Internet — information — criticism — poetry — connection — feminism — open source — open spaces — translation — digression — recursion — boats — wheelchairs — disability rights — ranting — the future — by Liz Henry
This summer I went to a picnic in support of Bassel Khartabil, an open source software developer and volunteer who was detained in 2012 in Syria. Over the past years people have done all sorts of activism to keep his case public, holding Wikipedia editing parties, tweeting with #FreeBassel hashtag, writing letters, publishing books, and doing slightly weirder things like passing out masks of his face and bringing life size cardboard cutouts of him to tech conferences.
No one knows if he’s alive or dead and of course many other people are not only in prison in Syria but are surviving or dying in a horrifying war. I felt a bit odd about going to a picnic in Bassel’s honor. It comes down on some level to wanting to assert that we are part of the same cultural and political movement; Free/Libre Open Source Software, open culture, hackerspaces, access to technology and the means to speak and publish and share information.
So there we are in Dolores Park, feeling surreal, next to a big cardboard cutout of Bassel. We’re lying in the sun on a picnic blanket and lawn chairs watching people play frisbee and catching Pokémon, sharing delicious fruit and cookies, passing around a copy of The Cost of Freedom, an anthology by people working to help free Bassel. We ended up talking about our own work and our beliefs. I took notes as we all had neat ideas, but can’t find them now as I’m several notebooks past the summer by now. I do remember really enjoying talking with Mahmoud about his HatNote projects, like Weeklypedia and the strangely hypnotic Listen to Wikipedia.
Afterwards Niki sent round a play: A Picnic for Bassel in Three Acts. It gets a little bit of the flavor of that day, the intensity of our conversations, and the cognitive dissonance of being at a lovely picnic with friends while thinking to the horrors of repression, imprisonment, and war. It is really lovely to read and heartens me today.
DAKE: I see what you’re saying, but there is a human side to it too that you seem to be forgetting. Cause besides tweets that are headlines for articles that one might not read, there is also the tweet by itself as a piece of evidence, a storytelling tool, in journalism itself. And of course the author of the tweet, a person, with a life. And when someone becomes the person who is relied on for tweets about a certain topic, or about a current event, it can take quite a toll on them. Sometimes these people are located outside the geographic space in which a story, usually a conflict, is occurring, yet they become central information conduits regarding it. But they are less “on the ground” in it than they are adept in collecting, aggregating, and sharing information that is found online about it. Not only does erode the quality of stories, as journalists look to tweets about something rather than directly investigating the story by talking to the people involved in it, but it can also cause some trauma to the person who is “the conduit,” as people come to rely on them to provide information which they are themselves quite removed from.
ENBE: And then there are the “conduits” like Bassel who were actually on the ground and sharing information about what was actually happening, and who put themselves at great risk to share it. How can we better protect these people, both now and going forward, to help people not be arrested, and help those who, like Bassel, unfortunately have been?
DAKE: That is a tricky question because at least as far as the traditional ethics in journalism go, you only need to protect your sources if they ask you to, if they only agree to disclose what they do on condition of anonymity. But if the source is public there is no need to protect them.
LIRA: But that is based on older systems of sharing information, where the idea of a source being public, the very idea of a public, was very different. Fewer people could be public, in the sense of having access to an audience of strangers.
. . .
SAKI: Not so fast, buddy! A platform like this cannot be too easy to use so that people don’t consider the risks they are taking by using it. Think about situations like Bassel’s, before he was arrested, and in many ways why he was arrested. People who appoint themselves to a story that their country does not want to be told. And not just the story, but the tools to follow and tell a story, any story, and participate in the global, storytelling knowledge machine that shapes much of the Internet.
And that made him a threat to and target for his government. Because it is one thing to have a lot of followers, and be threatening because of your access to an eager audience, in a large scale, whose collective actions could be too easily choreographed in way that the ruling powers do not like. But it is another to also be an advocate for learning and open discussion, and well respected within international organizations dedicated to the same. Cause it is not just about stopping the flow of information that is transmitted through a person, it is about stopping the machinery that they are helping to build, the influence a person has on the way that people think, the infectious freedom of curiosity, debate, and optimistic discussion.
I recommend the entire strategy for activists. Have a picnic, have tea, invite people to discussions on a small scale and then go deep. Please, also enjoy yourselves and celebrate life while doing so. It is important to appreciate these moments of peace and happiness without closing our eyes to harsher realities.
It’s hard to know how to describe how this looks to me, but I have read a fair amount of history and I don’t think it will go well here.
The President-Elect’s tweet today: “Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”
I’ve been a blogger for over 10 years, and as part of the media, I’d like to incite you all to protest anything you please, since that is a fundamental part of our rights in this country. Protest is an incredibly important way that we can drive political change. I believe in protest, and also in the power of civil disobedience. Not just laws but obviously, the principles behind creating laws are worth defending, and discussing, and protesting.
