Like a bird on a wire

28 02 2009

Tweet tweet, warble warble, titter twit. . .


Yeah, that’s one question I have about Twitter: Does it turn us into twits?

I get it: You can pass along bits of information quickly and efficiently to large numbers of people. This can be useful, as in letting underage party goers know that the cops are coming—and even politically useful, as in letting activists know that the cops are coming. So I’m not anti-Twitter.

But I am skeptical. I awoke to NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday and a conversation between Scott Simon, Daniel Schorr, and some guy named Adam (?). As I was still in the process of rousing myself, I missed some of it (I’ll go back and listen to whole thing tomorrow), but I did get to hear Schorr’s main reservation about Twittering, namely, editing. Editing matters, he noted, not just in cleaning up the language, but in attempting to get the story right. Ain’t much editing happening among the Twits.

Now, one kind of reasonable response to this is to say that while any one Twit may not edit, a kind of ‘mass editing’ can occur, to wit: multiple witnesses to or participants in a particular event may offer alternate versions of the event, either at the same time or after the original Tweet. Yes, there’s the telephone game problem (information is distorted as it’s passed along), but, again, multiple tweets could obviate any distortion. On balance, then, I think conscientious Twits can add to good information about an event.

My concern is somewhat different: What happens to thinking? Twittering sends out small packets of data all at once about a breaking event; where is the reflection about that event? Where is the context, the history, the stories beneath the story? One gets information; does one get understanding?

I’ve already written about the distinction I make between blogging and writing—that I consider blogging draft-ier and less careful than writing—and it seems that there’s another set of distinctions to be made. Twittering, in the main, seems even draftier than blogging, information  on-the-fly (or wing?). Again, this isn’t a problem as long as it doesn’t supplant other forms of communication.  Do Twits tweet and move on? In other words, what happens to the event after the event?

Some bloggers crow about the death of so-called dead-tree journalism, but it takes a hell of a lot of resources to be able to cover a story deeply and well. And as a blogger, I freely admit my parasitism on journalism: I need the much-maligned MSM to tell me about the world. But I don’t rely just on newspapers and radio; I regularly turn to magazines and books to drill into a story or phenomenon. Perhaps Twitter could be considered as the opening link to the already-existing chain of information. It’s a clue, a data bit, a passing word which leads to further exploration, to a news story, to multiple news stories, to books.

Do I carry the analogy further? From tweet to a few bars to a whole composition, repeatedly performed?

No, I didn’t think so.

Anyway. I don’t tweet, just as I don’t text. (Texting just seems a private form of twittering; given that I think that any use of Twitter is in the social information transfer, texting seems, mm, useless. I’ll save the justification for that judgement for later—or never.) A coupla’ months ago my friend S. gave me information on Twitter, and it all seemed so exhausting.

It still seems exhausting. But perhaps I’ll go back and look at the info again.

Reflection, leading to reconsideration. Look what Twitter hath wrought!

Here, kitty kitty

26 02 2009
Beached kitty-whale

Beached kitty-whale

Stupid girl

23 02 2009

I knew it was wrong. Don’t do it.

That’s what my gut said (in translation): don’t do it.

I did.

Nothing major, and it all turned out fine. But I did something that I knew, even as I was making the decision to to do this—that is, before I actually did the stupid thing—was the wrong decision.

I took the train east instead of west.

Backstory: I live in lovely Lefferts Garden. My friends, who live in Bushwick, invited me over to watch the Oscars. (No, I don’t really care about the Oscars, but it’s been awhile since I’d seen E. & T.) Even on a good day, the trek to their apartment is. . . not direct. The easiest route is to head into Manhattan, then grab a different train back into Brooklyn. This weekend, however, the trains are rather more messed up than usual, so while I was able to reconfigure my route on the way to their apartment, I was reluctant to follow that same path back to my place.

Hence the bad decision. I knew the Brooklyn-Manhattan-Brooklyn route would take forever, so sought less indirect route. HopStop (the handy-dandy public transport site) suggested a particular train-bus route. Okey-doke.

Only what sounds reasonable at, say, 5 in the afternoon, is somewhat less so after midnight. I took the train east, got out, got turned around, eventually found my way to the bus stop, discovered I’d just missed the bus (which I would have made, had I not gotten turned around. . .), and proceeded to wait twenty or so minutes for the next bus.

Hm. Where am I? I look at the bus map. Cypress Hill? Ocean Hill? I look at my handy-dandy Brooklyn NFT map. Maybe Ocean Hill. Or. . . ohhhh, shit. Brownsville.

Brownsville and East New York are the worst neighborhoods, crime-wise, in New York. I know this, knew that by taking the train east I would be skirting (I thought) these neighborhoods, but thought, what the hell, I gotta know.

