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NIMBY

Given that I’m going to be producing shows on cable access soon, I feel like I should be writing more here. Because I’m meeting people, with an intensity I haven’t in years, and the quality of the interactions are just of the kind of barely-contained hysterical that I always feel like I ought to capture in this blog. If its project still is, or ever was, some sort of chronicle of the human condition. Or of encounters across borders, as it often was in its early years.

I have a nagging feeling that being a young urbanite in New York has allowed me to skate across the face of life, avoiding the big questions. That the choices I make allow me to live without obligations in a way neither of my sisters can, living as close to the family as they do. Having kids. Taking care of our parents and grandparents. I’m not personally close to birth, or death. I hang out with gay men and childless friends a lot, and younger people.

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Mean World Syndrome, Redux

“So of course we discover that achieving Earthseed’s Destiny, despite Lauren Olamina’s dreams, hasn’t solved the problem of the human at all, only extended our confrontation with the very difficult problems that drove its development in the first place — only removed them to some other world where they can take some other form. The Destiny was essentially a hyperbolic delaying tactic, a strategy of avoidance; even achieved, it’s worthless in its own terms. The fundamental problem is still how to make a better world with such bad building blocks as human beings.”

– Gerry Canavan, on Octavia Butler’s unfinished works

They told us the Internet would become an echo chamber. They didn’t tell us how deafening the echoes would be when everyone started screaming. Like the unstoppable screech of feedback from a microphone. Lately when I open Twitter, that’s the sound I hear. It gives me stomach cramps and makes me want to give everything up and go work on a farm with no Internet connection.

The Internet has recently imploded into a discussion about the oppression and abuse of women, in technology and elsewhere. And yet we are not having a discussion. So often, most of us are just talking, in one direction, not listening, not responding. I’m not on Facebook anymore, but Twitter, and more specifically the “retweet” or re-post function on many social media, seems to be making this one-way communication worse.

The field of communications long ago identified a phenomenon known as Mean World Syndrome. It’s what happens when the news constantly emphasizes violence and crime — as it has always tended to, because that’s what holds people’s attention and sells copies of papers or advertising. You hear awful things are happening other places, over and over. It begins to seem as if these awful things are more likely to happen than they actually are. It’s why white people from majority-white communities are terrified that black people will do them violence: that’s all the news gives them to think about, when it comes to black people. It’s why homeschooling is on the rise: parents are sure school shootings happen all the time. People who develop Mean World Syndrome view the world as more dangerous than it actually is.

In the race, class, and gender work going on on Twitter and other social media, I am sure there are people who are coming to understand oppression for the first time because of tags like #YesAllWomen. And there are also people speaking out against their oppression for the first time, and feeling better for having done it. But are we also in the process of breeding a new strain of Mean World Syndrome? A particularly insidious one, where it’s not media corporations constantly exclaiming about how awful things are, but regular people? I can’t be sure we aren’t.

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Return of the Cheese Fries Reviews

Management has changed due to Circumstances. Welcome to new collaborator F.

Mulligan’s, Avon, OH

F: I’m going to stop freaking out about the Skinny Girl Vodka, and I’m going to stop freaking out about the fact the Cleveland Indians still have that mascot.
G: They do have a jukebox. It has Daft Punk and Radiohead.
F: (idly watching a TV) Too bad we’re not seeing those ads where they demonstrate those transition lenses that go from dark to light. The best way they could come up with to show that was to have someone moving their head as it transitioned from day to night. It’s the best representation I’ve seen of acid kicking in.
(Waitress arrives with plate of cheese fries)
Waitress: Careful, the top plate’s hot.
G: That’s an indicator it’s top-broiled.
F: This really is a science. You have criteria!

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Invented Word Scrabble

IMAG0650For some time I’ve had the idea that I wanted to try playing a game of Scrabble which would involve all-made-up words. The game would be scored on 1) the eloquence of your definition of the word, 2) the reasonableness of said definition based on its relationship to existing roots and affixes, and 3) on-board finesse (not relative to score-multiplying spaces). This scoring would be entirely at the whim of whoever was at the table at the time, rules negotiated as they often have been when I’ve played Once Upon A Time, the storytelling game. (So obviously you need a bunch of players who are not inclined to be overweening rule-wonks and have some tolerance for ambiguity.)

I finally had a chance to try this this past week. I was visiting one of my old school crew, of the gang who used to play modified versions of Hangman and Mad Libs at lunch in high school and who did at one point attempt to play a game of Scrabble in Klingon (defaulting to “Star Trek-related words” when we realized there weren’t enough Qs and Ks). I also had Finn with me, so I figured this was an ideal testbed.
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Letters to Young People: Unsayable

I wrote this to a student at the end of last semester, one who was struggling with what looked pretty clearly to me like depression and/or self-deprecating thoughts that go along with it. I never sent this. This is the kind of thing that would lose you your job. But I think it is so, so utterly, important to say. If you’re in college, this may be a letter to you, from a college professor.

