Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mick McKellar Update — Day +1464

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. — Carl Sagan

Orson Scott Card wrote a passage in Ender's Game which uplifted me and frightened me half to death. Ender Wiggin said: “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them.... I destroy them.

Enter Facebook

Not just Facebook, but all social media touch us, in unrelenting floods, nearly every waking minute of every day. No, I don't spend all day with my face buried in Facebook. I quit using Twitter two weeks after I first tried it, and have basically left other recent entries alone — or barely sampled them. I still use email, but my friends who use email, use it in much the same fashion as I used traditional post when email was the social media of choice.

Television remains an active feature of my every day, but in proportionally smaller amounts with each passing year. I watch the evening news (local and national) and scan our local newspaper. I like the comics.

In this daily laboratory, I examined my personal experience of social media, and truly began to sense the true genius behind two of Card's characters: Peter and Valentine Wiggin — Ender's brother and sister. Peter is brilliant and violent. Valentine is brilliant and loving, but they become media personalities in direct contradiction to their own characteristics. Valentine becomes Demosthenes, a war-mongering hawk, who urges war between cultures and countries to resolve differences. Peter becomes Locke, who promotes diplomacy and compromise to settle differences. They are brilliant and gather followers, becoming media superstars.

The tragic power of their public contest, is that the dominant Peter is directing the whole morality play, leading people by their hates and prejudices to make him a leader and do exactly what he wants. His manipulations lead to terrible consequences. Both are children, but on the Internet...

Written in 1985, Card's vision brings to light some uncomfortable truths about today's social media and the willingness of loyal readers to follow, almost without thought, the lead of their favorite media celebrities. All of this happens without healthy skepticism, rational consideration of consequences, or ever questioning facts and sources.

Testing, Testing...

When this thought touched my mind, I began to delve deeper into the comments attached to some of the more virulent memes that populate my Facebook feed and ancillary feeds to which those connect. It seems most folks have their privacy settings set to "Public." My preliminary findings so shocked me, that I began responding — usually by posting corrections of some of the most inaccurate quotations I have ever seen, and by exercising my editing skills (just a tad) and posting corrections to basic grammar and language mistakes. I even experimented with asking a few pointed questions about the logic and facts in posted comments and arguments.

The backlash was immediate, and occasionally rude and personal. Violence was indirectly suggested a few times. So I retreated to silent observation and the occasional grammar Nazi exercise. Just can't help myself, I guess.

It did give me pause to consider the sources of these postings, usually leading to online publications dedicated to some political or ideological cause, complete with scandalous and shocking headlines that strained the truth of the facts nearly to the breaking point. It seemed that no aspect of human concerns was immune to such treatment.

There is a war underway, a war for our minds and our hearts. It is not a war of two armies, or three armies, or five armies. It is a war of many armies and it seems our safety has been preserved only because there are so many combatants, none can gain complete traction. This however, appears to be changing. Consolidations occurs, some groups are meeting with success, and recruitment is underway.

It haunts my dreams.

In the book, Ender's Game, Ender Wiggin is fighting an implacable foe who has superior numbers and a technological edge. However, because he understands his enemy, he defeats them. He also comes to understand and to love them, spending the rest of his life (and several more books) trying to make amends.

His enemy become his loved ones. His loved ones become his enemy.

Larger Than Life

Why write all of this now? Partially, I wanted to put my fears and concerns into words. However, the trigger for me was the fall of TV anchor, Brian Williams. Why would a competent, talented reporter seek to embellish his backstory?

Perhaps we all feel we can get away with such blatant falsification of facts because, in all the dust stirred up by muckrakers and blowhards, no one will ever see the reality of the gratuitous, grand image, the lack of threads in the emperor's new clothes. Perhaps there is simply a need to grab a greater share of the limelight and garner a bigger stage for one's soliloquy. Whatever the reason, it saddens me to lose faith in yet another human who bartered truth for celebrity. We call them anchors for a reason, and now another ship is drifting free.

Oh, Yeah! The Update.

Today is day 1,464 since my transplant, and I am doing well. I grow tired of the cold weather, the snow, and the constant fear of close proximity to living petri dishes. I pray every day for better weather, and an early end to our endless winter.

Good day, and God bless,


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1450

Why Every Curmudgeon Should Have a Dog

Today is the 1,450th day since my blood and marrow transplant. There is nothing particularly splendid about the number 1,450 except, perhaps, that it is a nice round number and rather close to 1,500 — still 50 days away. I was expounding upon this pedestrian mile marker to my hapless companion for the evening. Dante is four years old and seems rather unimpressed by most of my ramblings — normal for any canine, I guess.

Digression: I was painfully shy as a child, and decided at the tender age of 5 or 6 years to climb out of my shell and insert myself into the world of the adults around me. At first, they found my efforts humorous, even precocious. Soon, the novelty wore off, and I began to notice phrases like “shut up” and “smart ass” peppering conversation around me. My brothers and sister avoided the near occasion of my presence and my few friends found reasons to be elsewhere whenever I began to expound my juvenile wisdom. Little wonder, I joined the high school debate team as a freshman.

OK, I’m Back: One tends to retain such habits, and I still like to hear myself talk. This may explain many of Marian’s sudden naps. I thought my solution had arrived two years ago with Dante, a cheerful and sometimes noisy American Eskimo dog. He and I hit it off immediately, especially since I like to walk (when my condition allows it) and he just adores walking — even at the snail’s pace I maintain. I liked the time spent walking, because I was also talking — about every topic that has ever interested me. I figured it did not matter, as he understood only certain words, such as Dante, food, treat, walk, and “NO!”

Winter necessitates time spent indoors, so my soliloquies often take place when I’m cooking or washing dishes, etc. He likes his rug near the back door (also near the sink) and patiently lays there watching me as I prattle on.

Fast forward to tonight, and I am once again at the sink, talking up a storm. The blustering was reaching maximum intensity when my fuzzy, white companion stood up, gave me what can only be described as an exasperated grimace (not easy with a face full of fur), and stalked from the kitchen. Annoyed at losing my audience, I followed him into the living room, where I found him quietly contemplating his favorite tennis ball.

"Dante! What's this all about? What'd I say to cheese you off?" I quietly inquired. He stood up, shambled over to me, and sat on my left foot. He stared at me until I petted him. Then he shambled on back to his tennis ball and settled back down with a sigh.

I'd been placated and dismissed, so I finished my chores in silence...until I heard the tennis ball bounce on the floor behind me. Dante was back, ready to listen to more droning or just quietly watch.

It's good to have someone who just listens without judging... Well, mostly...