Monthly Archives: March 2013

“A Day in My Life” could be interpreted two ways,  a typical day or a particular day. As it happens, this is a holiday weekend and, although I don’t celebrate Easter, I took advantage of the opportunity to visit my mother. So, I had no choice but to interpret the theme as a particular day, one that was not at all typical.

The apartment in the photo is my mother’s. The only thing I can claim credit for is I made the curtains in the dining room where we ate our breakfast. My mother thought it would be fun if we took a drive to Pennsylvania, so we got out some maps. I thought to myself, “What a great opportunity to take some photos.” I snapped a few photos of her apartment and also of the old car that parks next to hers in their garage. Before we got an hour away from her apartment, we got lost. It’s hard to explain how it happened. I looked up and I said to her, “What are we doing in Paterson?” She didn’t really know. The funny thing is that we got lost about a block away from the house where she grew up. We drove past it three times. Finally, I started yelling at her and saying that she was going senile. It wasn’t nice of me. She always had a bad sense of direction. After a couple of hours driving in circles around Paterson, we decided to give up on the idea of going to Pennsylvania and we went to get lunch. Then we went back to her place and watched some movies on tv.

I confess, that I would not have been my first choice for this theme if I had a choice. It doesn’t show me in a good light, it doesn’t show my mother in a good light and the photos are not even especially interesting.

The Seine with Notre Dame in the background.The main reason I started posting links to things that I’ve read and found interesting but that didn’t prompt me to write a full post was the hope that other people would respond by giving me links to things in return. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Still, I hold some hope that this may occur in the future, so I continue to post, from time to time, “Links.”

I didn’t spend as much time this week poking around on the internet. (“Surfing” sounds like ridiculous self-aggrandizement.) While waiting to board the train earlier this week, I looked around the newstand for my usual train magazines. MIT Technology Review had a cover story entitled “Free Speech in the Era of Technological Amplification.” Needless to say, I picked it up since the story fit in so well with my ongoing research on the subject. (Yes, I promise I’ll write more. Or perhaps I should say threaten.) What a disappointment. I feel so lame giving you a link to a crummy, poorly thought out article, centered around a conceit so clumsy that it’s downright embarassing. It seems as if it was written off the cuff by someone who did not one whit of research. It might be acceptable as a post on a private blog, but, when someone is writing for a living, I expect them to do some useful work, not indulge their own vanity. I can indulge my vanity because I do this for free. I wondered how the editor of the magazine let that crap pass muster until I got to the end of the article where the author was identified as the editor in chief. Sorry, but this all I have to offer for this week.

Related to the subject of freedom of speech, I saw Searching for Sugar Man last night, a movie about the muscian Rodriguez. It was a reminder that censorship is used to maintain the position of the people who have the power to censor. A woman working for an archive in South Africa that maintains material that had been censored during the aparthied era takes out a vinyl record of Rodriguez’s album Cold Fact. She shows the track Sugar Man, which has been physically scratched to render it unplayable. Obstensibly, this track was forbidden because it was about drug use, but the viewer is made to understand that the real threat posed by Rodriguez had less to do with drugs but with the deeper message that we need to question society’s assumptions.

A cat's head.

I’m visiting my mother this weekend, so I’ve taken some photos of her cat. I’ve already put up pictures of her two red cats, Lady Love and Scarlette. This is her boy, Leo. He’s a handsome cat in person, but I’ve found that I have a hard time getting a good photo of him. He’s extraordinarily friendly and just loves, loves people, which means that if you come near him with a camera, he wants to nuzzle up to you and keep his distance long enough to get a decent shot. Finally, he started settling down for a nap.

A tabby cat with his eyes closed on an arm chair.

Well, I have to say that I spent several hours breathlessly enjoying something that, while pleasurable at the time, made feel cheap and dirty afterward. I just finished reading Ready Player One, which is almost a dystopian science fiction novel, I say almost because, although the novel takes place in a bleak future, it lacks the noir atmosphere and somber view of human nature that makes that genre just about the only type science fiction I regularly enjoy. In Ready Player One, the future is bleak. Although it isn’t spelled out exactly how that happened, it seems to be the result of the growing power of corporations and the impoverishment of much of the population. The one solace the population has, which may also be the reason the world has been allowed to rot the way it has, is an extremely realistic virtual reality.

