The inside story of The Jersey Shutdown, 2017

The Chris Christie beach memes are fun­ny of course but I talked to more than a few local res­i­dents who won­dered what the state shut­down was about. The Star Ledger has gone deep and inter­viewed the play­ers to find out just what hap­pened ear­li­er this week:

When it end­ed ear­ly on the fourth day, New Jer­sey had been treat­ed to a remark­able polit­i­cal spec­ta­cle, even by Tren­ton stan­dards, com­plete with duel­ing press con­fer­ences, nasty back­room shout­ing match­es, and even pro­pa­gan­da posters.  Some of it played out pub­licly — very pub­licly. What didn’t is told here, the inside sto­ry of what caused — and what final­ly set­tled — the New Jer­sey gov­ern­ment shut­down of 2017.

It’s espe­cial­ly depress­ing to read the kind of horse trad­ing that was going on behind the scenes: oth­er mea­sures float­ed to end the stand­off. It was a game to see which con­stituen­cy the politi­cians might all be able to agree to screw over. I pre­sume this is nor­mal Tren­ton pol­i­tics but it’s not good gov­ern­ing and the ram­i­fi­ca­tions are felt through­out the state.

Read: The inside story of The Jersey Shutdown, 2017

The bandwidth of memories

Anoth­er fam­i­ly vaca­tion is com­ing up, which for me means think­ing once more about the pre-nostalgia of fam­i­ly pho­tos. While blog posts are osten­si­bly for vis­i­tors, the audi­ence I care more about is actu­al­ly future me.

Just before a 2013 trip, I wrote “Nos­tal­gia Comes Ear­ly,” a post about mem­o­ries and why I go to the trou­ble to share these posts — as much with my future self as with read­ers (I con­tin­ued this thought lat­er with Recov­er­ing the Past Through Pho­tos).

Every suc­ces­sive fam­i­ly trip cre­ates a mag­ni­tude more data than the one pre­ced­ing it. I have exact­ly 10 pho­tos from the first time I vis­it­ed Walt Dis­ney World, with my then-fiancée in 2001. I have only fuzzy mem­o­ries of the trip. A year or so lat­er I returned back to Flori­da (Key West this time) for a hon­ey­moon with her, a trip that has zero pho­tos. I remem­ber maybe a half dozen things we did but few locales visited.

Con­trast this with a 2013 Dis­ney World trip, for which we made a whole blog, A Spe­cial WDW Fam­i­ly. The focus was trav­el­ing Dis­ney with autis­tic kids. There’s a lot of infor­ma­tion in there. We wrote about meals and rides, small vic­to­ries, and child melt­downs. The band­width of mem­o­ries isn’t just in the num­ber of jpeg files but in the dis­tinct mem­o­ries I have of the events of that week-plus.

We took many hun­dreds of pho­tos over our most recent fam­i­ly vaca­tion in Decem­ber 2015, only a small frac­tion of which went online. In addi­tion, I have Google Loca­tion data for the trip and Foursquare check­ins logged in Ever­note. I know how many steps I took each day. I know whether I had a good sleep. We didn’t make a pub­lic blog but we have a long anno­tate log of each restau­rant and stop, with anno­ta­tion tips to remind our future selves about how we could do things bet­ter in the future. The meta­da­ta is in itself not so impor­tant, but it’s use­ful to be able to drop into a day and remem­ber what we did and see the smiles (and tired­ness) on faces each day.

Black with a capital B

It’s been a long-running debate in edi­to­r­i­al cir­cles: whether to cap­i­tal­ize ‘black’ and ‘white’ in print pub­li­ca­tions when refer­ring to groups of peo­ple. I remem­ber dis­cus­sions about it in the ear­ly 1990s when I worked as a graph­ic design­er at a (large­ly White) pro­gres­sive pub­lish­ing house. My offi­cial, stylesheet-sanctioned answer has been con­sis­tent in every pub­li­ca­tion I’ve worked for since then: low­er­case. But I remain unsatisfied.

