Waiting for The Cinder Block of Internet Dismay

Do you ever look at that SEND button, and know–even before you push it–that what you’re saying is probably more controversial than you know?

I’m pretty good at self-censoring the political content. In the first place, it just doesn’t travel well. After all, does someone in Britain or New Zealand really care that I hold my local city council personally responsible for the water main break the other day? I mean, if someone had employed the judicious use of condoms, their son would never have hit that pipe with a backhoe, but you pretty much have to be from my town to care. Definitely my state.

In the second place, that’s a slippery slope into a rant–FREE CONDOMS FOR EVERYONE (except the nuns, that would be a waste of taxpayer money)–and do I really want my website to be the no-holds barred, ultimate fighting championship of the world?

Not really.

I spent plenty of time stuck between the republican, the democrat, the dentist and the gynecologist at family gatherings, and I have no desire to relive the experience.

Maybe I’m still left with that feeling of the futility of talking about it.

After all, the only consensus anyone ever came to was a preference for patients with big… mouths.

Okay. Yes. Moving right along.

Every now and then, the urge to say something overcomes me, and I say it, and then, I wait for the backlash. Most of the time, the backlash never comes, either because I don’t have that big a following outside my immediate sphere of internet influence, or because everyone in the whole entire world agrees with me.

Every now and then, though, there’s something I know touches on the political, and I still wind up saying it because someone’s in danger (right now, at this moment), or because I just don’t have the sense to keep my mouth shut.

So, you say the thing that everybody’s been dancing around for political correctness’ sake, and hold your breath.

There’s that feeling that you’re about to be hit by the great cinder block of internet derision.

Yesterday, I heard the story of a girl whose brand-new college roommate is in an abusive relationship. There are two elements that I should point out here: American dormitory rooms (including the one these girls are in) tend to be about 15feet x19feet with the bathroom down the hall. And the college semester started about a month ago, so they have known each other for about a month.

Well, there’s what’s really happening. Then, there’s the fraction of that the girl’s willing to tell a roommate she’s known for a month. And then, there’s the fraction of that the roommate is willing to tell her mother.

The mother was asking what to tell the daughter.

Uhm… Gee… what would I tell my daughter?

GET. THE. FUCK. OUT.

NOW.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe the other girl should be safe, too. Hell, I’ll even say I think she should dump the bum, if half the story is true.

But sharing a 15×19 room with someone who’s in that kind of situation is not safe, and it’s certainly not conducive to learning to spend your life wondering what’s going on and if your roommate is going to come home.

There’s a difference between “supporting” someone in a bad situation and putting yourself in the line of the bullet.

And nothing says “I’m concerned for your safety” like… well, “I’m concerned for my safety.”

I also included information on how to switch roommates, in case that’s the problem. Not everybody is aware that changing is an option, and I happen to believe that the girl who’s the very first person in her family to go to college deserves the same safety as the girl whose mother just picks up the phone and calls the dean.

So, I’m sitting back and waiting for the cinder block.

But as of right  now, I get a few extra rep points on that forum (it’s one that’s visible to the public, not a private forum), and some very quiet murmurs of agreement.

 

Maybe It Really Is News

Marshawn Lynch–who is a man I don’t know, who plays a sport I don’t watch for a team I didn’t bother to look up–did not stand for the national anthem.

And that’s news.

Apparently, of a magnitude that even though I don’t know him or his team, and I don’t watch his sport I still have to hear about it on Twitter the next day. And that…

Well, it puts Marshawn Lynch sitting on a par with the death of David Bowie, or the election of a United States president… or you know… a major development on Game of Thrones.

Twitter assumes that it’s a protest–specifically of white supremacists marching, or of the response to that–but I haven’t actually seen anything where he said that.

And it’s turning out to be an effective form of protest. All that attention, and he’s just sitting. Well, he’s doing an excellent job of sitting, and he’s wearing a jaunty grey cap. (Intentionally or unintentionally reminiscent of the pileus.)

But he’s just sitting.

