Wait, a new Quaker blog, what retroness is this?

And just as we’re talk­ing about the con­tin­ued down­ward entropy of blog­ging, here’s a new Quak­er blog. Isaac Smith of Fred­er­ick (Md.) Meet­ing (and Twit­ter) has the first post in a time-limited, “pop-up” blog. He’s call­ing it “The Anar­chy of the Ranters.” I’ll over­look the sim­i­lar­i­ty to this blog’s name in the hope that the peo­ple who have been drop­ping com­ments on mine since 2004 ask­ing about the dif­fer­ence between Quak­ers and Ranters will start both­er­ing him now.

The first post is “Defen­sive­ness as a The­o­log­i­cal Prob­lem for Friends,” a good blog­ging debut.

The ques­tion of who belongs in the church, which has always been of cen­tral impor­tance, is what’s at stake here, and unfor­tu­nate­ly, it is often being answered in ways that are hurt­ful and alien­at­ing — the oppo­site of what the gospel promis­es.

November Flashbacks

Once a month I’m doing flash­backs to past eras in my blog.

One Year Ago: November 2016

A year ago the shock to the sys­tem was Trump’s elec­tion. One reac­tion of mine was a promise to blog more; I set up the sys­tem but I’m still not as fric­tion­less about it as I’d like.

Wak­ing Up to Pres­i­dent Trump: We do not get to choose our era or the chal­lenges it throws at us. Only some­one with his­tor­i­cal amne­sia would say this is unprece­dent­ed in our his­to­ry. The enslave­ment of mil­lions and the geno­cide of mil­lions more are dark stains indeli­bly soaked into the very found­ing of the nation. But much will change, par­tic­u­lar­ly our naiv­i­ty and false opti­mism in an inevitable for­ward progress of our nation­al sto­ry.

Five Years Ago: November 2012

Five years ago I wrote about how I had been blog­ging for fif­teen years. Do the math: it’s now 20 frig­ging years since I start­ed blog­ging.

Fif­teen Years of Blog­ging: I keep double-checking the math but it keeps adding up. In Novem­ber 1997 I added a fea­ture to my two-year-old peace web­site. I called this new enti­ty Non­vi­o­lence Web Upfront and updat­ed it week­ly with orig­i­nal fea­tures and curat­ed links to the best online paci­fist writ­ing. I wrote a ret­ro­spec­tive of the “ear­ly blog­ging days” in 2005 that talks about how it came about and gives some con­text about the proto-blogs hap­pen­ing back in 1997.

Ten Years Ago: November 2007

Free­lanc­ing and work­ing the overnight shift at Shoprite, I won­dered if my Quak­er­ness was hope­less­ly use­less to my new cir­cum­stances.

Who are we part one (just what pam­phlet do I give the tat­tooed ex-con?): I love the fel­low who gave the mes­sage and I appre­ci­at­ed his min­istry. But the whole time I won­dered how this would sound to peo­ple I know now, like the friend­ly but hot-tempered Puer­to Rican ex-con less than a year out of a eight-year stint in fed­er­al prison, now work­ing two eight hour shifts at almost-minimum wage jobs and try­ing to stay out of trou­ble. How does the the­o­ry of our the­ol­o­gy fit into a code of con­duct that doesn’t start off assum­ing mid­dle class norms.

Twenty Years Ago: November 1997

Four years before 9/11, I was ask­ing how we could break the cycle of ter­ror­ism.

How Come the U.S. Trains All the Ter­ror­ists?: It would seem a sim­ple case of U.S. mil­i­tarism com­ing home to roost, but it is not so sim­ple and it is not uncom­mon. Fol­low most trails of ter­ror­ism and you’ll find Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment fund­ing some­where in the recent past.

The demise of online subcultures?

An inter­est­ing pro­file of a niche com­mu­ni­ty affect­ed by the shift of atten­tion from community-led sites to Face­book, “How Face­book – the Wal-Mart of the inter­net – dis­man­tled online sub­cul­tures.”

Over time, these chal­lenges to the BME com­mu­ni­ty became increas­ing­ly prob­lem­at­ic. Mem­bers delet­ed accounts or stopped post­ing. By 2015, the main com­mu­ni­ty forum – which used to have hun­dreds of posts a day – went with­out a sin­gle com­ment for over six months.

Hav­ing pre­dict­ed many of the web’s func­tions and fea­tures, BME failed to antic­i­pate its own demise.

It’s def­i­nite­ly some­thing I’ve seen in my niche world of Quak­ers. I start­ed Quak­erQuak­er as an inde­pen­dent site in part because I didn’t want Google and Face­book and Beliefnet to deter­mine who we are. There’s the obvi­ous prob­lems — Beliefnet hir­ing a pro­gram­mer to make a “What Reli­gion Are You?” test based on a few books picked up the library one after­noon.

But there’s also more sub­tle prob­lems. On Face­book any­one can start or join a group and start talk­ing author­i­ta­tive­ly about Quak­ers with­out actu­al­ly being an active com­mu­ni­ty mem­ber. I can think of a num­ber of online char­ac­ters who had nev­er even vis­it­ing a Friends meet­ing or church.

Our tra­di­tion built up ways of defin­ing our spokes­peo­ple though the prac­tices of record­ed min­is­ters and elders, and of clar­i­fy­ing shared beliefs though doc­u­ments like Faith and Prac­tice. I’ll be the first to argue that this process has pro­duced mixed results. But if it is to be adapt­ed or reformed, I’d like the work to be done by us in a thought­ful, inclu­sive man­ner. Instead, the form of our dis­cus­sions are now invis­i­bly imposed by an out­side algo­rithm that is opti­mized for obses­sive engage­ment and adver­tis­ing deliv­ery. Face­book process is not Quak­er process, yet it is large­ly what we use when we talk about Quak­ers out­side of Sun­day morn­ing.