Cap­i­tal­iza­tion has lots of built-in quirks. In gen­er­al, we cap­i­tal­ize only when names come from prop­er nouns and don’t con­cern our­selves about mis­match­es. We can write about “frogs and sala­man­ders and Fowler’s toads” or “dis­eases such as can­cer or Alzheimer’s.” Reli­gious terms are even trick­i­er: there’s the Gospel of Luke that is part of the gospel of Christ. In my Quak­er work, it’s sur­pris­ing how often I have to go into a exe­ge­sis of intent over whether the writer is talk­ing about a capital-L divine Light or a more gener­ic lower-case light­ness of being. “Black” and “white” are both clear­ly low­er­cased when they refer to col­ors and most style guides have kept it that way for race.

But seri­ous­ly? We’re talk­ing about more than col­or when we use it as a racial des­ig­na­tion. This is also iden­ti­ty. Does it real­ly make sense to write about South Cen­tral L.A. and talk about its “Kore­ans, Lati­nos, and blacks?” The counter-argument says that if cap­i­tal­ize Black, what then with White. Con­sis­ten­cy is good and they should pre­sum­ably match, except for the real­i­ty check: White­ness in Amer­i­ca has his­tor­i­cal­ly been a catch-all for non-coloredness. Dif­fer­ent groups are con­sid­ered white in dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances; many of the most-proudly White eth­nic­i­ties now were col­ored a cen­tu­ry ago. Much of the swampi­er side of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics has been rein­forc­ing racial iden­ti­ty so that out-of-work Whites (code­name: “work­ing class”) will vote for the inter­ests of White bil­lion­aires rather than out-of-work peo­ple of col­or (code­name: “poor”) who share every­thing but their mela­tonin lev­el. All iden­ti­ties are incom­plete and sur­pris­ing­ly flu­id when applied at the indi­vid­ual lev­el, but few are as non-specific as “White” as a racial designation.

Back in the 1990s we could dodge the ques­tion a bit. The style guide for my cur­rent pub­li­ca­tion notes “lc, but sub­sti­tute ‘African Amer­i­can’ in most con­texts.” Many pro­gres­sive style sheets back in the day gave sim­i­lar advice. In the ebb and flow of pre­ferred iden­ti­ty nomen­cla­ture, African Amer­i­can was trend­ing as the more polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect des­ig­na­tion, helped along by a strong endorse­ment from Jesse Jack­son. Black wasn’t quite fol­low­ing the way of Negro into obso­les­cence, but the avail­abil­i­ty of an clear­ly cap­i­tal­ized alter­na­tive gave white pro­gres­sives an easy dodge. The terms also per­haps sub­tly dis­tin­guished between those good African Amer­i­cans who worked with­in in the sys­tem from those dan­ger­ous rad­i­cals talk­ing about Black Pow­er and reparations.

The Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment has brought Black back as the polit­i­cal­ly bold­er word. Today it feels sharp­er and less coy than African Amer­i­can. It’s the bet­ter punch line for a thou­sand voic­es shout­ing ris­ing up out­side the governor’s man­sion. We’ve arrived at the point where African Amer­i­can feels kind of stilt­ed. It’s as if we’ve been try­ing a bit too hard to nor­mal­ize cen­turies of slav­ery. We’ve got our Irish Amer­i­cans with their green St Paddy’s day beer, the Ital­ian Amer­i­cans with their pas­ta and the African Amer­i­cans with their music and… oh yes, that unfor­tu­nate slav­ery thing, “oh wasn’t that ter­ri­ble but you know there were Irish slaves too”). All of these iden­ti­ties scan the same in the big old melt­ing pot of Amer­i­ca. It’s fine for the broad sweep of his­to­ry of a museum’s name but feels cold­ly inad­e­quate when we’re watch­ing a hash­tag trend for yet anoth­er Black per­son shot on the street. When the mega­phone crack­les out “Whose lives mat­ter?!?” the answer is “Black Lives Mat­ter!” and you know every­one in the crowd is shout­ing the first word with a cap­i­tal B.

