Friday, March 30, 2012

I'm Beginning to *Dislike* Social Media


I might Hate Social Media

Facebook used to be like walking into a brewpub and finding a bunch of your friends already there. And not only could you hook up with someone you only saw once or twice a month, but you could catch up with friends and family in other towns, other places and even other decades, all knucking and high-fiving at one counter.

The commercial stuff—Facebook Marketplace, sidebar ads, Sarah Palin spins—were there, but you could take it or leave it, just as you can bypass commercials by fast-forwarding through your recordings of “Glee” or “Game of Thrones.” [Author’s note: Not that I watch either, but if I did, you’d never know.]

But it’s changed. Friends not only hammer you with in-your-face ads, but they also do the passive-aggressive ream and couch a post with something like, “Oh, here’s a cool thing my company is starting to do.” Gee. I needed to know that.

I am bombarded daily with friend-me requests from people whose claim on my affections is that they found me on a database. *Like* my page, they say. Excuse me, but why should I *like* the Heather Banana Real Estate Team at John L. Scott or wherever, when not only have I never met the redoubtable Ms. Heather, but I’d gag over her perfume and high school photo and find her plaintive “I want to be your trusted advisor” copy more threatening than assuring?

My homepage is not everyone's personal Craigslist.

I acknowledge I’m a real estate broker, but I pretty much vomited when three brokers from another company posted the same condo for sale with the same bullshit tag, “This is the kind of thing that’s happening here and I thought you’d be interested.”

Gee, guys, how many times was that discussed at the Tuesday sales meeting? Is this something you’d bring up with me at the counter in the brewpub? Or from across the table at my house if I invited you over for dinner? Why is it everyone’s assumption that all their Facebook friends opted in?

Ironically, it’s the mega-corporations, the Coca-Colas, the Levi Strausses, the Wesson Oils, who show restraint and even a bit of class. If you don’t *like* them on Facebook, they pretty much leave you alone. Unless, of course, you post something about cleaning grease spots off your jeans with cola. But that’s the 21st Century and you need to just get over it.

I have an architect friend who describes a house as a progression of public to private spaces. The kitchen and great room are the most public, for example, while the master bedroom and bathroom are the most private.  Social media, which is social-plus-media, needs to understand this ethic.

LinkedIn is a Rotary Club meeting sans discussions of hemorrhoids and people who died. Twitter is a sports bar during March Madness whose rimshot tweets get lost in the fog of your rimshot tweets, their utility the thing of the future for years to come. Pinterest, my favorite, is a cabin in the woods with your best friends and a fire and red wine.

To get back to the house-as-spaces: LinkedIn is the office party you were glad to get away from. Twitter is the joint you passed by on the way home. Pinterest is where you want to escape to and hide from the world.

Facebook has become the casual party in your kitchen, where gate-crashers are knocking on your door and strangers are drinking your wine because one of your, ahem, *friends* invited them. They’re gaggling at you while dressed in T-shirts with their company logos and slogans in garish bright red and assure you that you can have one for free, along with a free cigar.

In the end, everyone just wants to be loved.  Each of us is alone, so terribly alone, that we crave the love of someone on the outside to prove our right to exist. To that line, paraphrased from Ford’s The Good Soldier, Facebook owes its very existence.

For that reason, truth be told, I stay with it because I really like tall my Facebook friends, some of whom I've never met, some of whose actions annoy me, and therein lie my problem:  The fault, Dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.

But liking one thing doesn’t mean liking everything. So it goes, huh?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Raggio's Death: A Personal Stop in Nevada


We had placed our Eugene, OR, home on the market in 1998 and our Realtor said of the woman coming to view our house, “Her father is the most powerful man in Nevada.”

Our Realtor didn’t know that we were from Nevada and my thoughts exploded like autistic dice on a craps table. How could some woman looking at our house be related to Bill Raggio?

Growing up in Reno, I hadn’t known Leslie Raggio, Bill’s daughter, who was three or four years my junior and was coming to see our house. It turned out she was a close friend of an in-law, Cheryl McMullen (nee Walker). Years before, my brother had  initiated contentious divorce and child custody proceedings with Cheryl’s sister, Andree, and my surname was not among the more popular words in the Walker household.

Bill Raggio, a friend of both families but a neighbor to the Walkers, represented Andree. The drama surrounding this episode in my personal history is another story, but Bill Raggio played an enormous, yet off-camera, presence in settling difficult issues. This was his way.