The thing is… he’s doing it in a crowd of thousands of people who are on their feet because a particular song played. People who are doing that–celebrating a single, national identity–for no reason other than that they always have. People who are horrified that someone–anyone–might do something else.

I’m uneasy about a stadium full of people acting in unison. And I always have been. There’s something about the… demand that you go along with the crowd that seems dangerous, somehow.

Image result for man refusing to give nazi salute

Not Marshawn Lynch (but it’s hard to tell.)

When the mob is all doing something… when there is no dissent… well, maybe you should think about doing something else. Anything else.

And with American flags flying everywhere… at stadiums (because someone might mistake that middle American football field for a North Korean military base) and at my favorite Mexican restaurant… And American crowds saluting en masse…

Maybe it’s time to think.

And maybe this is news.

 

Advisors and Momentum

Another batch of advisors quit the other day. This one was basically a whole advisory committee on HIV/AIDS that walked out en masse because, they said, the president just doesn’t care about HIV/AIDS. They aren’t the first. Elon Musk quit after the US pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and there have been others.

I can see their point. Why keep talking, if no one’s listening?

Of course, on the other hand, I’m not exactly sure the role of advisors is to say “Do as you’re fucking told, or I’m going to go sulk on the other end of the playground.

Nope.

Some days, well… yeah… you’re Aristotle.

But most of the time… You’re the slave boy on the victor’s chariot. Remember you are mortal. (No one cares. No one hears you. The cheering crowd will deify him, anyway.) You’re the gadfly, getting brushed away. Over, and over, and over.

Did you think there would be glamor? Sorry about that.

Obedience? Well, you’re clearly mistaking the role of “advisor” with the role of “mommy.”

Advisors have been an interest of mine since somebody–I can’t remember who, but I have my suspicions–mentioned that one of the signs of a ruler becoming a dictator is that he will begin winnowing out the advisors who don’t agree with him. He creates an echo chamber, and then, the downward spiral begins.

But Elon Musk wasn’t exiled. The Advisory Council on AIDS wasn’t crucified along the Appian Way. They just left.

Because things weren’t going their way.

And while I understand the concept of quitting in protest in theory, I believe there needs to be a slave boy. There needs to be a gadfly. An advisor isn’t an engine… he’s the brake. And he’s a failing break… but it doesn’t matter. Every little bit helps.

If nothing else, a ruler needs to be reminded–again and again– that his opinion isn’t the only one.

If he agrees with you, you’re not an advisor… you’re an echo.

It’s easier to be an echo.

Hunting the Witch of the Gaps

Note: This is a continuation of the cemeteries and science rant from last week. I hope it makes sense in a vacuum, but you might want to read the earlier piece first.

There’s no need to look for a reason.

They blamed the girlfriend–the “significant other” who moved out after however many years… and took the children he’d grown fond of with her. They blamed her in whispers, and telephone calls between people who never met her.

Never mind the fact that half the world is divorced,

And “significant others” have their reasons.

And never mind the fact that–

If he’d had the good sense to live–

The same old hags who blamed her would have been rooting for her. You have to do what’s right for you. Children need a safe and stable home. Good for you… if he’s not going to buy the cow…

That was the reason.

And if it wasn’t, there’s the mother–she spanked, you know–she could have paid attention.

If only she’d bothered to read… this brochure. The Warning Signs of Suicide.

She could have stopped him, when he gave her that thing. They give their things away.

Everyone knows that.

And no one ever takes a gift without questioning why. A thank you note’s an abomination

If it  doesn’t end with Thank you, but are you okay? If you need to talk… if you need to cry…

Never mind that.

The mother had to be the reason.

And if not, there are brothers. Sisters. An old babysitter or two. His grandparents had just died. (Imagine!) And maybe the rent had come due.

We know the reason. Or maybe there are reasons.

There have to be reasons. We must blame someone.

Because saying “I don’t know” means “I don’t know.”

And  anybody could be at risk.

 

 

Questions for a New Presidentiad

One of the big things I’d like to do right now is figure out where, exactly the middle of the road is. What exactly would a centerist believe? Where does the country balance?