I think Face­book has helped alter­na­tive com­mu­ni­ties form. I’m grate­ful for the pop-up com­mu­ni­ties of inter­est I’m part of. And there are sites with more user gen­er­at­ed con­tent like Wikipedia and Red­dit that hold an inter­est­ing middle-ground and where infor­ma­tion is gen­er­al­ly more accu­rate. But there’s still a crit­i­cal role for self-organized inde­pen­dent pub­li­ca­tions, a niche that I think is con­tin­u­ing to be over­shad­owed in our cur­rent atten­tion ecosys­tem.

The Quaker Art of Dying?

Hopewell Ceme­tery, Winslow Town­ship N.J. One of the many South Jer­sey Quak­er bur­ial grounds on long-bypassed coun­try roads. The meet­ing­house that was here is long gone.

We’re now cast­ing about for arti­cles for a Friends Jour­nal issue on “The Art of Dying and the After­life.” I’m inter­est­ed to see what we’ll get. Every so often some­one will ask me about Quak­er belief in the after­life. I’ve always found it rather remark­able that I don’t have any sat­is­fy­ing canon­i­cal answer to give them. While indi­vid­u­als Friends might have var­i­ous the­o­ries, I don’t see the issue come up all that often in ear­ly Friends the­ol­o­gy.

As extreme­ly atten­tive Chris­tians they would have signed off on the idea of eter­nal life through Christ. Since they thought of them­selves as liv­ing in end times, they total­ly emu­lat­ed New Tes­ta­ment mir­a­cles. George Fox him­self brought a man back from the dead in a town off Exit 109 of the Gar­den State Express­way. Strange things afoot at the Cir­cle K!

Fox’s biog­ra­phers quick­ly scaled back the whole mir­a­cle thing. Appar­ent­ly that was an odd­ness too far. The cut-out parts of his biog­ra­phy have been repub­lished but even the repub­lish­ing now appears out of print (nev­er fear: Ama­zon has it used for not too much).

But Friends has folk cus­toms and beliefs too. The deceased body wasn’t undu­ly ven­er­at­ed. They recy­cled grave plots with­out much con­cern. I can think of a cou­ple of his­toric Quak­er bur­ial grounds in Philly that have been repur­posed for activ­i­ties deemed more prac­ti­cal to the liv­ing. The phi­los­o­phy of green bur­ial is catch­ing up with Quak­ers’ prac­tice, a fas­ci­nat­ing coming-around.

It also seems there’s a strong old Quak­er cul­ture of face imped­ing death with equa­nim­i­ty. That makes sense giv­en Friends’ mod­esty around indi­vid­ual achieve­ments. There’s a prac­ti­cal­i­ty that I see in many old­er Friends as they age. I’d be curi­ous to hear from Friends who have had insights on aging as they age and also care­tak­ers and fam­i­lies and hos­pice chap­lains who have accom­pa­nied Friends though death.

Writ­ing sub­mis­sions for our issue on “The Art of Dying and the After­life” are due May 8. You can learn about writ­ing for us at:

https://​www​.friend​sjour​nal​.org/​s​u​b​m​i​s​s​i​o​ns/

How do Friends approach the end of life? We’re liv­ing longer and dying longer. How do we make deci­sions on end-of-life care for our­selves and our loved ones? Do Quak­ers have insight into what hap­pens after we die? Sub­mis­sions due 5/8/2017.

ps: But of course we’re not just a dead tra­di­tion. There are many heal­ers who have revived ideas of Quak­er heal­ing. We have a high pro­por­tion of main­stream med­ical heal­ers as well as those fol­low­ing more mys­ti­cal heal­ing paths. If that’s of inter­est to you, nev­er fear: Octo­ber 2017 will be an issue on heal­ing!).

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.

Trying out Google PhotoScan

Today Google came out with a new app called Pho­to­Scan that will scan your old pho­to col­lec­tion. Like just every­one, I have stash­es of shoe­box­es inher­it­ed from par­ents full of pic­tures. Some were scanned in a scan­ner, back when I had one that was com­pat­i­ble with a com­put­er. More recent­ly, I’ve used scan­ning apps like Readdle’s Scan­ner Pro and Scan­bot. These de-skew the pho­tographs of the pho­tos that your phone takes but the resolution’s is not always the best and there can be some glare from over­head lights, espe­cial­ly when you’re work­ing with a glossy orig­i­nal pic­tures.

Google’s approach clev­er­ly stitch­es togeth­er mul­ti­ple pho­tos. It uses a process much like their 360-degree pho­to app: you start with a overview pho­to. Once tak­en, you see four cir­cles hov­er­ing to the sides of the pic­ture. Move the cam­era to each and it takes more pic­tures. Once you’ve gone over all four cir­cles, Google stitch­es these five pho­tos togeth­er in such a way that there’s no per­spec­tive dis­tor­tion.

What’s remark­able is the speed. I scanned 15 pho­tos in while also mak­ing din­ner for the kids. The dimen­sions of all looked good and the res­o­lu­tion looks about as good as the orig­i­nal. These are good results for some­thing so easy.

Check out Google’s announce­ment blog post for details.

Quick scans from an envelope inherited from my mom.