Boss Man…

A short but true story…

In 2005, my baby brother, Mark, moved to Alabama with his son.  Mark was determined to raise his son on his own and make a living with his hands and his wits.  How he ended up in Phenix, AL is a much longer story.

Mark eventually found work at a metal fabrication shop as a welder.  He quickly made friends with his co-workers (who were exclusively black), as well as his supervisors (who were exclusively white).

Everybody loved Mark.  It was his special super power. He was also as big as a grizzly bear.  Nobody screwed with him.

For three years, Mark squeaked by on $10/hour, supplementing his income as the manager of his trailer park.  He collected a menagerie of unwanted or wounded dogs and cats.  Mark simply could not say “no” to the vulnerable fuzzy things of the world.  Unfortunately, buying food for everyone put his accounts in the red every month.

My wife, Melissa, would make sure that well-timed money, clothing and food arrived.   I called the local Piggly Wiggly and became friendly with the manager.  I opened an account there and put money in it.

However, Mark was proud.  He really wanted to be independent.  He hinted to his boss that he needed a raise and access to the company healthcare plan.  At that point, Mark had developed a very large hernia that protruded from his belly button, and he clearly needed surgery.

Eventually, Mark’s boss came to him.

Boss Man: “We really like you here.”
Mark: “Thanks. I like it, too.  Plus, it’s nice to be able to buy food!”
[laughter]
Boss Man: “You know, I know you’re not from here, but I think you need to know that, if you want to move up, you can’t be having lunch with them anymore[pointing to Mark’s black co-workers].”
Mark: “Thanks for letting me know.”

Mark went to one of his black co-workers and told him what just transpired.  The co-worker shrugged, and said, “That’s how things work here.  I won’t take it personally.  You’d be a good boss.”

Before Mark went home that night, he stopped at Walmart and picked up a year’s supply of brown bags.

Mark never stopped eating with his co-workers.  He was never promoted.  He never received a raise.  Mark’s hernia remained untreated.

After a few years, the same co-worker in whom Mark confided said, “I’m sorry.  I guess you just a n*****r like us.”  Mark shrugged and said, “It’s fine with me.”

They went back to work in the fumes and the sweat.

And Mark’s loving soul remained intact.  When I buried him in April, he still had the hernia.

STP

P.S.  This is the soundtrack of my grief for Mark.  He was a better person than I was…in every way that mattered.

My baby brother, Mark, and I before the R40 concert at Auburn Hills. Chemo and radiation started two weeks later.

 

 

Tommy Love…

Sometimes, the world spins exactly right.

My favorite breakfast/lunch spot is First Watch.  I love the people there–without exception, they are hard-working, kind and wonderful human beings.

One of my fellow regulars is a boy I will call “Tommy”.  Tommy is almost 30 years old and has autism; however, his experience with it is different.  He has no filter.  Anything that pops into his mind comes out and at a high volume.  Tommy is pure and unfiltered.  Also, he is FILLED with love for people.  Tommy is especially loving toward children and will give them hugs and call them by their names and say repeatedly “I love you”.

Now, I do not claim to know anything about autism.  Tommy is forthright about announcing “I have severe autism” and “I am afraid to swim”.  His father and his caretakers accompany him and are good folks.  They indulge Tommy–it is impossible NOT to love this kid.  I, candidly, did not know that autism could manifest itself this way.  I can’t say I really know what his disability is all about, and, in a very real way, it simply doesn’t matter to me or the people working in the restaurant.

There are some older people who complain about Tommy to the manager.  Sometimes, I overhear their complaints.  The general nature of their concerns are (a) his volume and (b) his behavior.  One man even confided to his companion: “That kid shouldn’t be allowed in public.”  I am not surprised by this. A lot of people from that man’s generation regard mental or emotional disabilities as a source of family shame.  Happily, Tommy’s family does not.

In the last two weeks, I had individual lunches with my sons while Christmas shopping.  Nicholas was first, because Jeff had finals.  My Nick is shy, but enjoys attention.  He is acutely aware of people around him.  With strangers, Nick is very reserved.  Nick is 12 years old.

Tommy was seated across the restaurant.  As Nick and I left, we stopped by Tommy’s table to say “hello” to him and his father.  Tommy looked at my son.

