions. There is a plethora of sources for finding facts, figures and explanations out here. Use them wisely. Never simply look for facts that support your own conclusions, either. If the brunt of the info runs contrary to what you assumed to be true, then don’t be afraid to entertain other possibilities! Knowledge is a good thing, and even better if you can benefit others with it! The selfish hoarding of knowledge is wrong. It doesn’t help anyone, including those that hoard it. Again, the idea is in the giving.

     All of these thoughts are simply the “various musings of a cyber-seeker.” If there is wisdom to be found in these musings, then I honestly hope that each of you, my fine young readers finds some nourishment in these fruits, because I love each and every one of you, as I believe that God does also!

American Rhetoric: Pouring The SOPA Down The Dispose-All

The web fights back

     First and foremost, I need to apologise to you, my fine young readers, for not blogging in some time. There have been several life issues that needed addressing before my time could once again, be devoted to the process of article creation. Those issues having been tackled, we can now dive headlong into the news of the day. Today’s news; SOPA.

     Beginning some hours ago, several sites on the worldwide web began a concerted “blackout,” albeit one of varying degrees, depending on the website. For instance, the English-language Wikipedia is entirely down for twenty-four hours, its main page having been replaced with a single black and white page addressing SOPA. Google has covered their masthead with a black rectangle. Reddit is down for twelve hours, and this very same blogging site, WordPress, has placed “censored” over all of the “Freshly Pressed” article summaries on its main page. (I am absolutely brimming with pride and satisfaction that WordPress has taken a stand!)

     Immediately before the new year began, I wrote a letter to my district’s congressman, Dennis Cardoza, (D-CA) outlining my opposition to SOPA and my desire that he vote against it;

     I am remitting this correspondence to you, honorable sir, to add my objections to the many amassed against SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, as presented and sponsored by U.S. Representative Lamar Smith, the honorable gentleman from Texas.

     I believe H.R. 3261 to be an ill-conceived effort by Rep. Smith to remedy an otherwise valid issue. H.R. 3261 as written, would in my honest opinion be a detriment to the internet; not only to internet commerce, but also to Free Speech as exercised in cyberspace by those of us who consider ourselves “netizens.”

     Several tech industry companies have voiced their opposition to this bill, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and eBay. (I believe that Microsoft’s opposition to the bill is of particular significance, being a major player in the software industry!) In other words, those that are “in the know,” know that H.R. 3261 is bad medicine. Even internet registrar GoDaddy has withdrawn their support of this flawed piece of legislation, because they know it was the right thing to do by the people.

     I urge you to vote against SOPA in the event that this bill comes to the floor for vote. In short, please do not “pour this bowl of SOPA down the throats of the citizenry.”

Respectfully,
J. Patrick Morgan
Author, The Cybersattva weblog.

     A few days ago, I received his official reply. (Normally, I don’t quote personal e-mail correspondence in the blog, however this is an official reply from a public official, so its fair use and a matter of public record:)

      Dear Mr. Morgan:

      Thank you for contacting my office regarding the Stop Online Piracy Act. I greatly appreciate your insight on this important issue.

      As you may already know, the Stop Online Piracy Act, H.R. 3261, was introduced by Representative Lamar Smith (D-TX) on October 26, 2011. The bill aims to create stronger methods to address online violations of intellectual property rights. In particular, the proposed bill allows the Attorney General of the United States and intellectual property rights holders to seek legal action against foreign internet sites committing or assisting with intellectual property rights violations. In addition, the bill would require domestic online service providers, upon receiving a court order, to carry out certain preventive measures against infringing sites.

     Please rest assured that I understand your concerns about the potential impact this bill could have on free speech and technological innovation. While I believe it is very important to protect intellectual property rights, we must not do so at the expense of our Constitutional rights. Should I have the opportunity to vote on this legislation in the House, I will be certain to keep your views in mind.

     To keep informed of the work I do on behalf of the people of the Central Valley, please visit my website at www.cardoza.house.gov and sign up for my newsletter. If I may be of any further assistance on this or any other matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

     Despite this being in the standard “politically ambiguous” language of a congressman, I gather that Cardoza still realizes to some degree, the impact that SOPA (and for that matter, its sister bill in the Senate, PIPA) would have on free speech. A few months back, GOP candidate Rick Santorum attempted to get Google to censor search results for his name. (I wrote this article detailing the escapade.) If SOPA passes and becomes law, Google and several other sites on the internet would fall victim to its use. These sites know this, hence what we’re bearing witness to today.