Maybe a more fair way to do things for the President-Elect would be for him to appoint an oversight board to tell the media what they can publish and also making not only protest but suggesting protest or covering protests as news into a federal crime. I can’t think where we have seen this idea before, maybe in various dictatorships over the years.
“The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the United States Congress from enacting legislation that would abridge the right of the people to assemble peaceably. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution makes this prohibition applicable to state governments”
So, anyway, sarcasm aside, looks like they gave the President-Elect his Twitter account back.
Most of my talking about OccupyWallStreet and my local Occupys has been on Twitter and Google+ rather than here on my blog. I drop in and start twittering what’s happening in a General Assembly or try to connect up the streams of what’s happening and report on a situation. But now I feel moved to post. This morning I woke up still full of beautiful dances I was watching online, links from a friend from various powwows around the country. This is a Men’s Fancy Dance,
This one is of a Grass Dance,
Bear with me. Okay meanwhile this long and deep conversation about racism in the Florence and the Machine video for “No Light, No Light” has been going on. Here’s an overview from Racialicious. A lot of bloggers spoke up to point out the giant bundle of racist belief systems that result in works like this being made and being viewed uncritically by many white people and people of color and that PoC are more likely to notice the outrageousness of it while white people don’t see it until it’s pointed out and maybe not even then. As usual, (see #RaceFails of time immemorial) the resulting backlash of white people getting defensive and then extra offensive feels worse and exposes more nonsense than the original cultural artifact that inspired the critique. That can be disheartening and in the middle of that alienation it’s refreshing to the deepest bits of me to see this video response from lebanesepoppyseed which was on the KBURD tumblr. Yay, rant on! I feel less alone in my rage and bafflement. (Bafflement is not quite the right word. Deep political and personal WTF that goes with alienation.) KBURD:
Short for “K but u rong doe”. Used when you know arguing is pointless but you need them to know they’re still wrong.
Person 1: women are partly responsible for getting raped
Person 2: kburd.
Ha! Yes. What a useful and amusing word.
But what does this have to do with powwows and dancing? Not much. But as I watched a bunch of videos and entered a happy click trance going between YouTube and Wikipedia and various Native American history sites I thought about knowledge and cultural contexts. I went to a powwow once in like 1982 and have read some books of stories and some histories of North America but I have no way to understand what I am seeing in these dances. And I have no particular knowledge of dance in general, at all other than having heard a friend once talk about some other dancer’s “placement”, after which I began to notice “placement” everywhere; so I realize there is a whole bundle of criteria that serious dancers would use to watch and understand and critique other dancers that I can’t tap into. I can’t see right off the bat very much of what it is that my friend (who is showing me the videos) sees and loves. So I can barely begin to appreciate these dancers — and I know that. I can see some guys dancing around in awesome looking outfits and get a vague feeling or mood and watch on that level. I can judge on the level of “I like how that dancer leaps”. But the art of it is on some level not visible to me. Reading the comments on the videos opens up a little bit of the context for me as people compliment a particular dancer. I watched a grass dance video about 6 times to be able to pick him out and to see even a glimmer of what they praised him for. Even that glimmer of vision makes me super happy as I see the depth of all the knowledge in the world and the way that epistemology is socially constructed and therefore more complicated than some sort of static objective Knowledge-Bit floating around in imaginary space. I get the feeling contemplating our inability to understand everything that’s like watching Cosmos and hearing Carl Sagan drone soothingly on about the emptiness between the stars. It’s not like abjectly going “oh I’m so ignorant” it’s appreciating the beauty of the immensity of what there is to know and love.
And that relates to everything about literary judgement and what people say about universality or scope of a story and they judge one kind of story to be profound and artistically wrought and then, lacking the tools to see a whole swath of the sky, declare that other things don’t reach those levels of complexity or universality or quality or goodness. It is incumbent on us to find out some depth about a thing, if we want to understand how to appreciate it, see its beauties, techniques, and craftedness, and judge its qualities. Education, it contributes so greatly to enjoyment! Context, people! This seems so obvious! But it isn’t, if you’ve not had some kind of double consciousness of truth and cultures and knowledge in general! Which people not in a dominant culture have more likelihood of thinking through and encountering! (Which…. rant…. you aren’t going to see if you don’t even accept that what is coming out of another person’s mouth is language, or thought, or makes any sense because you’ve already dehumanized them in your tiny racist white mind to the point where they’re a babbling mob howling about trivial unimportant things!) Why is this not obvious! I have to accept that it’s not. But then how to explain it.