Tommy: “What’s your name?!”
Nick: “I’m Nick.”
Tommy: “Come here, sweetie!  I love you!”  [reaches for Nick and hugs him tightly]
Nick: [returns the hug and smiles at Tommy]
Tommy: “Where are you going with your dad?”
Nick: “We are going Christmas shopping for my mom.”
Tommy: “I love you!” [give Nick another hug]

A few moments passed where this continued.  Nick just rolled with it and returned the hugs and smiled genuinely.  I hugged Tommy and said goodbye.  As we walked out, I wanted to shout: “BEHOLD THE PICKLE–GREATEST BOY IN THE WORLD!!”  I never expected him to handle the situation with such kindness and acceptance.  Yes, I underestimated my boy.

A few days later, Jeff, my 15 year old bear-of-a-boy, went Christmas shopping with me.  We stopped by the restaurant for breakfast.  We made a list and checked it twice.  Tommy and his caretaker came in a few minutes after us and were seated directly next to us.  I said “hello” to them both.  Tommy looked at Jeff.

Now, it is important to note that Jeff is very much like his shy, introverted mother.  He REALLY doesn’t want attention from anybody.  In fact, just to screw with him, I will sometimes try to embarrass him with the people that work there, by telling them how strong, wonderful and intelligent he is.  Jeff always lowers his head and mumbles, “Shut up, dad” through a half smile.  Jeff did NOT play football this year, because–in his words–there were too many people.  He did not want to put himself out there to get to know 40+ new people.  Jeff lectures me (as any teenager will do in a withering you’re-so-stupid tone) that I just don’t understand introverts.

Tommy keeps looking at Jeff, trying to decide whether Jeff is a boy or a man.  Candidly, it is hard to tell.  Jeff is huge and has a deep voice, but he has a boyish face.  I, personally, think he is as handsome a kid as there ever was or will be, but there I go being an embarrassment to my teenager AGAIN.

Tommy clearly decides he must know who Jeff is.

Tommy: “Who are you?”
Me: “This is my son, Jeff.”
Tommy: “Oh!  Hi, Jeff!  I love you!” [Stands up and walks over to hug Jeff]

For me, time stood still.  What would my teenage boy do?  Dudes his age don’t even like it when their own mothers hug them in public!  How is this going to play out?  The restaurant was packed.

Jeff: “Hi.” [Stands up and gives Tommy a big bear hug]
Tommy: “I love you.  Will you help me swim.  I am afraid of drowning.  Can you help me in the pool sometime?”
Jeff: “Sure.”
Tommy: “I love you.  You are so big and strong.  I am afraid in the water.” [Hugs Jeff again; Jeff hugs him back]
Jeff: “I will help you.”

My heart–already filled with the death and losses of the year–burst.  A few poignant tears leaked out.  I quickly wiped them with my napkin.  Jeff spent the rest of lunch rolling with Tommy and making light conversation.  I hugged Tommy goodbye, received the last “I love you’s” of the day and said goodbye to his caretaker.

I walked out of the restaurant.  I decided that, no matter what may come, Melissa and I did a pretty damned good job with these boys.

Jeff turned to me: “Dad, what would you like for Christmas?”
Me: “Nothing.”

Peace & Love,

STP

STP’s Drone…

STP Drone Selfie…a mighty waste of money!

People who know me best will tell you I am an unrepentant techno-geek.  I pride myself on being able to fix almost anything I can put my hands on.  This is something my dad encouraged from an early age, and Lord knows I destroyed lots of things in the early days.

Now that I have something resembling “disposable income”, I have invested in a DJI Phantom 4.  My previous drone was a Phantom 3 Professional.  Both have 4K cameras and flying times/distances.  The primary difference (besides the price) is the number and capability of sensors on the Phantom 4.  It can avoid obstacles automatically.  It can be put into a mode where a particular object or person is tracked.  It has a “follow me” mode.  It can be programmed to execute a predetermined flight route.  In short, it is awesome.

Here is a short video from the airspace above Casa de Portell:

STP Airspace 2

Yes, I crashed it into my guesthouse roof the day I brought it home.  I’m stupid like that.  Nevertheless, eggs were broken, and omelets made.

Calibrating the IMUs and upgrading the firmware.