That’s a tough question. Between Hollywood and the Information Age, the loudest voices always seem to get the most play–whether they represent the rest of the country, or not. It’s like…. you give that guy over there a loudspeaker and a drum set, and then, you try to hear the quiet conversation in the corner. Which may not even be happening, because the guy on the loudspeaker is a stand-up comedian, who has a schtick based on the people in the conversation in the corner.

If the loudest voices talked about religion the way they talk about politics, you’d think the whole country was made up of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists.

I’d like to know how you get people to tune back in. What about all those people who didn’t vote? Is that the electoral college? (I know how my state will go, so why get out of bed?) Alienation? (Neither candidate will represent me.)  Apathy?

I’d like to know how many people are out there, voting along party lines because it’s easier than researching a candidate, or because of brand loyalty. This is something I’ve noticed. People who sound like one party when they discuss the issues, but are voting the other party because… well, I’m not sure I understand it. Maybe it’s a case-by-case thing.

How do you get communication back?

Throwing Away The Classics

I ran into this post–which talks about why not to give children a particular book– on Carol Nissenson’s Blog the other day and despite the post’s title, it took me three or four read throughs to figure out exactly which book she was talking about. The Secret Garden. One of the books I read as a child, and enjoyed. And probably would have handed over to the next generation without a second thought. The truth is, my initial response was something more along the line of “What is she talking about?” than “Oh, she’s right.”

But she is right.

It took me a while to think of the negative stereotypes she was talking about. But, of course, they didn’t make as direct an impact on me as they would have on other children. And, in time, my memory glossed over them.  So, I went back to Padma Venkatraman’s interview, and kept reading.

Oh. Yeah. That. Well, yes.

Leave a comment and tell me if you knew right away what scenes she’s talking about, or if it took you a second.

Revisiting old stories… old songs… old anything and consciously thinking about the messages in them has been a recurring thought lately.

For instance… Pretty Woman (the song, not the move)… It’s street harassment, but kinda catchy, and you can dance to it. Still… Should little girls’ brains be marinating in the idea that you’ll hurt a stranger’s feelings if you don’t smile at him?

Return to Sender… A stalker classic. No amount of pelvis shaking is going to change the fact that the woman in the song is giving Elvis a clear NO! and his next step will be… to show up on her doorstep. Not a great example for little boys.

And The Secret Garden? Well, damn it, I liked the Secret Garden. But moving forward… I liked a lot of books. And I still want there to be time in childhood for kids to discover their own favorites. I don’t think every childhood needs to be a blow-by-blow replay of my own to be a good childhood.

The Great Hierarchy of Children’s Books

  1. Books Recommended by A Parent, Teacher, or Librarian. In my family, this included Caldecott and Newbery winners and nominees, and a large number of dog stories. Books received as gifts from any of the above. And things on school reading lists. That recommendation–the moment when someone actually hands a child a book and says “Read this”–is a high level of approval. And not all books deserve that seal of approval. This is the pinnacle of all children’s books.
  2. Books Not Recommended, but Still Enjoyed by Parents, Teachers, or Librarians. These would be the books of no particular social value (or detriment) that your mother is willing to read to or with you. Your parents aren’t holding them up as anything special. You probably brought them home, yourself. Good for you.
  3. Books That Annoy the Shit Out of Adults Not actually harmful, but your mother is not willing to read them to you or with you because she just doesn’t like them. Because, at some point, you’re old enough to read that to yourself, if you really want to read it. My family? Well, this would be any Ramona book.
  4. Books That Will Result in a DISCUSSION. These are the books that will need some parental guidance. The ones where your parents seriously disagree with some of it, or where clarification will be necessary. The family medical encyclopedia. That thing about the circus sideshow. And anything where the expectations in your family are dramatically different than what’s shown in that book. For instance: The Secret Garden is really old fashioned, isn’t it? Wow, that child is horrible.
  5. Books That Will Result in Someone’s Career Ending There weren’t a lot of books that fell into this category, when I was a kid. (We’re a fairly information-positive family.) In one notable instance, however, a really lazy grade-school teacher decided that a movie about World War II would be just as good as a more formal lesson. Her career ended somewhere during a scene with a couple f—udging* on the porch.