The countless explanations are out there and then all the ignorant can hear is “KBURD” and a giant eyeroll and then they are back to whining about feeling excluded from where all the black kids are sitting at the cafeteria table and then I lose any semblance of patience and am KBURDing myself. But given that this idea about artistic or literary quality or judgement might be just a little bit accepted or accessible, then let me jump to critique and anger and #Occupy.
I got into an epic 3 days long and counting argument on Twitter about #ows with this dude “geekeasy”, Adam Katz. I know him a little from other political meetings and communities. One of my friends pointed him out getting into an argument about, I can’t even remember at this point; it had occupyoakland, I think the suggested name change of it to decolonize or liberate, the tipi that Running Wolf set up in Oscar Grant Plaza, a blog post by Andreana aka queer black feminist, and all sorts of stuff roiling around in there, but it seemed to be sparked by something he said about not wanting the General Assembly to have a progressive stack; ie, instead of just lining up to talk or getting your name on a list by raising your hand and being called on in order, the stack-keeper helping the facilitator would try to alternate between genders and races to make sure that the stack isn’t all white men standing up to speak because they are more likely to do so out of entitlement and more likely to be listened to out of white male privilege. So, i just went to link to an explanation of some examples of a progressive stack in action, but Christ on a cracker the top links are all to neonazis and MRA people and libertarian and the intersections thereof rejoicing that the progressive stack will unite all of them and all the other Folk of Reason against the coming Decolonization Mau-Mau, so, fuck. Okay. Yeah so. That’s a sampler of what happens when you even dare to suggest, Hey white dudes, how about you potentially wait 15 minutes to get your next chance to talk so that we can invite and make space for women and men of color to have a say? I swear to god it’s like asking a toddler to take a turn at a game and watching him lose his ever loving mind. Problem is he’s driving the fucking car!
Back to the discussion. What happened was, geekeasy was answering me and some friends and then increasingly other people jumping on into it, but answering us from a second twitter account, geekeasy2. I noticed that right off but then ignored it figuring he maybe had an account from his phone and one from a computer, and answered him there but like a day later realized he was still doing his “real” occupy twittering from his first account! As if all his increasingly amazingly racist stuff needed to be off in the corner so as not to pollute his main stream? As if the conversation we were deigning to have with him were somehow going to dilute his real message or bother his real followers or something? I don’t know. Along the way he said some epic and amazing things about black men’s privilege, black women’s privilege, “quotas” and affirmative action in every sphere, racism among PoC, racism against white men, continually quoted MLK to try and prove his point that everyone should be “colorblind”, somehow also it got all about black people when we were talking about Native American people in the beginning … I believe he may have told jay smooth (who talked with him for 2 days straight) that he was remarkably polite and articulate or something… holy hell!! It was like a hundred red alerts on the U.S.S. Enterprise were going off flashing because a bunch of us all hollered BINGO on our 4 dimensional hyper-bingo cards. Well, again, what does this have to do with “Art” and my watching a dozen Grass Dance videos last night, I am not sure I have the patience to keep outlining the connection and my kid wants breakfast now, but, it’s that I think, how can Adam judge whether someone else’s anger is justified or its meaning or background without him listening to or knowing that history and background? I am automatically really curious about his own personal situation and where he got to his thoughts, maybe his class rage is factoring into this big time, but then, go there and talk about that rather than invalidating the entire political thought process of a group of people you’re talking to. Like, he’s over there claiming that the lurkers support him in email, ie that he has talked with large numbers of white people who will leave the Occupy movement if there is a progressive stack, or if there is a serious meeting to change the name of Occupy Oakland, but he’s *saying that to people who are telling him they personally aren’t going to be part of the movement unless there *is* a progressive stack* without any seeming consciousness that he values his unseen white people not in the conversation more than he values the people of color he’s actually speaking with in that moment and that further, he expects the PoC he’s speaking with to also value those white people he invokes more than their own selves and feelings! It boggles the mind! My point though, is that he and so many white people feel free to judge the validity of women’s and people of color’s response, of our and their angry responses, of our humor, of our political experiences and beliefs, of our very capability of judgement and taking offense and finding other things acceptable, without even first listening to us or knowing anything about our experiences. And that, even aside from some sort of evenness in intrinsically making space for people to speak who might not otherwise get a chance to be heard, is the point, if white men would make structural changes in actual real life to pay attention to and value the opinions of people who aren’t them, they might get that depth of understanding necessary to develop some judgement! Why can’t they know that they don’t know, and take some time to look some shit up, like I just did automatically in googling for some history of Grass Dance, reading some comments from people talking to each other not to me about it, and making like 1 iota of effort! I realize that someone like Adam will