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Guilt by Association
Facebook conversations
with Australian political novices and Hungarian rotten egg eaters
How many degrees of separation?

Essentially Facebook connects you to two "degrees of separation", your friends and your friends' friends. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn indicates your degree of separation from anyone on whose profile you happen to chance. Facebook merely informs you that you and another have common friends, namely two degrees.

There is a claim, supported by some research, that no more than six degrees separate any two people on the planet. This concept is sometimes referred to as the "human web" or "small world" phenomenon. It has been tested with experiments such as dropping off parcels in the U.S. mid-west labelled with a Boston address. Delivery may only be made by passing the parcel to a human acquaintance, without using the mail or other courier services. Each parcel [that did arrive -- not all did] was delivered by six or less intermediaries. A similar experiment using email messages also found six degrees of separation. There were claims in some research carried out in the seventies, that within the U.S., everyone was connected by just three degrees.

The mathematics is simple, if not too simplified. If you assume each individual's personal network is 250 people (I guess this hypothesis was made before the growth in popularity of Facebook, where people with only 250 look like social outcasts), the number of people who are six degrees away is 250 to the sixth power, viz. 244,140,625,000,000. That's over 244 trillion potential contacts in your network at the sixth level of separation! So that's how Edmond networks with the Queen of England.

In reality, the actual number of potential contacts is reduced by overlap, but the potential number is enormous.

As a small town dweller, I know, not necessarily well, most of the people whom my neighbour knows. This is especially true if we grew up together and went to school here. In a city, each person is less likely to know as many of his neighbours' associates.

Facebook adds a new dimension to personal associations, probably due to the inordinate number of friends people have. I happened upon a guy who had 4,269 friends (the Facebook limit is 5,000 -- why? though you are permitted an unlimited number of fans). This gentleman and I share a some common friends.

Mr Popular was born in Israel, but resides in Los Angeles. His prime interest is listed as learning Torah in Yiddish as did his grandfather in Poland before him. He isn't yet thirty years old. I think to myself, this is a very important specimen of humanity, a rebbe or a guru of sorts. I should get to know him better. Maybe he would even honour me and become my friend too.

Nowadays, what's the first thing to do when you want to know anything about anyone? You go to Google of course, the oracle of the earlier years of our century. I google our illustrious friend and all I find is a single link, a single link which is to Facebook! This guy has befriended, linked to, networked with 4,269 other humans . . . and he is a nobody! No-one other than himself has written a word about him, neither good nor bad? A comment, a thought? Nothing? How sad.

One day I received a friend request from someone -- let's call him Freddy -- I'd never heard of. I'm fairly sure he'd never heard of me either, almost certainly having found me as "a friend of a friend". Facebook pushes these "unknowns" at you at every opportunity. We had nine mutual friends out of a total of his nine hundred -- at a time I couldn't boast more than fifty. I asked around and was told he is "very well connected", so it was a worthwhile shidduch, link. OK, what can I lose? I accepted.

It soon became apparent that old Fred had no interest in what I, nor a majority of his friends thought on the topics on which he posted. He was obviously attempting to crawl up the ladder of a certain political party, and I guess he figured these "intelligent" postings and pontifications made him look clever, a true asset to the Party. Each time I posted a comment, he would delete it, sometimes emailing me a side message, that yes, while he really does agree with my comment, he can't allow the public to know this. I dropped quickly pretty quickly, though I notice that by now seventeen of my friends are counted amongst his. I suppose it's a quid quo pro -- they too enjoy a status line showing many friends. I see as of today Freddy brags 1,770 friends -- and growing almost daily.

I once received another friend request, the point of which still baffles me today. We had only one common friend, a cousin of mine. So I asked my cousin who this stranger was. "Oh, he was living with my cousin [from the other side] for a couple years . . . they were even here in Israel for a few months . . . then they went to London . . . I think he is still there . . . but without my cousin. I haven't a clue why he would want to be your friend." I can only hazard a guess -- it's become a status in numbers game.