I believe that books can move up or down the hierarchy of children’s books without any actual censorship or book-banning taking place. I don’t think I owe a recommendation to anything, and I certainly don’t think I should recommend everything to children. Plenty of books I read myself–and enjoy, and recommend to adults–that I wouldn’t recommend to a ten year old or a six year old.

Most of the books I read, I wouldn’t recommend to a young child.

And if I do recommend a book, I want it to be good–not just enjoyable, but good–a step in the direction I believe the world should go. I want it to be something that represents something I can stand behind, and something that will give that child–and the children he comes into contact with–a better life.

*If you know how to use euphemisms, thank a teacher.

 

That’s One Hell of a “WANT” Ad!

You’d think “Newspaper Reporter” would be on the list of jobs that pay more than I make, but apparently, no. Not all the time. Not at the Fairbury Journal-News, at least. They’re looking for correspondents who are willing to work for free.

Now, in the Journal-News’ defense, it is a small-town newspaper. Like a lot of small-town newspapers, it’s probably hanging on by a thread. And maybe, it genuinely can’t afford to pay it’s reporters a real wage. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

I thought about this.

Well, after a brief eye-roll, and a couple of snarky thoughts about the Huff-Po of the Plains, that is. Because, of course, work for “exposure” or–as this ad puts it, “credit for any stories”–is kinda a sticky point for creatives. Hell, it’s the thorn in their side.

No. I’m not going to work for free. And I’m sure as hell not going to pretend that working for “exposure” or “credit for any stories” is NOT working for free. It is.

But this is a small-town newspaper, and it happens to be one I like. (‘Cause, reasons. You know how it is.) So, I spent an hour or so thinking about what it would take–what I could ask this impoverished, small-town newspaper for in place of cold hard cash.

I came up with things. Barter could work for me. I wouldn’t mind trading some of my writing for ad space. And based on the amount of filler in the paper, they do have ad-space. Some of my other ideas were more out-there. Server space. Printers, and machines, and networks. Leftover cold cuts from the company picnic.

Whatever.

And as I thought about things I would be willing to barter–about the things that I believe are worth something to me– I began to understand that the problem isn’t cash flow, or matching column inches to ad space, or even printing up a few posters to make me happy.

There are so many things that could have been offered… but weren’t.  Ad space. Posters. Servers. A damn link on the newspaper’s website. Or even just a statement that the paper is willing to make a trade. “Let’s put our heads together, and see what we come up with.”

What’s missing is a statement that my time is valuable.

That the work I would be doing for them is valuable.

And if the situation were **somehow** reversed?

If I had twice as many twitter followers as they do, or a website of my own with an international following…

Would I get my ad space in exchange for exposure?

 

Politics As An Overheated Machine

I’m not in love with politics.

I’ve never been one of those people who throw on a straw hat and run around with a megaphone, waving the flag, and shouting sound bites.

I do kind of like complex systems, though. I love intermodal shipping. I’m passionate about the giant crane that takes apart a train and puts the boxes on a semi or a ship.

I’m not going to talk about a good candidate and an evil candidate. For what I’m saying, the individual candidates, regardless of their ideas and their platforms just don’t matter.

The conversation could be yellow or green Popcicles, and it wouldn’t matter.

It’s two choices, with the country, with the system, swinging back and forth between them. First one way, and then the other.

And the major political parties? Two kids on the same swing, both pumping as hard as they can, and both blaming the other kid if the swing goes too high.

When the swing goes too high.

You know that feeling, when you’re trapped on a swing with two bigger kids pumping, and the swing set’s feet start lifting of the ground? After a while, the whole thing starts rocking. BANG, BANG, BANG.

And you know that sooner or later, it’s going to tip over. It has to tip over. The momentum just keeps building.

You’re terrified, and you want to get off, but the big kids won’t let you. They’re not afraid. They’re having a great time. They love it.

After all, they tell you… when the swing set finally tips over, it’s going to tip on OUR side. It’s okay, you baby. We’re going to WIN.