For now, it is only a hobby.  In the future, I intend to use off-the-shelf components and my TIG welder to make a larger capacity octo-copter that can carry a payload.  Also, because I have my Extra Class amateur radio license from the FCC, I am already designing a better antenna array with a two axis UHF Yagi array on the shop to boost control reception/transmission without increasing–beyond legal limits–the output of the remote controller.

Perhaps sometime down-the-road, I will outline some ideas for off-the-shelf security devices that track infrared outlines and trigger automated responses (alarms, lights, etc.).  The technology to track objects is becoming ubiquitous.

STP

Reasons to Leave Facebook…

As promised, here is my non-exclusive list of reasons for quitting Facebook.  Feel free to share this (irony intended).

  • Private Dossiers on All Users

    Facebook buys and aggregates private information from 90+ known sources to create detailed profiles for individual users. In turn, Facebook uses and sells these “dossiers” to create ad revenue and refine its targeted Newsfeed (see below). I don’t know about you, but that amount of information in private or public hands—with no oversight or transparency—is deeply disturbing.

  • Your Newsfeed is Hijacked

    We already know that search engines try to use predictive algorithms to speed up searches and anticipate the data we might request. Those predictive models are being refined almost constantly. They are problematic in terms of race, gender, religion, sexuality, political leanings, nationality, region, etc. The net result is that the more an information provider collects about you, the more it tries to give you information that falls within the known parameters.

This self-reinforcing business activity creates a “bubble” of information that tends to EXCLUDE data that challenges your “beliefs” and ALLOWS only that data that tends to reinforce your “beliefs”.

Facts and critical thinking are out-the-window.

Facebook is a master at creating and maintaining these bubbles. Remember when your newsfeed had ALL of your friends’ posts? It was subsequently pared down (seemingly) arbitrarily by Facebook? Did you ever stop to wonder why or contemplate the long-term effect of that control over your newsfeed? It’s time that you ask these questions.

  • A Lack of Privacy

    I guess I could just say “see above”, but this one goes deeper. Privacy is an illusive thing as technology grows more powerful and sophisticated. The dreams and nightmares to be realized keep me awake at night. Facebook is particularly cagey about how it handles your data and its so-called privacy policy.

  • Envy & the “Constructed Self”

There are two well-studied effects of Facebook on human behavior: (1) envy and (2) only posting “highlights” of one’s life. If we believe what we see on Facebook, our lives are a highlight reel: vacations, travels, fun family time, babies being born, graduations, birthdays, etc. Sure, sometimes people die, and we use the medium to mourn as well as we might, but the messages coming through Facebook don’t show you the whole picture. This false presentation has been called the “Constructed Self” which, in a quick and dirty way, means that we spend a considerable amount of time weeding through our experiences and only posting the ones that put us in the best light. I am not saying this is evil—it is simply human. We do not want to confront the truth about our shortcomings.

For example, after becoming tired of lectures from non-lawyers about Constitutional Law and history, I posted my reading list for this year. It contained 30 entries. It has since grown. When I think back on WHY I posted that, I wanted to elicit responses from friends to satisfy my curiosity, but a darker side of me wanted to drive home the fact that I read more than almost anybody I know (except for maybe Melissa or Chris). So, when someone tells me that they “know” something, I am doubtful that their body of information is as substantial as mine. This is ego—out-of-control ego—in its most negative form. Why is it so important to seize the high intellectual ground from strangers OR friends? What does the construction of this ethos say about me and my insecurities? Needless to say, nothing good.

And envy. If people are presented with a newsfeed of highlights of other people’s lives, they begin to feel badly about their own. This is keeping-up-with-the-Joneses on steroids and crack! Soon, Facebook users will have an app that is simply called “My Life is Better Than Yours”. Actually, I call trademark on that!

  • No Right to be Forgotten

    Facebook in the USA no longer has the option of being forgotten. In other words, they keep your data forever or for as long as they deem it useful. The implications for corporate abuse and government overreach are overwhelming.

  • No Accountability

    Other than being a publicly traded company, Facebook has very few internal or external controls for its activities. It operates behind a veil of secrecy that is truly frightening. The EU has been the only group that has created some tentative regulations that might restrict Facebook’s business practices. Beyond that, it is a company without a country, without a moral compass and without a vision for a future that benefits the human race. It is a business, and by definition, amoral. It exists to make money. Period.