Turn­ing to Google: The Colum­bia Jour­nal­ism Review has a nice piece on the nuances involved in cap­i­tal­iza­tion, “Black and white: why cap­i­tal­iza­tion mat­ters.” This 2000 lec­ture abstract by Robert S. Wachal flat-out states that “the fail­ure to cap­i­tal­ize Black when it is syn­ony­mous with African Amer­i­can is a mat­ter of unin­tend­ed racism,” deli­cious­ly adding “to put the best pos­si­ble face on it.” In 2014, The NYTimes pub­lished Tem­ple Uni­ver­si­ty prof Lori L. Tharps ’s con­vinc­ing argu­ment, “The Case for Black With a Cap­i­tal B.” If you want to go his­tor­i­cal, this thread on shift­ing terms by Ken Greeen­wald on a 2004 Word­wiz­ard forum is pure gold.

And with that I’ll open up the com­ment thread.

Fake News and Clickbait

There’s a lot of talk online right now about fake news pages on Face­book and how they influ­enced both the elec­tion and how we think about the elec­tion. It’s a prob­lem and I’m glad peo­ple are shar­ing links about it.

But when we share these links, let’s take that extra step and point to orig­i­nal sources.

Exam­ple: Some­one named Melis­sa Zim­dars has done a lot of work to com­pile a list of fake news sources, pub­lished as a Google Doc with a Cre­ative Com­mons license that allows any­one to repost it. It’s a great pub­lic ser­vice and she’s fre­quent­ly updat­ing it, reclas­si­fy­ing pub­li­ca­tions as feed­back comes in.

The prob­lem is that there are a lot of web pub­lish­ers whose sites exist most­ly to repack­age con­tent. They’ll find a fun­ny Red­dit list and will copy and paste it as an orig­i­nal post or they’ll rewrite a break­ing news source in their own words. The rea­son is obvi­ous: they get the ad dol­lars that oth­er­wise would go to the orig­i­nal con­tent cre­ators. They’re not engag­ing in fake news, per se, but they’re also not adding any­thing to the knowl­edge base of human­i­ty and they’re tak­ing the spot­light off the hard work of the orig­i­nal creators.

Back to our exam­ple, Zimdars’s updates on this click­bait sites don’t get updat­ed as she refines her list. In some cas­es, click­bait web­sites rewrite and repost one another’s ever-more extreme head­lines till they bear lit­tle real­i­ty to the orig­i­nal post (I fol­lowed the page view food chain a few years ago after read­ing a par­tic­u­lar­ly dopey piece about veg­ans launch­ing a boy­cott over a TV ad).

So here’s part two of avoid­ing fake news sites: before you share some­thing on Face­book, take the two min­utes to fol­low any link to the orig­i­nal source and share that instead. Sup­port orig­i­nal con­tent creation.

Upcoming FJ submission: “Quaker Spaces”

I've been meaning to get more into the habit of sharing upcoming Friends Journal issue themes. We started focusing on themed issues back around 2012 as a way to bring some diversity to our subject matter and help encourage Friends to talk about topics that weren't as regularly-covered.

One of the Greenwich, N.J., Meetinghouses.

One of the Greenwich, N.J., meetinghouses, Sept 2009

The next issue we're looking to fill is a topic I find interesting: Quaker Spaces. I've joked internally that we could call it "Meetinghouse Porn," and while we already have some beautiful illustrations lined up, I think there's a real chance at juicy Quaker theology in this issue as well.