instantly respond that that is why I need to listen to THEM more because omg what about the white menz, but my god! I spent my whole life being brought up to listen to them and judge everything else in the world according to their standards of importance and quality, and what an epic struggle to turn one’s attention elsewhere! The struggle of my whole life! And even then I still of course listen, especially to individuals who, like Adam, are in my community and directly up in my political arenas. And then they’re all like, Oh but we don’t get it, what is wrong, why aren’t there any (women in this hackerspace, women of color at this tech conference, etc etc) What can we do, please educate us on this subject and p.s. could you also do our Diversity Outreach unpaid and uncredited to get your friends to be tokenized and used and offended by us! And then when we fucking try to educate them even a tiny bit they’re all like Oh god reverse sexism/racism, my girlfriend says I’m not sexist, I have a black friend, Running Wolf said I get to have this tipi, You are oppressing me and now because you all dared suggest you get some of the time and I give up 1/10th of my privilege which I won’t even admit exists, I’m going to throw the internet’s biggest hissy fit for days on end so you will all pay attention to meeeeeee. (And even that is a bad framing that the point of things is for the benefit of white men to do their CR work for them. But, okay someone has to try.) At that point I am quite grateful to have the word to be able to simply say, “KBURD”. But then what? I mean I assume (with no real knowledge but in good faith) that geekeasy (in his non-geekeasy2 incarnation) does some useful and good and dedicated activist work. But then what do we do with his strangely split off alter ego, geekeasy2? We still have to live with these people after the revolution, if you know what I mean, so, damn, really, what now? Ally with the allies I guess and keep on fighting the good fight and leading by example. And this is what almost every day is like, in my head, during these months of #occupy #decolonize #liberate and all the conversations around it, so complicated and swirling, beautiful, inspiring, friend-making, and then, infuriating. It’s hard to blog because there is so MUCH of it. Is that how it is for you?
Peace out as I go make some eggs for my child and start my morning for real.
I made a stab at moving my money to a credit union in support of #Occupy, or (as I wish it were) #Decolonize, but ran into a bunch of problems! Because I live on a boat, and my harbor doesn’t handle us receiving mail, I can’t prove a fixed address that the two credit unions I’ve talked with will accept. I get most of my mail at my ex’s house, which I also still own half of. I get some mail at my partner’s house in San Francisco. But what credit unions want is a utility bill and a credit card bill to prove my address, or my residency, or something. I have all sorts of Documents Which Can Prove I Exist and Am Contactable, but none of them count. So, my dollars are all in Ally.com for now, until I can find a credit union that will take me as I am or until I start paying Oblomovka’s electricity bill.
Online payment systems are very handy for me. I buy a lot of stuff online — sometimes to spare myself the physical cost of running errands. I now have everything set up so that I can use Amazon payments, PayPal, Dwolla, and (naturally, since I’m a crackpot and a neophile) a few token, languishing, Bitcoins which I think of as the Pet Rock of currencies. I kind of like having all those possibilities and having them all tie into Mint.com, which displays everything in a way I can understand. I’m no financial tycoon but I do have some resources, and I really like being able to see the data about the bit that I have at my disposal. I had a good conversation lately with my friend Ian about how strange it feels to have that (and not be living paycheck to paycheck) and what we think we should do with it or about it. We talked about ethics and whether we would ever be someone’s landlord (No.) And the fact that we can’t figure out how to pool resources with other people and do things collectively other than through becoming a non profit, a corporation, or getting married. Are those structures enough? What other structures might be possible? How can we make co-operatives easier to create?
Anyway, back to money, banking, and software. Dwolla looks very promising! It has a nice web interface, elegant and non-stupid, which counts for a lot with me. It charges 25 cents to the person receiving the money. I think that’s it for the fees. Can it last? And could this be the magic platform/app/currency that enables us to pay content providers for stuff? I’ve written a few times about payments for music. I’d love to see music players with built in direct “tip jar” for all the artists. So while I’m listening to something, I should be able to not just star it or rate it; I could send a dollar (or even 50 cents) to the artist directly using Dwolla, alleviating my occasional torrent-guilt. I know people talk a lot of smack about micropayments. But this one, not really micro, and not ambitiously trying to be pervasive-over-everything, could work!
I have a list of posts I want to write a yard long, about music, books, politics, software development, poetry, feminism, and nifty techie things, but feel weirdly blocked up and so this uncharacteristic post in order to get what’s in my head out onto the page.
The Brennan Center just published a huge report, Voting Law Changes in 2012. The description of the report says that these laws will affect disabled people as well as young, minority, and low-income voters. Here is the lowdown on how these laws may affect people with disabilities.
Seven states have changed the law on voter registration and on absentee ballots to require government-issued photo ID. If you’re disabled, and you don’t have a current state or federal government issued photo ID, you may need to do quite a lot of planning to get one. Transportation, and the process itself of waiting in lines and going to various offices may be a barrier for many people.