The truth is, we know don't any more than that about Thelma than my cousin's cousin's boy friend either, but I'm probably getting ahead of myself.

You can have some fun with these anonymous "separations" people. You comment on a friend's post and you get to see all "her" friends' comments on that thread too. And you can also post back to the thread. Get the idea?

You should be careful not to hurt people's sensitivities. It is easy to go overboard. There are some checks and balances. The original poster can delete anything or everything on the thread, and each person can delete their own comments. Sometimes I am more careful, sometimes more lackadaisical. You can check basic details about a new sparring partner -- should you chose to (and have the inclination and the time).

So here's some fun I had last week :-)

Edmond (and nearly all of my other Facebook friends too) posted the now famous Israeli soldiers' breakdance scene.

A response pops up on Edmond's wall from Thelma. With a name like Thelma, and by the assumption of guilt by association, I was certain she was an former South African ring-in. According to her public Facebook profile, which I only checked after the spar, she was educated in Melbourne, though it did not indicate her place of birth.

Thelma posted in response to Edmond:
We saw it on the news in Australia!
Now that's seriously cool!!!!!!!!!

Menachem, trying to be funny: What's news in Australia?

Thelma: [This bird didn't get it.]
We got a lady Prime Minister!
And she's really a lady! [yeah I know, she lives with her hairdresser]
And it's the coldest winter on record! [I also believe in the Labor Party and Al Gore's global warming lie!]
Where are you? [By my computer -- that's why I am able to correspond so quickly.]

Menachem: A real lady who lives with her hairdresser and was the first Australian prime monster ever to refuse to be sworn in on a Bible. She said, "I was brought up a Baptist. I always thought my mother had a speech impediment and was saying 'Communist'".

Thelma: Miss Gillard has her own home thankyou very much.
Who cares what her religion is as long as her views on Israel are tolerant?

Menachem: Ms Gillard to you and why would the views of any Australian, American or South African politician on Israel be important? They've each got their own country to run. They have their plates full with their own problems. Anyone who votes for a politician (outside of Israel) based on that politician's views on Israel should probably be disenfranchised for treachery.

Thelma: As I happen to live in Oz, it is important to me to have the opportunity to vote for a PM who has views I feel comfortable with, whether they be on economics or the moon. [Australia is an electorate based democracy, so unless you live in the constituency of Lalor in Melbourne's western suburbs, you don't get to vote for the prime minister. The Labor Party caucus does that for you, either before or after the election, actually as often as they like. Now that's pretty obvious today, because that's how Gillard got to the top job a couple of weeks ago, without a Federal election taking place.]

Menachem: They're proposing to rid the electorate in Oz of compulsory voting [the only country in the world to have it, I believe, and for good reason. They tried non-compulsory voting in a local election in the late seventies and only ten percent bothered turning out to the polls -- I did and I even had to vote on a Friday at the council chambers because Australian elections are always held on Shabbath], replacing preferential voting [also an Australian only] with "first past the post" -- as well as introducing a compulsory I.Q. test, to be given to voters before ballot papers are distributed at polling stations. I'm proud of my country. We Aussies are finally moving into the 21st century!

Thelma: [Oh come on -- lady wake up] LOL! compulsory IQ testing b4 distributing ballot papers at polling booths!

Menachem: Edmond, you gotta meet the average Aussie voter. He donkey votes and votes on irrelevant issues. The politicos know this well so they change their surnames to 'Aardvark' to be on top of the ballot slip, and they offer cheap real estate on the moon to their supporters.

But where they are really being fooled, the poor Okker fools, is on [former P.M.] Kevin Rudd's E.T.S. [Emissions Trading Scheme] legislation. It's just an Australian rewording of Obama's "Cap and Trade Bill". (Does anyone understand the meaning of the word "trading" in these laws?) That gallah Rudd screwed up so badly on getting the public to accept the E.T.S. concept that he shelved it for a few years. The unions didn't take too kindly to this action and threw him out on his ear. Now Gillard has promised to restore E.T.S. within three months of the next elections, perhaps three months away, in which brilliant Australian voters will confirm her as their elected, not just appointed, first lady Prime Monster -- a proud day indeed. Everyone will forget by the next election that Gillard was Rudd's number two for the last few years!