A titmouse singing.One of the supposed joys of this book is its nostalgia for 1980s pop culture. This virtual world in which the population spends most of its waking hours was created by a pair of computer programmers who are… ah… just about my age. Yes, I recognized the name Gygax. I had good friends that played D+D and I gave it a try myself a few times. One of my closest friends, I mean close as in “we hit it off almost immediately when I was about sixteen and he wanted to find out who the girl with the pink hair was,” is a Doctor Who fan, a techie (when he’s in the mood) and the person who first introduced me to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by lending me recordings of the original radio program. Me, I like comics. This author thinks he’s a geek? Yeah, then where’s the Elfquest reference? As it happens, he barely hits upon American alternative comics even though the eighties was when they came into their own.

So, does it sound to you as if I’m trying to prove my geek credentials? It probably does, but I need to come clean before we continue. I was never a geek. Do not worry. I will not turn out to have been an early embodiment one of those “cute girls who pretend to be nerds.” I probably barely qualified as a nerd, and I certainly never called myself one.

What’s irritating me about the novel is the concept of the geek itself. Geek is probably the fourth most common word in the book after the, a and and. The excessive growth of geek is something that my friend, the Doctor Who fan, derisively calls geek chic. What I object to is the geek as a ready-made identity and the idea of an identity as being identified by our patterns of consumption.

Ultimately, while the plotting is tight and it’s a fast fun read, the observations about society, humanity and human relationships feel trite and unoriginal, a sort of Science Fiction cotton candy.

Striped wintergreen leaves.I’m trying hard to put things in more or less the proper order. A few times I tried keeping a diary, but after a few days of mundane observations, I would become bored with myself and would abandon it without so much as a second’s regret. So, I’m relying almost entirely on my memory, tying to date things by remembering what other things might have been happening. Sitting next to J in French class must have occurred before I ever kissed a boy, and so on.

For a long time, I thought the first record album I ever bought was Some Girls by the Rolling Stones. However, my copy of Saturday Night Fever testifies to the fact that that memory is inaccurate, since the movie came out about six months earlier.

Like most non-Christian families, dinner on Easter Sunday for us was usually a big blow out feast at the nicest Chinese restaurant we could find. This was often paired with a movie. This particular Easter Sunday, however, my mother opened the paper to see what movies were playing. She chose for our holiday fare, Saturday Night Fever. Since this was not near a Chinese restaurant, Easter dinner would instead be fish and chips at a nearby fast food outlet.

The disco craze had been raging for a while. On television, there was a music and dance show called The Soap Factory which took place in a discotheque of the same name, located, as luck would have it, not far from where we lived. Like most discos, they didn’t permit minors inside most of the time. On Sunday afternoons however, they didn’t serve liquor and at some point they started having a “teenager’s afternoon.” I barely qualified as a teenager, but I looked old for my age, especially when I was in the company of my older sister and her friends. The Soap Factory was located, as the name would indicate, in a former factory building. The tall smoke stack was still visible from the highway the last time I went that way. The interior was a cavernous multi-level space. I can’t remember what I wore the first time I went. I believe I dressed down, because that was the social norm in the town where we lived. I would soon learn that different rules applied at the discotheque and my sister and I would eventually acquire a modest array of satin and sequined clothes for our Sunday afternoon dance marathons.

Once, I remember sitting in a room that had tiered, carpeted seating around the perimeter. There was an older boy of about sixteen whose black t-shirt wrapped tightly around his well-defined biceps. He walked up to me and asked me how much I weighed. I said a hundred and ten pounds. He said, “Would you do me a favor. I bet my friends that I could bench press you.” He lay* down on his back and I lay down on his upturned palms. He pushed me up in the air a few times until I started giggling.

“No way you weigh a hundred and ten. You weigh a hundred. A hundred and five tops.”

I was barely old enough to like boys, but I already knew to feel flattered when someone thought that I weighed less than I really did. I never saw this boy outside of the disco, but on Sundays I would seek him out.

About a year earlier, we moved into a different house, the one that was across the street. It’s a move that always raises eyebrows, but my mother always liked that house better and when the elderly couple who lived there put it up for sale, she bought it. Much to our surprise, they had installed disco lights in the basement. That’s how widespread the disco craze was. My sister and I put our crummy little stereo down there. We’d turn on the colored lights and dance around.

My sister was a dancer, of the serious sort. At that point, like most girls her age, she concentrated on ballet, but she was beginning to branch out and learn jazz and modern. She was one of those naturally coordinated people. Show her a move and she can imitate it. Of course, our family went into New York one afternoon to see A Chorus Line. We got into the city early, because my parents were always early wherever we went. We wandered around Times Square killing time. A group of boys, ranging from perhaps my sister’s age to a couple of years older, were doing break dancing, still something of a novelty to us suburbanites. At the end of their performance, or at least the end of a segment, my sister asked the boy closest to us how to do one of the more illusionist moves. He gave her a skeptical look and did the move slowly, once. Then he did it at a dance speed. She copied it. He showed her another move and she copied that. When we were little, one of my sister’s favorite games was to do a dance move and the other person had to imitate it. Then I would do a move and she would imitate it. Then she would do two moves. I would do two moves, and so on, until one of us couldn’t copy. She always won. Finally, the boy did the sort of move where he threw himself on the ground and broke his fall with his forearms, doing a sort of snaky push up. My sister laughed and shook her head. She had pretty good upper body strength for a girl, but she still wasn’t going to throw herself onto the pavement.