If you have an elderly relative whose ID may be expired or who may not have a photo ID, and you’re in one of these states, you might want to help them prepare to vote. Let them know the law has changed and ask them to check their ID expiration dates now!
Unexpired driver’s license, non-driver’s ID issued by a motor vehicle department, U.S. passport, or U.S. military photo ID will be accepted by all seven states: Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.
Student IDs: Alabama, Kansas, and Rhode Island.
U.S. naturalization documents bearing a photo: Alabama, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.
Tribal ID card with a photo: Alabama and Wisconsin.
Concealed handgun licenses: Kansas and Texas. (Okay….)
Any old ID with your name and photo on it: Rhode Island. Woo hoo, print your own!
Here’s an excerpt from the Voting Law Changes in 2012 report that describes the situation in detail:
In general, the photo ID bills that were introduced this session are more restrictive than those in prior sessions, including fewer forms of acceptable IDs, fewer exemptions, or fewer alternative mechanisms for eligible voters without the specified IDs to vote.
Those laws that have passed this session vary in several respects, including: (1) the types of photo ID that voters are permitted to show for voting; (2) whether the requirement to provide ID applies only to in-person voters or to those who vote by mail as well; (3) whether there are any exemptions from the requirement to provide ID; and, most importantly, (4) whether there is an alternative way for a voter who does not have an accepted form of photo ID to cast a ballot that counts. Detailed descriptions of each bill are included in the appendix to this report.
The types of ID permitted
With the exception of Rhode Island, each of the states that passed voter ID bills require voters to show government-issued photo IDs, though the list of acceptable IDs differs from state to state. All seven states accept an unexpired driver’s license, non-driver’s ID issued by a motor vehicle department, U.S. passport, or U.S. military photo ID. All states except for Kansas and South Carolina also accept U.S. naturalization documents bearing a photo. Alabama, Rhode Island, and Tennessee broadly accept any photo ID issued by state and federal governments, though Tennessee expressly excludes student IDs from consideration. Only Alabama, Kansas, and Rhode Island accept student photo IDs issued by state institutions of higher education. Wisconsin purports to accept certain state-issued student IDs, but the state’s new law imposes criteria for such IDs that few if any state schools’ IDs meet. Kansas and Texas expressly allow concealed handgun licenses, and Alabama, Rhode Island and Tennessee accept such IDs as well. Only Alabama and Wisconsin accept a tribal ID card with a photo. Rhode Island is the only state that accepts non-governmental photo IDs for voting; indeed, any current ID with a voter’s name and photograph suffices.
Who must show photo ID
All seven states require individuals appearing to vote in person at a polling place to show photo ID. Only Alabama and Kansas require all persons who vote absentee to submit a copy of their photo IDs with their mail-in ballots. Those states are now the first two states in the nation ever to require photo ID with absentee ballots. Wisconsin requires permanent absentee voters to submit a copy of their photo IDs, but only the first time they vote absentee. As a practical matter, all absentee voters in Wisconsin will have to provide a copy of their photo IDs when the law first goes into full effect in 2012.
Several states exclude certain categories of voters from the requirement to show photo ID for voting. Alabama exempts individuals who are entitled to vote absentee under federal laws protecting certain military and overseas voters and certain elderly and disabled voters. Wisconsin also exempts military and overseas voters, as well as voters designated as “confidential,” such as police officers or domestic violence victims. It does not exempt elderly or disabled voters other than those indefinitely confined to certain care facilities. Tennessee exempts voters who are either hospitalized or in nursing homes. Texas exempts certain voters with disabilities who can produce a statement that they have been determined to be disabled by specified government agencies and do not have the required ID. And Kansas exempts only permanently disabled and absent military voters from its law, but allows persons over sixty-five to show expired photo IDs.
I’m not in any of those states but thought I’d help get the word out.
I fully support Aaron Swartz as he fights unjustified charges from the U.S. government, and hope that my readers will support him too. Aaron is a researcher who works with huge datasets and has worked on many open data projects. Aaron is being charged for having accessed JSTOR, a repository of academic journal articles, and downloading them.
JSTOR itself didn’t want to press charges and says it hasn’t suffered loss or damage. But the U.S. Government indicted Aaron because they feel like they “caught a hacker”.
I’m incredulous that they would pursue this case against a well known researcher and activist who allegedly was doing something quite benign — scraping data.
I worry that this case will have a chilling effect on open data projects. The government has gone to great lengths here to stop a respected activist’s work, siccing the Secret Service on him and wasting an incredible amount of resources to trump up this case. The FBI has already investigated Aaron at least once for downloading PACER data . It looks bad to me, like the government was basically waiting for any excuse to build some sort of charge against Aaron for his briliant open data activism.