Any of you genius Australians who vote on issues like donkeys, economics and the green cheese on the moon listening? Within a few short years, as a direct result of this legislation, you will be unable to sell your house. When the anti-semites finally force you out of "god's own" -- and there never been a disapora where this hasn't happened -- you won't even be able to cash in on your most valuable property, your residence, because E.T.S. will make it prohibitively expensive to sell.

I suggest all Australians and Americans, at a minimum, read their relevant proposed legislation. New Zealand recently passed a version of this crazy law, resulting in an immediate increase in energy prices for everyone, private citizens and industry, for no national gain. But a warning to you people -- set aside a reasonable amount of time. The current draft before the U.S. Senate (it's already passed the House -- Obama can afford to lose that election in November) is now over 1,800 pages long. Not one House member nor one senator has read proposed law in its entirety -- there is no way they could understand it. And this is not a supposition on my part. Start using Google and listening and reading instead of Facebook parrot posting.

Good luck to you all.

I had another fun discourse when a friend posted:

Frank: Wondering whether leftover omelet can be refrigerated overnight and eaten the next day OR if this is a sign of way too extreme thrift.

Some fascinating, if not contradictory correspondence ensued:

Sue: Eggs don't keep unless they're hard boiled.

Simone: fritattas and spanish tortillas keep just fine, so I would imagine the omelet would too.

Liz: nothing wil happen to u or the egg. here in cape town we always refridgerate and reheat. so enjoy it.

Menachem: Thrift is not quite the right word -- but we all carry our family trees and genes, for good and for . . . less something or other. [This was reference to my mother, and I assume his too, never throwing away any leftovers, after having survived starvation in Auschwitz. Also to Frank's father's Romanian roots.]

But u don't eat eggs do you? A tofu omelette perhaps? [Frank seems to oscillate around veganism. It may have been his wife's omelette he was seeking to store.]

Remember what happened to me in Budapest, at Hana's, when we ate old eggs from the fridge -- 7 kilos in two days!!

But the cool thing is, now 4 years later, I still weigh the same as after that incident.

Liz: u got fat of eating 'not so fresh eggs' that's a first.

Menachem: Fat!!?

20 hours after eating the eggs I got queezy, turned green, and then, and then, and then . . . I started running. I broke the 100 yard dash world record by 4 seconds, but where I had to go was more than 100 yards away, so I kept on running, and running; 200m record, 400 meter record -- I am the first man to run a 3 minute mile -- and uphill at that. And I arrived where I had to be with a whole two seconds to spare . . . .

Anyone wanting more details on the next three days of my life is invited to send me a private email within whose reply I will furnish all gory details.

Lois: I hope you saved it -- from coffee shop, yes? Good lunch there yesterday - we probably missed each other by under an hour. [I'm not quite certain where this fits in?]

Liz: here we eat chicken eggs. wat you eating there?

Menachem: As always, the question is, "where is here?" I was once in NYC and ordered quail eggs. They were quite tasty, once that is, that I was able to locate them, hiding under a thin slice of cherry tomato.

I didn't want to go into the gory details of my Pest experience, but since you insist. We were sabbathing in Budapest and ordered a fish entrée. Some rich American tourists, whom the restaurateur wanted to impress, turned up at the last minute. You guessed it -- they got our fresh fish. We were given the runners' up prize . . . mashed [boiled] egg (I imagine previously drenched in poisonous mayo). My assumption now is that this is was the previous sabbath's leftovers (or worse, from a week or two before that!) It think it may have looked a little green on our plates, but we didn't take notice because of the ambiance.

Even in a refrigerator, chicken eggs (with or without mayo) are apt to attract all sorts of bacteria and other little creatures. The effects were explosive!

Frank: thanks to all -- I love that my omelet query led to more responses than any other I've posted.

Never did find out what Frank decided to do with his left-over omelette.

11th July, 2010    

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