  • Pollution

    Facebook’s newest data center in Oregon is powered by coal (estimates are around 60%). There are no plans to recapture the CO2 or re-use the heat generated in the data center. It is not making any known strides to become “green” or to help save the planet.

  • Propaganda & Fake News

Prior to November, the running joke within Facebook purportedly was whom they should pick for the next President of the United States. There is also the troubling revelation that Facebook has NEVER done anything to stem hate groups from spreading lies like Holocaust Denial or similar propaganda.

I see tons of people re-posting memes, and, when I ask them where that meme came from and what purpose it might serve (in terms of misinformation), they invariably deflect by saying, “I don’t know, but I agree with it” or ‘I believe it is true” or “It is simply my opinion, and I’m entitled to it”. In a democracy that can only thrive if the people governing themselves possess critical thinking skills and literacy, these are unacceptable answers.

What it worse? The fallacy of false equivalency is spread over Facebook like Nutella. It is meant to make palatable statements of hate that are clearly beyond the pale of polite discourse. The “they do it, too” line is old. So is “they started it”.  Someone actually accused me of HATE SPEECH when I said that I hated the KKK and white supremacists.  This level of ignorance is, again, unacceptable.  Dumb people say dumb things, and we are supposed to accept their statements as deserving equal air time and consideration.

The bottom line is that a foreign government used Facebook to swing an election to an inexperienced fraud. And the people chanting “Jail Hillary” and “Drain the Swamp” are now watching as every so-called campaign promise has been broken. The entire administration is composed of billionaire cronies (except Ben Carson) who know almost nothing about their new jobs (except Ben Carson who knows EXACTLY nothing). To comfort themselves, people duped by Trump repost memes about “giving the guy a chance”. Yeah, I was done with it that line when he picked Steve Bannon as his Chief Strategist and Reince Priebus as his Chief of Staff. White supremacists and anti-Semites don’t belong in the Whitehouse in the 21st Century.

I come from humble origins. I cannot begin to fathom HOW anybody in the working class would believe the lies Trump spewed before the election and how they stomach it now. The only explanation is that Facebook is contributing to their feelings of isolation and economic disparity. Constantly. How many times will people fall for this? I have no idea, but they haven’t stopped yet.

  • Lab Rats

    Did you know that Facebook has used—without your knowledge and permission—your account and newsfeed to manipulate your emotions to see how that manipulation might change your behaviors? You didn’t know that? Maybe you should look into it. It was a huge scandal that seemed to disappear overnight.It is impossible for us to know what experiments our data and our emotions are being subject to as I write this. Until a whistleblower steps forward, the experiments will continue.

  • Sharing Data – The Facebook Profit Model

It’s easier in Facebook than other platforms to “share” information, but there is little thought to how that “sharing” has spread into other apps. Have you stopped to think about how many times you have used your Facebook account to sign up for a new app/service?

I have intentionally avoided this. The benefit is that I can now move away from Facebook and not worry about the impact on other accounts. If you have used the convenience of having a single account (Facebook) to sign into other apps/services, did you know that Facebook is now in possession of that information? How about your DropCam or Nest accounts? DropBox? FlipBoard? You name it. It’s a real problem. And the deeper you sink, the harder it is to unbridle yourself.

This is an intentional (read “devious”) attempt to place Facebook at the center of your entire online experience and to further refine its ability to target your newsfeed and email inbox with ads. It is also intended to keep you from quitting—the more inconvenient it is to leave, the less likely you are to do so.

  • “Friends” of Friends

I have a lot of people I care about on Facebook. Most of them are from K-12. I have always worked hard to bridge the gap between factions of people. I have been, for the most part, civil in my responses to my friends so-called “Friends”.

However, I have been the subject of more name-calling and verbal abuse in the last 12 months than MY ENTIRE LIFE. And THAT isn’t the part that bothers me. It’s the people who just sat by and let it happen. Not a peep of disapproval. The closest analogy is being in the middle of a bar fight and your “friend” ducks out the back door. After the stitches, you know where you stand with that person.