Here’s Aaron’s background in open data and analyzing large data sets:
In conjunction with Shireen Barday, he downloaded and analyzed 441,170 law review articles to determine the source of their funding; the results were published in the Stanford Law Review. From 2010-11, he researched these topics as a Fellow at the Harvard Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption.
He has also assisted many other researchers in collecting and analyzing large data sets with theinfo.org. His landmark analysis of Wikipedia, Who Writes Wikipedia?, has been widely cited. He helped develop standards and tutorials for Linked Open Data while serving on the W3C’s RDF Core Working Group and helped popularize them as Metadata Advisor to the nonprofit Creative Commons and coauthor of the RSS 1.0 specification.
In 2008, he created the nonprofit site watchdog.net, making it easier for people to find and access government data. He also served on the board of Change Congress, a good government nonprofit.
In 2007, he led the development of the nonprofit Open Library, an ambitious project to collect information about every book ever published.
I would also like to say that I think that libraries and academics should stop buying into the JSTOR model. JSTOR aggregates academic journal articles which it doesn’t even own, and sells limited access to those articles to large institutions for thousands of dollars. Libraries and universities should act to enable access to information, not to limit it.
I read very quickly and am a hardcore neophile, traits that go well together. It makes me super happy to have tons of new information flying into my brain. Take these links, please, to help me close the tabs in my browser!
In perusing these documents, there is something that startles us even more than their contents—viz., their form. All these letters are “confidential,” “private,” “secret,” “most secret”; but in spite of secrecy, privacy, and confidence, the English statesmen converse among each other about Russia and her rulers in a tone of awful reserve, abject servility, and cynical submission, which would strike us even in the public despatches of Russian statesmen.
Gates makes powerful cases that these writers are working in tradition, building and extending and critiquing each others’ work. But it is not at all clear to me that Signifying in this theoretical sense represents a special sort of African-American literary influence distinct from other sorts of literary influence. Writers always build on the work of earlier writers. Later parts of the bible modify earlier parts, and the Hebrew bible reworks earlier Semitic traditions. Dante rewrites and modifies Virgil. Cervantes parodies chivalric romances in Don Quixote. It’s how writing works, and how art works, how culture works. African-American writers respond to other African-American writers, and other predecessors (Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo is obviously also in the broader tradition of modern/postmodern literature). Is Reed’s response to Black writers Signifying, and to other writers not? Or is the way that African-American writers respond to predecessors Signifying, as distinct to the way other writers respond?
It’s been a long time since I read The Signifying Monkey ! But I have a bit of a knee jerk response that signifying is one of many lenses to use for looking at intertextuality and shares some characteristics just as people refer to some kind of intertextuality as Talmudic in character. I also had some thoughts of feminist discussions of interrupted geneologies of literary and intellectual influence but couldn’t think who to cite. Direct influence can be hard to prove and it is a bit pointless to try in many cases. But we can say that a writer was writing within a likely context – or can skip that and say that reading them within a particular context we choose has meaning.
Got to say the thing I enjoyed the most about the State Department cables was the description of a wedding in Dagestan, well written and totally fascinating. Jet skis! Vodka! Giant water tower reception room with a glass floor that’s the top of a huge fish tank, all very jamesbondian! I went to YouTube to look up videos of what a lezginka dance looks like, Dagestan style and got lost in there for most of Sunday afternoon.
As I was reading up on the controversy about Blue Bottle Coffee putting a generator-drive truck with espresso machines into Dolores Park, I came across this mock documentary by “Kenita Burns” about the battle between Ritual Roasters and Blue Bottle coffee hipsters in San Francisco:
The quote at the end about Joan Baez and the song for the closing credits were the funniest parts to me, because while I love listening to boomer hippies tell stories about the olden days and I admire their many accomplishments, they’re really fun to parody.
I came into reading about Dolores Park and the coffee controversy from Chicken John’s giant rambling rants on his mailing list. A Blue Bottle employee wrote to him and he went into a full blast of rhetoric on the subject. You know who else promised us solar power? GEORGE BUSH. And probably Hitler. I liked Annalee’s suggestion that Blue Bottle power its espresso machines by bicycle. Earnest park-goers would pedal away helpfully and the company could also hire bikers to generate the power necessary for expensive coffee. This would turn the whole concern from a PR debacle into a total PR win and Blue Bottle would end up beloved of all (except for people who notice, like Chicken John, that it’s still an incredibly bad idea to sell off public park space to private businesses.)