It might have been my sister’s interest in everything dance related that made my mother think that Saturday Night Fever was a good choice of movie on Easter. Growing up with my sister, I would learn more about dance than would otherwise have been likely. Every Easter, I feel like I should go into the city and. . . strut.

* WordPress tells me that I have the incorrect verb tense here, but I’m pretty sure that I’m right. Any thoughts?

I was so inspired by the letters that Meme used to spell out “Spring Fever” on her blog today, that I decided to try making a letter of my own using one of my favorite flowers, Spigelia. This isn’t exactly a sketch. It was made with Adobe Illustrator.An illustration of the letter S combined with Spigelia.

Well, I’m late for getting a post up. This morning we had an unexpected snowfall and I just had to get out and get some pictures instead of writing.

A daffodil crushed by heavy snow.

This other picture was taken only on Saturday.

A daffodil in full bloom in the sunlight.

It’s hard to believe that they were taken only a couple of days apart.

Yesterday, my sister and I built a birdhouse. When my sister first moved into her house, there was a rotting old birdhouse sitting on a nail that was driven into a tree that we took down several years ago. We’ve been threatening to replace it. Finally, realizing that this was the time of year to do it, we did just that. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing birds checking it out over the next few days.

For other interpretations, look at the comments in the Weekly Photo Challenge.

This is going to be fast. I rarely post twice in a day, but this is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. A woman, Adria Richards, attending a developer conference, PyCon, heard men making sexist jokes at the conference. She tweeted their picture. One of the men in was fired by his employer PlayHaven. Hackers congregating at sites like 4chan put pressure on Richards’ employer, SendGrid, which then fired her.

Woman is sacked for tweeting picture of men who made ‘sexist’ dongle jokes at PyCon developer conference

A close up of a gnarled bit of exposed wood on a tree where the bark has been damaged.Well, well, well. I was reminded this week that I’ve become lazy and dropped the ball on my freedom of speech project by several news items. The first was, at least to me, a real shocker. Reminding us that the K in UK stands for Kingdom, the Queen of England has issued a royal charter that has severely curtailed her subjects’ freedom of expression. To me, this is a mind-boggeling outrage. The ostensible reason for this seizure of power is the phone hacking scandal which, it is important to remember, was not revealed by the police or other authorities, but by competing newspapers. Clearly, the phone hacking scandal is nothing more than an excuse and a pretty poor one at that. To have your liberties taken away by a Queen issuing a decree. . . .  Really, I just don’t know what to say. When are you getting rid of that medieval remnant?

I consider myself a liberal, a progressive, someone who’s moderately left of center and all that, so I don’t think I need to tell anyone what I think of Rupert Murdoch. However, principles are principles. The hacking scandal should have landed the creep in jail with criminal charges. The current decree doesn’t seem to address the real problem.

Interestingly, back in Murdoch’s birth country, new media regulations have already come and gone.

A rather different situation emerged recently in Canada.

One subject that I intend to eventually take up, and one of the main reasons I’m moving slowly over the historical development of the freedom of speech and trying to wrap my head around the principles involved, is the question of laws against hate speech. Here in the U.S., we have few laws of this sort. However, they represent a growing body of laws around the world and we’ve been hearing more calls for similar laws to be passed here.

I grew up in a world in which people on the left tended to be more enthusiastic supporters of freedom of speech than people on the right. Recently these roles have been reversed, yet I have not changed my own beliefs on the subject, a situation which puts me at odds with many people with whom I am otherwise political allies.

In the province of Quebec, a young man Matthieu Bonin, who sees himself as an internet humorist and comedian (with a maudit bel accent), was charged with the crime of hate speech (in French) for saying, in a context which appeared to not be serious, that he hoped that someone would shoot up the National Assembly, Quebec’s provincial legislative body. The charges were dropped, because, if I understand correctly, members of the National Assembly are not an identifiable group warranting protection. This case has within it all sorts of interesting implications that I think it might be worth examining at length later despite the fact that the charges were dropped. (ht Leonid Sirota at Double Aspect)