So there I was, standing at a bus stop on a windy night, watching the trash blow by. And no, I wasn’t much comforted by the frequent police drive-bys.

I don’t like to pile on so-called bad neighborhoods. Kids grow up in these neighborhoods, adults go to work, there are schools, grocery stores, etc. If a five-year-old can go to kindergarten in a bad neighborhood, I can catch a bus.

Then again, those five-year-olds are not usually standing around a wind-swept street after midnight.

Everything was fine, of course. The bus came, I got on, I got off, I walked home.

But as I was standing, waiting, I was wondering why I was so insistent on taking this route home. Sure, the Manhattan run would take time, but I’d be waiting on a peopled train platform. Inside. With lights. What’s a little lateness compared to safety?

I don’t understand why I do this, why I make what I know to be the wrong decision. I don’t regret the big decisions—too much is at stake, mental-health-wise, to second guess, say, a move to NYC without a job waiting—but the small ones I gnaw to the nibs. Perhaps these stupid choices are a way of inoculating myself against future regret: If I make this wrong decision this time, I won’t always be wondering (against my gut) if it wasn’t really the better decision.

Sigh. No, I guess that doesn’t make much sense; I’m trying to make sense where there isn’t any.

But I know I’ll keep doing this, I’ll keep jumping when I should have crouched, and it’d be nice to have a reason for such unreason.

It’s not going to stop, so just give up

18 02 2009

At what point does one give up? And what reasons for such up-giving?

This is (for this post) a political and intellectual question, rather than an existential one: At what point does one give up engaging across the political spectrum?

Hm, actually, it’s even narrower than that: At what point do I stop reading someone with whom I often disagree?

And what if the reason is that I don’t think this blogger is as thoughtful as I thought s/he was? What if I think s/he’s not as smart as I thought she was?

I’m a snob—that’s not the issue. No, huh, I guess one more refinement: How do I figure out if my weariness/irritation with a blogger is due to political differences or intellectual ones?

There are all kinds of blogs and books and magazines I don’t read because I think they’re stupid, and I’m not bothered by that. (See snob comment, above.) I’m interested in argument, and if all a blogger can do is impugn, malign, sputter, and/or channel the Party Line, then I won’t be interested—I’ll be bored. It’s not about agreement or disagreement, but engagement.

But what of those cases in which disagreement and a suspicion of thoughtlessness are tangled? Giving up on a leftist blogger doesn’t bother me, because the reason for such abandonment is clear: this person bores me. If I stop reading a rightist, however, I have to wonder if it’s because I’m too close-minded to deal with the argument.

I think it’s important to read outside of my political zone, not only to keep myself sharp, but to remind myself that those on the other side are smart, have good arguments, and are almost certainly not allies of Satan. Yes, I might get irritated or even yell at the post as I’m scrolling through or responding to it, but as long as I’m challenged, such irritation strikes me as reasonable—we do disagree, after all.

What if, however, the argument in the post is unreasonable, such that no reasonable response is possible? I get that that’s going to happen on occasion or with certain issues (the blogging equivalent of ‘oh, that Harry, you know how he gets’), but there are times I wonder if  the blogger doesn’t get that s/he’s posting a shitty argument.

Such as, the blogger sets Standard A for her side, Standard B for all those not on her side—and refuses to recognize the double standard. When he refers to evidence in support of his position, but ignores counter-evidence. When she deliberately distorts the positions of the other side, and complains when her own words are pulled out of shape. When he throws a bomb into the argument, then points at others for fanning the flames. Or, as she’s tossing that bomb, sighs that she’s soooo tired of dealing with explosions.

I’m only occasi0nally bothered by such strategies among political actors and campaigners—the point is to win, not to persuade. And while there’s a hell of a lot of unfairness in politics, mainly having to do with unequal access, there’s no such thing as (legal) unfairness among candidates. If you can’t handle the other side’s (mis)representations of your views, then get out. Strife and campaigns go together, so prepare not only to be bloodied, but to bloody. That’s how you deal with unfairness: You fight back.

But at the level of argumentation, where the point (arguably!) is to persuade, you can’t fuck with the rhetoric. Or, you can, but only at risk of being called a fuck-er.

Okay, so where does all this lead, vis-a-vis the not-so-thoughtful opposition? How do decide if the problem is with the thoughtlessness or the oppositional-ness?

I guess I provided myself with my own answer: when the person is fucking with the rhetoric. But even that doesn’t always help, not least because there are also fundamental differences at play. I might think she’s skewing the grid, but from her perspective, the lines are all straight. She’s not cheating—I just don’t get it. And I want to get it.

Dammit. I don’t know my way around this.