I can think of two people: Lisa Manolios and Chris Georgian who actively tried to step up for their friends and keep things civil. They are most admirable, kind and intelligent. I wish more people followed their example, but few do. Whether they fear confrontation or secretly agree with the abuse, it makes little difference. Intentions mean nothing. Actions are everything.

And action was taken. A small number of people ACTUALLY stopped abuse on their newsfeeds. I even issued a challenge to everyone to stop re-posting political memes for 30 days. Nobody joined me.

Finally, Facebook is a weird space for rational discourse. Most of the abusive “friends” of my real friends wouldn’t dare to speak to anybody rudely outside of Facebook, so why do they do it on this particular social media site? What makes them feel free to hurl abuse and start hate groups against individuals? In my own high school, a guy started a group specifically targeting a female classmate. It turns my stomach.

Beyond that, the men who puff out their chests and let the testosterone flow by threatening ME with physical violence have clearly never met me. I hope someone clues them in before they seek out an actual confrontation.

  • My Reason for Micro-Blogging

Maybe most importantly, I have had to re-examine why I am writing anything on Facebook. For the most part, it is therapy and an attempt to be understood by people I care about. However, my posts appear unbidden on people’s newsfeeds.

Maybe they don’t want to read my posts today. Maybe they aren’t interested or don’t have the time.They don’t get to decide—Facebook decides. Their only choice is to either (a) “unfollow” me or (b) “unfriend” me. Keep in mind that nobody really stops being your friend in real life when you are “unfriended”, but the perception of shunning remains.

Even I get tired of re-reading my posts, especially where I bleed all over the page with my grief and pain. And, although that phase of my life is soon to pass (I hope), I would rather write light-hearted, thought-provoking, autobiographical stuff that is inspired by the raw honesty of Ghandi’s “Experiments in Truth”. I am also interested in OWNING my writing, not handing it over to Facebook to monetize.

So, my blogging will continue, as will the man, as long as the technology allows and my body and mind are capable. I will be on the following spaces:

stephenportell.com

Legal Issues: 520-585-5544

SnapChat

Twitter

stportell@cox.net

www.portelllaw.com

Peace & Love,

STP

Leaving Facebook Behind…

It’s time. We should all be done with being lab rats for a corporation that monetizes our private data and makes obscene profits. And the social experiments–none of which we have consented to–do not appear to be designed for the betterment of society. They appear to be designed to show how EFFECTIVE social media is at manipulating the masses.

Academics tend to overestimate the value of discourse on Facebook. They believe it is a space that is similar to their peer-review circles where robust but civil conversations happen.  Facebook is NOT that place.  It is a place that destroys the very essence of common conversation.  It isolates people.  It is the Facebook business model.  Here is how I handled a response from an educated friend:

I will still be leaving Facebook.  I have already downloaded all of my data from the site.  It came in a surprisingly well organized and compact set of folders tied together with HTML pages.  It is scary to see how much data is even in THAT small download!

Get out now…before it is too late…

Peace & Love,
STP

“Where’s Mom?”


Dear Mark,

You were two years old last night.  I held you in my arms.  Your long blonde curls fell in your eyes like they used to.

You kept asking, “Where’s Mom?”  I kept reassuring you that I would find her for you.  You kept asking.  I kept reassuring you.  We sat down on a bench in Lakeside Mall.  I told you it would be alright.

I woke up without you.

Love,

Your Big Brother

Ironhorse…

My love of motorcycles pre-dates my transactions with Ironhorse in Tucson.  With that being said, I LOVE this dealership and all the people in it.  They know their products.  They actually ride the bikes they sell.  Service is topshelf.

Here is my “loaner” bike, while Superman is getting his scheduled maintenance:


Yes, a NineT.  This bike is a stripped version of my R1200R (“Flash”).  Lots of fun.

If you love riding, these are the people to see…

Peace & Love,

STP

Dear Jennifer…

Dear Jennifer,

It is hard to be brave without you around. You constantly reminded me that Mark counted, that I mattered and that my mom was supercool. In turn, I would remind you of how excellent you are/were. I would remind you that your brothers loved you and that brothers almost never show their appreciation when and how it is most needed. Trust me: I have failed more than them.

In that sharing was a genuine and important friendship that endured and sustained us both. It was a true friendship.