Annalee and Claire Light and Charlie Jane and Annalee’s friend Lynn sat there for hours in Cafe Petra working quietly, reading, writing, and coding. I was messing around with some problems in Drupal for work, while I think everyone else was writing their novels or blogging for their day jobs. Later that night I read one of Charlie’s stories which blew me away completely. Timmi wrote me really nice email about my long essay about the connections between women writers and thinkers, which made me swoon with happiness.
Yesterday I also spent some glorious hours reading about Drop City in Colorado, Zome which started as a dome construction thing and has morphed into alternate power systems and Zometool toy construction kits; the Hog Farm and Black Oak Ranch, the Whole Earth Catalog folks, and other utopian movements in Northern California, inspired by my visit to the geodesic domes of Oz Farm (former utopian commune home of SF State computer science professor Lawrence Kroll). Tim Miller seems to have written some interesting books on utopian communities. I ordered some of his books, the TC Boyle Drop City book, and Peter Rabbit’s book which sounds like a very DIY zine style “history”. It is difficult to find much mention of the women of these communes and they often go by pseudonyms and then change their names a couple of times anyway, as with much of my research into women doing — well, pretty much anything. I will be making a list though once I have some books to go on. The web sources suck for figuring out who the women were in these movements and what they might have been thinking. Certainly they were thinking some bitter things about dishwashing.
As I read and researched I thought over some of the poems I have cooking. I’m still on a long-poem kick after 10 years of thinking about long poems and what can be done in them with ideas. I still like short poems, but am not the sort of poet who sits down to look at a lake and writes a poem about a lake. How dreary!!! How middle class! I despise most poets’ aesthetics. They can take their gardens, their analysis of their relationships with their dead parents, their constipated little emotions they applaud as they’re finally pooped out, and their glurgy thoughts about bombs, and shove them.
Enough with the cranky poet. Here’s what I’m thinking about.
Anyway, it was pleasant to swim around in the shape of the unwritten poem, with words and phrases popping into my head and going onto the page. The big idea and combination or juxtaposition of ideas and images and things starts to take form. Oddly – this is almost a non-verbal process. The shape or form or echo or feel of the poem, as a poem, forms before there are words to go into the poem (or while there are only a few words or a phrase as the keystone or touchstone.) Poems begin to separate out from each other as it becomes clear what ideas go with which other ideas and how they all interrelate. So before I have much of anything, I know that I’m writing a long big poem about daylighting a San Francisco creek, with a hefty dose of wistful critique of eco-liberalism; or about the Whole Earth Catalog’s history, utopia, the Internet, broken skeletons of dreams and the homes they morph into, Alia and the God Emperor of Dune, and the torturer Autarch Severian and the way we treat (and eat) information and cultural memory.
The stuff I’m writing now and have been writing for the past couple of years is part of a slowly evolving book called “Unruly Islands” and while I know mostly no one else cares what a book of poetry is “about” or how its elements are related, I care deeply about the meta-narrative of a poetry book as a thing in itself.
The alchemical process of distilling language out of this inchoate stuff puts me into an ecstatic trance. I feel a little bit insane. It’s hard to turn off. It’s hard to switch gears back into real life, real language, and linear thinking. That switching gears is part of what I feel I’ve learned over the years to let me have a fairly comfortable life in society and still stay a poet. Of course the sleeping pills also help.
Here’s the kayak full of trash I picked up early this morning at low tide in Redwood Creek. It was a short, leisurely voyage in a glassy calm that made it easy to spot floating plastic bags and bottles.
The big glass bottle looks old to me, so I’m going to wash it out and keep it.
During unusually high tides there’s usually a lot of fast food containers, plastic bottlecaps, and styrofoam packing peanuts as well as a lemon or two.
Most of the time I forget to take a photo, but here’s another day’s worth of trash:
The most fertile grounds for trash are right up Redwood Creek past Highway 101. It’s only good to go there during a high tide at slack water.
On Valentine’s Day this year the Peninsula Yacht Club at Docktown led a big effort to pull trash from the creekside. In one day, they hauled out almost 2 tons of junk!
I think in the summer, Beth from Fake Plastic Fish might come do a trash collection voyage with me. Her blog is pretty cool – take a look. She lived for a year without consuming more than 5 pounds of plastic and she’s basically an activist against unnecessary plastic. After collecting trash from the creek, and during moments like watching seagulls fight over a coke bottle screw top and then one of them eating it, I can sure see where she’s coming from. The plastic bags in the marsh look like jellyfish floating.
In the Maldives there is an island made entirely of trash, Thilafushi Island. It’s built out of garbage and looks like an interesting place despite surely leaching out pollutants and hosting some industrial processing plants.
The island has grown to such proportions that it now has a café, a restaurant, two mosques, a barbershop, a clinic, a police station and rather unexpectedly, a makeshift zoo.