I’ll keep reading, I guess, until I can’t. How’s that for a set standard?

You don’t send me flowers

17 02 2009

But how about some underwear, or, as undies are referred to in India, ‘chaddi’? Pink, please.

In response to a recent attack by Sri Ram Sena (Army of Lord Ram) on women at a tavern in Mangalore, India, the Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women organized the ‘Pink Chaddi’ campaign. The idea was send as many pink chaddi to Pramod Mutalik, one of the leaders of (or main inspirations for, it’s not clear to me) of Sri Ram Sena, as a way of celebrating Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day, you see, is against Hindu values. As are malls, which are havens of handholding. And, um, dating.

Yes, yet another Defender of the Faith, seeking to impose its piety on the bodies of women—literally. If you haven’t already seen it, there’s a video of the Sri Ram Sena punching and kicking women who dared to bend their elbows at a Mangalore pub.

Various politicians—with the notable exception of  women and child development minister Renuka Chaudhury—murmured about the pub attack, but otherwise found it advisable to say not much of anything.

So the women themselves stepped up. Nisha Susan, spokeswoman for the Consortium, said “It’s a choice between ignoring a group like Ram Sena or responding to its activities. We have decided to give it attention, but it is attention which it will not like.”

Hence the pink chaddi.

In addition to the delivery of the chaddi to Muktali, the Forward Women urged women to do a Pub Bharo action, i.e., to hit a tavern and raise a toast to Indian women, record the event, and send that photo or vid to SRS as well. Finally, ‘After Valentine’s Day we should get some of our elected leaders to agree that beating up women is ummm… AGAINST INDIAN CULTURE.’

Now that’s a protest. Mockery, underwear, toasts, and mass action.

FFI: Pink Chaddi Campaign on, and the Consortium on Blogspot.

Note: The BBC noted that members of another group, Shiv Sena, were arrested for numerous assaults on couples:

Six arrests took place in the northern Indian city of Agra, home to the Taj Mahal – the monument built by Emperor Shah Jehan in memory of his beloved wife.

The protesters used scissors to cut the hair of overtly romantic couples in a nearby park, superintendent of police VP Ashok said.

“The six belonging to Shiv Sena group were arrested for causing a breach of the peace,” he told The Associated Press news agency.

Meanwhile, the AFP news agency reported that five members of the same group were arrested in Delhi for threatening couples in a park.

Many couples had their faces blackened in western Aurangabad and northern Bijnaur, Reuters reports.

Such disruption of Valentine’s Day by hardliners is becoming an annual event, and police this year were on high alert.

Another group vandalised a shop selling Valentine’s cards and raided a restaurant in Indian Kashmir looking for romantic couples, the AP reports.

Protestors also burnt flowers and Valentine Day cards to mark their protest.

I prefer the chaddi. Hell, I prefer pub-going, loose and forward women every time. . . .

Do the right thing

14 02 2009

Cable companies suck.

I’ve been piggybacking on a coupla’ unsecured local wireless accounts, but know this has to end. One, I’m freeloading, and two, it’s not all that reliable. (And for the record, the first matters more than the second. Really.)

So I went to the local CableConglomerate website to find out how much a cable/wireless connection would cost. I dinked around on their site, checked out various packages, and, in the end, decided that all I want is a cable modem and service.

I have no idea how much it’ll cost.

Oh, I could do the Triple-Play and get Phone! Cable! and Internet! for the low low price of just $29.95* per month per service!

Do not want. I kicked the regular t.v. habit while living in my last apartment. It wasn’t totally voluntary—I didn’t have a t.v. in my room, and my roommate didn’t want me to put my t.v. in the common living space—but I don’t really miss it. Yeah, it was nice to veg out and watch the umpteenth episode of Law & Order or CSI (either the original or CSI:New York, but not Miami. Miami sucked.), or take in the glories of bad movies like Independence Day, but, christ, amidst my various jobs I got no damned time to watch t.v.**

So, just the intertubes, please.  That’s it. No super basic (i.e., all the regular channels you’d get if your antenna were worth a damn) for 16 bucks a month, no HDTV, DVR, HBO or M-O-U-S-E. Just the fucking cable modem.

No price. I guess I find out when one of their circling predators salespeople contacts me to strongarm me into a cable package let me know the details.


*Not including all the other shit they charge you for. Like $0.24/month for the remote. Did you know they charge you a monthly rental for the remote? I did not, before today.

**I am seriously considering getting a super basic Netflix package and the hundred-buck Roku box, which would allow me to stream mediocre t.v. programs and movies—and some good stuff!—for about 10 bucks a month direct to me t.v. Stigmata on demand. Awesome.

The hazards of teaching

12 02 2009
How the hell did I chalk on the TOPS of my boots?!