Leslie and her family lived in Whitefish, Montana, and were considering relocating to Oregon. Though we hadn’t known one another in Reno, we shared a history of many years.  Our coffee meeting was one of those times when you cram a lifetime into a few minutes and leave more to inference, to the story between the lines, than what was said. At some point, I asked if she’d confirm my father’s favorite first line about her dad.

She didn’t miss a beat, not needing to wait for me to ask. “Yes,” she said, rolling her eyes. “My father knew Rudy Vallee.” We swapped more stories and I left admiring Leslie, both wise and funny, whom I had not known and have not seen since, an heir to her father’s charm and perspicacity.

Sometime in the 1950s, my parents had been in New York, had bought tickets to “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” and had run into Bill Raggio. He asked if they’d like to meet Rudy Vallee, and took them backstage, introducing my starry-eyed parents to the Broadway cast.

This was Bill. Had he represented Vallee in a celebrity divorce? He didn’t, and wouldn’t, say. Most of his story was always in the mystery.

In the 1950s, my father had built the Tahoe Timber Company on the site of the present Patagonia facility west of Reno, where he’d first encountered Raggio. The log pond had clogged and backed up the Truckee, flooding a down river homeowner who subsequently retained Raggio to sue for damages.

Bill Cashill, my father’s lawyer, settled the suit with Raggio for $100. At a dinner party, Cashill stuffed a $100 bill into Raggio’s pocket. “You know what this is for,” he said. But a few days later, Dorothy Raggio, Bill’s wife, told friends how kind it was of Cashill to be the first lawyer to donate $100 to Raggio’s campaign for District Attorney.

In the 1980s, I became friends with attorney Bob Moore, then a partner in the Boomtown Casino. We were part of a group who used to go to Mendocino to dive for abalone and congenially misbehave, but it was a good year before I learned he’d once been District Attorney for Storey County.

Bob was as straight-laced as a Brooks Brothers commercial and wouldn’t say “crap” if he’d stepped in it, but when I asked him if it was true that he helped put my Uncle Fred out of business, he floored me. “Was that old sonofabitch your uncle?” he said.

He referred to Fred Crosby, owner of the Triangle River Ranch in Wadsworth but leased to the pimp, whoremonger and criminal, Joe Conforte, Bill Raggio’s nemesis. The ranch site crossed three counties—Washoe, Lyon and Storey—and when the law came for the evildoers, they’d just sidle a few feet across to the next county line where the invading sheriff had no jurisdiction. Word has it that the county line was painted on the barroom floor.

Conforte made the mistake of trying to bribe Raggio. Bob Moore got the court order, Raggio got the torch and that was the end of the Triangle River Ranch.  Mustang Ranch sprouted not long after closer to Reno, in Lockwood, where Conforte continued to corrupt local political figures and commit a host of crimes, probably including murder for hire.

Nevada State Journal editor and publisher, Warren Lerude, helped put this scumbag out of business, and Warren’s team won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize. But there are no prizes for District Attorneys who do their jobs, or--in Raggio’s case—overperform. The mention of Conforte was the only tiem I ever saw Bill’s face well up in restrained rage. Revealing feelings was not something he did.

I would run into Bill perhaps three or four times a year from the mid-1970s until I left Nevada in 1987. I was of a younger generation, but he always acted as though he remembered me. He had that politician’s touch of recalling some personal attribute, something my father had once said, maybe how pretty my mother looked at some gathering or other.  From different generations and different political persuasions, we were not buddies, but townsmen of a similar town.

In 2012, I am enormously proud of my nephew, Bob Fulkerson, Executive Director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, and harbor huge respect and affection for his ex-wife, state Sen. Sheila Leslie. Both are left of the political center. But I have never, ever, even over wine at the end of a Thanksgiving dinner, heard either of them say an unkind word about Bill Raggio.

My own view is that Bill, as with the Laxalts, was less about ideology than about Nevada. He didn’t just play his cards close to the vest, he never showed them whether he won or lost. It was nobody’s business.

His death saddened me, not just for the passing of a truly great Nevadan, but, selfishly, for the passing of a part of my personal history into memories, some witnessed, some hoped for.

I do not believe that Bill Raggio’s good, to contravene the Bard, is interred with his bones. His public work and private persona made Nevada a better place. Whatever his private misdeeds, and we all have them, I’m pleased to have known the guy.