You are forever frozen in my mind as the “Tiny Cheerleader” who stood apart. After the football games, my mother and I would walk you out of Sterling Height High School (where Cousino was forced to play its “home” games), and we would sometimes give you a ride back to Cousino, because you didn’t want to be on the bus.

In those moments, I realized that your life was not “normal” and neither was mine. And being “abnormal” with you was cool.

You have my friendship and loyalty forever.

Love,
STP

The Steel Wall…

My work has taken me to Mexico before (close to Guatemala and Mexico City), but I have never walked across the border into Nogales, Sonora.  It is amazingly close to Tucson.  I have had no excuse.

Today, I hopped on Superman and headed to the DeConcini Port of Entry.  I parked on the US side near the thirty foot steel fence that bisects the town of Nogales.  Here is a short video of me approaching the steel wall:

The Steel Wall

I walked fifty yards down a pedestrian hall where an occasional sign warns you that bringing $10,000.00 in currency back into the US is illegal.  A few other signs warn you that guns are illegal in Mexico.  There is no security.  There are no government officials in uniforms.  There is one camera, and I suspect it is one of those fake ones you buy to scare off burglars.

At the end of the hall, a woman in a pseudo-uniform read a checklist at a table.  I assumed that she was there to ask me the purpose of my visit.  Without looking up, she waved me through–I was dismissed.

A few more yards, and I emerged into a small open air shopping plaza.  Several men shouted to me: “Taxi?”

As I walked down the shopping plaza, there were pharmacias with handwritten signs proclaiming “Viagra – 50% Off”!  Skinny men who looked like meth addicts sidled up to me and asked me what I wanted: “Need painkillers?”  “Hookers?”  “Pharmacy?”

The answer to ALL of these questions was, of course, “no thanks”.  I walked toward a restaurant recommended by Yelp.

Steel Wall from the Sonoran Side…

Making my way through the streets, I noticed three young guys following me.  I ducked into a bodega and bought a soda.  As I leaned on the counter, I watched the young men walk past.  The one in the lead met my gaze and looked away.  I turned back to the shopkeeper and noticed an old man with a Tecate behind me.  I paid for both and told her to keep the change.  I shook the old man’s hand and wished him a “feliz anos nuevo”.  I walked in the opposite direction of the young men.

I passed by a wide open electrical meter with the 220V mains COMPLETELY exposed to anybody who might bump into the hot leads under the meter.

A Happy Fun Power Meter in Nogales. SON.

Puddles of water were under it.  I suspected that it was part of the Nogales Power Company’s best practices.

After wandering near several restaurants, I was greeted by staff who were busy cleaning out the doors and the sidewalks.  The smell of rotten food curbed my appetite.

I walked back to the port of entry.  I waited a full hour in a line to return home.  The line extended into a gauntlet of elderly men without teeth who begged for change.  I handed out money and watched small children eagerly sell handmade scarves to the tourists in front of me.

There is an informal custom where Mexican nationals will allow elderly people to walk past them in line.  I enjoyed watching the respect they showed each other.  The family in front of me offered me heavily spiced chicharron (pork rinds).  I declined.  I rubbed my stomach and said, “Sorry, I have a weak gringo belly.”  We laughed.  The line moved slowly forward into a steel hall with heavy bars on all sides.

A man from Green Valley behind me answered his cell phone and began loudly explaining that he was going to be late, because he suspected that he had been anally raped while getting dental treatment.  I wanted to punch him in his rude face, but I did not want to end up in the Nogales Municipal Jail.

Eventually, I approached the entry point, placed my electronic passport in a scanner and was quickly waved into the USA.

I looked back over my shoulder to the commercial truck lane.  The drug dogs were barking constantly.  The tall steel wall climbed the hills around the facility.

Steel Wall Climbing the Hill

As I walked slowly back to Superman, I felt a sadness.  I knew that I had seen better parts of Mexico, but this place, so close to the border, would be forever twisted into a bazaar that catered to the worst impulses.  I will go back, but I am going deeper next time.  I will find the quiet places in the mountains.  I will visit a friend’s ranch.  I will ride down the Baja Pennisula.  I will return to the steel wall, and I will be ready next time.

Until then, I remain at Casa de Portell.

Casa de Portell at sunset…

Peace & Love,

STP