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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.