How the hell did I chalk on the TOPS of my boots?!

She’s got a new spell

11 02 2009

It happened again. Again on the train (tho’ not at midnight): time-warp backwards.

This time it was a Sundays song, ‘Here’s where the story ends,’ and I flew back to high school, not college.

I didn’t listen to the Sundays in high school. I doubt I knew who the Sundays were. So the question is not Why was I pulled back, but why too far back?

Maybe because that song reminds me of a type of song, (post) new-wave (ish) Euro alterna-pop (got that?) that was a fixture of early MTV. The Sundays. Cocteau Twins. Berlin (mebbe). Nena (definitely). Kinda synth, kinda sad, kinda odd.

And then I remembered: the AFS students! AFS was the local student foreign exchange program, and SmallTown was very active—a center for the region—so AFS students stationed elsewhere would occasionally gather in SmallTown. I remember meeting one Danish girl, and was so impressed with her. She seemed very confident in herself and what she wanted, and while somewhat detached, was not unkind in her observations of the US in general or the state in particular. She seemed. . . sophisticated, mebbe? Worldly—definitely.

I wanted that worldliness. It was my last year of high school, and amidst all the general partying, what I wanted more than anything was to Get. Out. I wanted what was beyond, whatever was beyond. There had to be something more, right? Weren’t these students, with their different names and different languages and different lines of sight evidence that there was something Out There?

I’m sensing a theme. . . .

Standing proudly in our winter coats

9 02 2009

He was wearing a jacket which reminded me of my dad’s old canvas Air Force coat, the one I took with me to and wore regularly at BigTenU.

Just the sight of that jacket took me back twenty-odd years—I mean, warped-backward-swoosh to the mall, in front of the library, on a light-gray autumn day, crisp and open and accentuating the features of every builidng and every person, the sharp smell of impending cold, possibility everywhere.

My god, middle-aged on a train at midnight in Manhattan I was eighteen or nineteen and revelling in the midwestern collegiate air. I could see myself grinning, striding toward. . . something. And there was something there, I’m sure of it.

A second glance at a stranger’s coat and I’m sent reeling into my past.

It wasn’t a bad reel.

You’re beautiful as you feel

8 02 2009
Photo by Steve Granitz/

Photo by Steve Granitz/

I’d watch Gabriel Byrne floss his teeth. I might even pay.

No, I’m not a dental fetish. But, oh, I do like Gabriel Byrne.

He’s not conventionally attractive, i.e., he’s not pretty. And his body, ehhh, tall and thin, and I doubt there’s a six pack beneath that open-necked shirt. But mention his name to women who are attracted to men (and even some who aren’t), and we’ll swoon. Ohhh, we’ll say, we do like Gabriel Byrne.

What is it about him? The dark eyes? The Irish accent? The smile that only seems to accent the sadness in those dark eyes? Do we confuse him with the characters he plays, soulful rogues, doomed both by and in spite of their intelligence?

Or is it something about the mash-up of physical oddity and charm which makes him beautiful? Something which hints at a deeper beauty than mere surface prettiness would allow?

I generally don’t like pretty men. I was never much for Tom Cruise (even before), and while I wouldn’t kick Brad Pitt out of bed, he’s never done much for me. And I fixated on Harrison Ford’s chin scar as something which set him apart, and a crooked smile on anyone always works on me.

No, I like guys whose surfaces are not quite right. I watched The Thomas Crown Affair last week (before I unplugged my t.v. set again), and found Dennis Leary much more appealing than Pierce Brosnan (although Brosnan, as he ages, is getting interesting). And then I thought of Steve McQueen—incredibly attractive, but handsome? I guess, but it’s really his eyes and intensity which draw.

Or voice. Alan Rickman was the only person worth watching in a Robin Hood remake a decade or so ago, and god, what perfect casting for Snape in the Harry Potter movies. We’re meant to be repulsed, but. . . it’s Alan Rickman! Or Yaphet Kotto, and his baritone gravel. I’d pay to listen to him read Bush’s speeches.

Okay, so there’s George Clooney, and it’s not just his crooked smile. Gimme a break: it’s Clooney. (And Clive Owen, but gimme a break: it’s Clive Owen.)

Now, women, I don’t really have any sense ahead of time of who I find attractive. Sure, Angelina Jolie, but ecccchhht, enough of Angelina. (Nothing against her—just, Enough.) Perhaps I am too newly attracted to women to have developed that sense. Maybe I’m just less fascinated with my kind, that the consideration of the qualities of men is predicated on the fact that they’re. . . men, i.e., not like me.

Not that any of this matters: adoration from afar. But, oh, what I wouldn’t give to meet Gabriel Byrne up close.