One of my pet theories is that since we downplay creeds, we talk theology in the minutia of our meetinghouses. Not officially of course—our worship spaces are neutral, unconsecrated, empty buildings. But as Helen Kobek wrote in our March issue on "Disabilities and Inclusion," we all need physical accommodations and these provide templates to express our values. Earlier Friends expressed a theology that distrusted forms by developing an architectural style devoid of crosses, steeples. The classic meetinghouse looks like a barn, the most down-to-early humble architectural form a northern English sheepherders could imagine.

But theologies shift. As Friends assimilated, some started taking on other forms and Methodist-like meetinghouse (even sometimes daringly called churches) started popping up. Modern meetinghouses might have big plate glass windows looking out over a forest, a nod to our contemporary worship of nature or they might be in a converted house in a down-and-out neighborhood to show our love of social justice.

Top photo is a framed picture of the Lancaster U.K. Meetinghouse from the early 20th century--long benches lined up end to end, balcony. By the time of my visit, there were cushioned independent chairs arranged in a circle.
Top photo is of a framed picture of the Lancaster UK Meetinghouse from the early 20th century--long benches lined up the length of the space. By the time of my visit in 2003, the balcony was gone and the few remaining benches were relegated to an outer ring outside of cushioned chairs arranged in a circle surrounding a round table with flowers and copies of Faith and Practice.

But it's not just the outsides where theology shows up. All of the classic Northeastern U.S. meetinghouses had rows of benches facing forward, with elevated fencing benches reserved for the Quaker elders. A theologically-infused distrust of this model has led many a meeting to rearrange the pews into a more circular arrangement. Sometimes someone will sneak something into the middle of the space—flowers, or a Bible or hymnal—as if in recognition that they don't find the emptiness of the Quaker form sufficient. If asked, most of these decisions will be explained away in a light-hearted manner but it's hard for me to believe there isn't at least an unconscious nod to theology in some of the choices.

I'd love to hear stories of Friends negotiating the meeting space. Has the desire to build or move a meetinghouse solidified or divided your meeting? Do you share the space with other groups, or rent it out during the week? If so, how have you decided on the groups that can use it? Have you bickered over the details of a space. Here in the Northeast, there are many tales of meetings coming close to schism over the question of replacing ancient horsehair bench cushions, but I'm sure there are considerations and debates to be had over the form of folding chairs.

You can find out more about submitting to this or any other upcoming issue our the Friends Journal Submissions page. Other upcoming issues are "Crossing Cultures" and "Social Media and Technology."

Aug 2016: Quaker Spaces

What do our architecture, interior design, and meetinghouse locations say about our theology and our work in the world? Quakers don’t consecrate our worship spaces but there’s a strong pull of nostalgia that brings people into our historic buildings and an undeniable energy to innovative Quaker spaces. How do our physical manifestations keep us grounded or keep us from sharing the “Quaker gospel” more widely? Submissions due 5/2/2016.

Remembering it’s an honor just to be read

Strange moment this morn­ing when I checked my blog stats and real­ized that I get a fair amount of traf­fic for a movie review I wrote last year. I was check­ing the stats to see if any of the Quaker-related search terms might give clues for future con­tent on Friends Jour­nal or Quak­er­S­peak and for that pur­pose the review’s pop­u­lar­i­ty with Google (and read­ers) isn’t that useful.

But this blog is just my life spun out. I don’t aim for key­words and I don’t want to dom­i­nate a thought-sphere. If I see a movie and jot down some impres­sions that attract a small audi­ence, then my blog post is a suc­cess. A dozen or so ran­dom peo­ple a month Google in to spend a cou­ple of min­utes read­ing my thoughts on a fifty-year-old movie. That’s cool. That’s enough. In all the talk of tar­get­ing and SEO we some­times for­get that it’s an hon­or to sim­ply be read.

The oth­er night stayed up late to cud­dled with my wife and watch good-natured but flawed Rom-Com. I read some reviews on IMDB and pon­dered the clich­es in the show­er the next morn­ing. Boil­ing these impres­sions down into 500 words on a train com­mute would be easy enough. I should do it more.