College staff, like high school teachers and college counselors, are not supposed to tell students not to go to college, in this day and age when the President is publicly talking about how important it is for EVERY student to go to college. We may feel that college is not for everyone, or that students ought to take a break, but we can’t say that…. because it is the opposite of doing our job. It’s the kind of thing that would probably bring the wrath of angry parents screaming into our department offices. And then, our job is in part to make sure the college continues to make money. And every student who leaves college is a student whose parents are not paying tuition, whose scholarship is not being sent to the school.

I guarantee that if you looked hard, though, there is at least one person in any group of teachers, college professors, and advisors (probably many of them!) who, outside of their jobs, would like to give advice something like the following to students navigating the college-y path between high school and jobs:

Take a year off from school, if you haven’t already. Or a few years.
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Letters to young people: Ents

Student who failed class asks for recommendations of what to do next time. Response:

[Kid],

You got a 67.7% on your midterm.
You got a 58% on your … paper.
You got a 72.5% on your … project.
With generous adjustment (which everyone in the class got), you got only 27% on your final.
You skipped a tremendous number of forum posts …. The syllabus specified these were part of your grade.
Your class participation rates were fine, though you sometimes seemed lost.
You had two more absences than an acceptable number; that alone took two points off your final grade and should have taken off more.

The major problem in the majority of your assignments was you simply didn’t answer all of the questions. On the final particularly. I gave you a list of things to answer, and you skipped a bunch of them. Just don’t do that. Or skip homework assignments. Or class. Just showing up constitutes a significant part of your grade, not to mention people’s judgment of whether you’re a decent worker.
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Healing

Yesterday my community lost a brilliant light, Aaron Swartz, who did a great deal, in very few years and very young, to better the Internet and the information we have to understand it and the rest of our world. I met Aaron for the second time last year, and had been looking forward to future conversations with him. Like everyone, I am bereft at knowing those conversations will not happen.

The geek community has done a lot of thinking about depression and suicide in the past few years, notably Mitch Altman and co’s great panels at 28c3 and HOPE and other organizing activities. It is especially difficult to have the news of Aaron in the wake of these panels. I know organizing doesn’t make everything better immediately. It’s just…. damn.

All I can offer is what I do to save myself.
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Goodbye to Facebook?

Facebook, dammit, I wish I could quit you. I need to quit you.

When Facebook played fast and loose with my privacy settings, I stayed. My friends kept track of how to fix them, and I’m pretty good at keeping on top of such things myself.

When it got more and more obvious that Facebook’s news feed algorithm was engineered to make money, not keep me updated on people I cared about, I stayed. The benefit of staying in touch with friends and family outweighed the frustration of sometimes missing words-only messages while the site served me up yet another “inspirational” message forwarded by a business contact I barely knew, because it was a photo, and those grab attention better.
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G. E. B. Kivistik

I shouldn’t even be doing this — I OUGHT to be working on the Nyan Cat project I had a flash of inspiration for the other day, a project with the potential to be FAR more enriching to the lives of those around me, and, dare I say, to the world. But another flash just hit me about something entirely different. And I miss my personal blog. A lot. I miss venting to it, on an Internet so obscure to the average person that I could be assured my bosses wouldn’t read it just because they barely knew what a webpage was, much less a blog.

ANYWAY I am feeding it this:
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Protests, Revisited

Jury duty has put me down around City Hall for a few weeks, meaning I’m closer than I’d ordinarily be to the occupation on Wall Street. I’ve wandered by a few times after we’re let out at 5. Today I spent more time there, trying to figure out how I could possibly be useful.

Useful, in a protest setting.

I found out early in the anti-globalization protests of the late-’90s-early-Aughts that I’m really uncomfortable in throngs of people. My gut reaction is to run clear of them. It’s maybe not a claustrophobia thing. Maybe it’s a manifestation of privilege. I dunno. I hate walking behind slow people, want to kick out or thrash when I’m boxed in by a crowd. Being in an immobile mass makes me feel useless. Inefficient?

It’s one of a few reasons I always gravitated to communications roles and to the Independent Media Center. I prided myself on being able to accomplish things by writing (wrong as I may have been) and felt more like I wanted to deliver a clear message to a lot of people than be one of a lot of people chanting. Back in 1999 not many people had cell phones, so there was also a lot of use for someone who could help with walkie-talkies and dispatch. I liked that, too; I had done it for the Humane Society officers in my hometown, and it felt familiar. And safe. More comfortable in the crow’s nest, hearing from the streets by radio, being able to send directions back to guide protesters away from police kettles, cordons, or tear gas.

So much has changed. (Continued)