If we had a floating trash island in the San Francisco Bay, its growth would need to be limited, but it could be a very interesting place for eco-tourism or trash management tourism. I picture this floating trash island as a step further than Forbes Island or Spiral Island II, but smaller than Thilafushi. It could be a colony where people come stay and camp for a month and do volunteer Bay cleanup work with Trash Island as their base. There should also be a coffee cart and a nature center. It would be way more exciting to visit than Yet Another Bike Trail with Dogwalkers And Joggers In A Landfill. The price of admission would be that you take away a bag of trash. Okay, this is a half-baked idea… While I like the vision of seasteading as places for independent states, I tend to come up with slightly less ambitious ideas for cooperatively owned marinas or coastal cities with floating platforms that share some common purpose or radical politics — ecological cleanup and monitoring, public coastal access, and maybe some really cool art. In fact, I think that seasteading colonies will need to foster marinas with progressive politics in order to be viable. Seasteading needs a sort of marine-stuff-ecosystem in order to be viable. That might mean developing a close relationship with a working port city, or buying up and running its own port.
Speaking of public access! You should go to the Alviso Public Boat Ramp re-opening! Free kayak rides for kids and I’m sure a great party in a place with a long, interesting history.
I watched President Obama’s speech tonight on CNN with Facebook comments and Twitter streaming by both at once, and several people talking with me on IM, as is now my usual practice watching anything interesting in politics. If I had to watch the speech without the backchannels, I wouldn’t be exactly bored. I’d be frustrated, like I was missing a sense I’m used to having. My reactions develop and merge with the stream of reactions online and I like it that way.
While I watched, talked, and listened, I noticed Tweet Congress, which encourages members of Congress to get on Twitter.
Now, even if we manage to keep a handle on the downward slide of the economy, I think this country needs more investment in something like the CCC and the WPA. We need better infrastructure especially in schools, health care, and housing. More investment in programs like Americorps.
I have been thinking about what will happen if more and more people become poor and homeless. Here’s my tinfoil hat speaking… We have widespread poverty already. But it is cordoned off from the middle class and wealthy. As I considered what would likely happen I thought back to the Astrodome or “Reliant Center” relief camp of 20,000 in Houston after Hurricane Katrina. You may not remember, but Barbara Bush and other powerful wealthy people actually believed that the people whose communities and homes were destroyed by Katrina would want to live on cots under the bright lights of a refugee camp, and would be better off there. Better off! It was amazing and outrageous. Yes I watched this woman who was the First Lady of the U.S. for 8 years walk through the sad shell shocked crowd of black folks who had been trapped in the Superdome, and then say on the radio that they were going to have a happier better life now that they were taken care of in this camp, and they weren’t going to want to leave, because they had been “underprivileged”. The disconnect and lack of empathy and imagination was, and still is, so vast for people like Bush.
Some factions of government were practically salivating at the thought of having an utterly disempowered population in a fenced off area they would make into a model refugee camp. They were planning, likely with some good intentions, “Reliant Village”. I saw the plans for it, with a mobile school and playground and town square and sort of a barracks set up. They planned for the long term, for years of thousands of people living there in the stadium and parking lot. And I believe that model is still in the minds of much of our government; disaster, as an opportunity for a kind of reform. But a kind of reform that any sane person would reject, because it means living in a jail wrapped up to look pretty, with electronic tracking bracelets and military guards everywhere 24/7 to guarantee that poor people are safe from themselves but most of all to sanitize the idea of poverty and unfreedom for the rest of the country who still have jobs and homes so that they won’t have to face up to it. Those middle class people were all too happy and charitable to send truck loads of their donated old tshirts to the camp not having the faintest clue that no one had anywhere to put a truckload of clothes and material possessions and that that kind of charity wasn’t helping a damn thing.
In short, I now trust, due to Obama being elected, this won’t happen.
Under Bush, that’s where we were heading, straight to crazy-ass dystopia. And it was beginning to happen post-Katrina. Surprise, most people got the heck out of the camp as soon as they could muster up a ride or a bus ticket out of town, if they knew anyone – anyone! who lived outside of the hurricane-hit areas. The ones too old, alone, or in too many difficulties to do that, got bussed off forcibly to smaller refurbished military bases and church camps in the middle of nowhere where they know no one, because of the panic over Hurricane Rita — camps where years later some are still stuck.
So what do I think will happen? Don’t know and it will depend how bad the job losses are, but I’m putting my hopes on massive public works programs and jobs for everyone. Housing is the piece of the puzzle I can’t see for the life of me; public housing sucks, institutional living sucks worse, maybe an expansion of Section 8, better funding of Habitat for Humanity type of projects, or better rent control laws will help. There is no safety net, welfare and even food stamps are incredibly broken, and people need that safety net, more transparency and less cold hearted state employees who do their jobs right.