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Stuff Allies Like

September 8, 2011 8 comments

I just read yet another blog post by a straight white cisgendered male (SWCM) that goes on at length about how SWCMs need to “shut up and listen.”

To paraphrase Ed Lin, “c’mon white people!”

Now, I don’t read much sci-fi so I don’t know much about John Scalzi, and so this isn’t about his intellect or the quality of his writing which I’m sure are considerable. But I did notice that his post is chock-full of stuff allies like me like to read and write:

  • Getting cookies. Since we’re enlightened enough to know that nobody’s going to give us any cookies for exemplary service as an ally, we use posts like these to bake them for ourselves.
  • Hogging the mike. Scalzi makes no effort to lend a voice in support of the people who lack his privilege. There’s not a single mention of a book or website or blog entry by, say, a woman of color or anyone queer.
  • Dipping a toe into the oppression olympics kiddie pool. Scalzi mentions that he grew up poor. Perhaps to underscore that he really “gets it” and maybe to dull the sharp edge of his own privilege just a little. If we try hard enough, we can all come up with a disability or disadvantage that we can use to demonstrate our understanding of intersectionality.
  • Receiving applause. The comments feature a parade of SWCMs who chime in at length about how they get it too.
  • Maintaining control. In the comments, his degree of “getting it” gives him a higher ground from which to wield his mighty discussion-ending hammer, like when someone has the nerve to point out that ‘the people yelling the loudest to “shut up and listen” are some of the most in need to practice it.’

Now, just because John Scalzi is a privileged SWCM like me, that doesn’t make him a bad person. But as friends of mine know, one of my mantras is that “everyone wants to be the hero in their own story.”

When we SWCMs are forced to confront our own privilege, one story we tell ourselves is that by educating other similarly privileged people we are fighting oppression. When in reality we have done nothing to save the life of a trans woman, or find a job for a person of color, or get an equal wage for a woman, or enact marriage equality for a gay couple, or keep an immigrant family together, or provide affordable health care to anyone, or give even a token of attention to any person who might actually have lived the experience of oppression we so eloquently and grandly denounce.

Oh, I know it’s supposed to be a good thing for us SWCMs to “get it” and to have a privileged space in which to talk with other privileged people about our Privileged People’s Problems. And yet every time I read one of these self-congratulatory “I get it” pieces (which I confess I’ve written as well) I want to gouge my eyes out with an icepick.

Updated: It’s one thing to say “my sandbox, my rules” but if you’re trying to position yourself as an ally who listens to marginalized people, then deleting the comment of someone with an icon that sure looks like a woman of color and identifies as a “Black, Jewish, Queer, Fat, Disabled Chick” is doing it wrong. At the very least it deserves a click on the gravatar. Also, I suggest perusing Derailing for Dummies. The section You’ve Lost Your Temper So I Don’t Have To Listen To You Anymore seems particularly appropriate.

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Nappertunity knocks — very, very softly

September 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Taking the nappertunityOne of the things I miss about my youth and young adulthood is the chance to close my eyes for a few minutes in the middle of the day… seizing the “nappertunity” as it were. I still love to spend an hour or two in the early afternoon lying on a hammock in the sun or under a bright reading light, either reading a book or doing something relaxing like a crossword puzzle or sudoku, and letting my eyes slowly blink closed.

Babies and toddlers are of course allowed, encouraged and even cajoled to nap. But in our American society, naps are something you’re apparently supposed to outgrow as you get older. I learned this hard way when I was on my first job.

As with most things I accomplish, I’d worked my way into full-time employment slowly. As a grad student TA, I held office hours right after my 8:30 morning class, and didn’t have my own class until after 3 pm, so I had a few uninterrupted hours to eat lunch, watch the Carrier Dome get built and put my feet up and contemplate the human condition.

I didn’t easily adjust to the lack of nappertunities in the working world. I continued to put my feet up and “read” after lunch, until the day I looked up from my reading to see my boss’ boss smiling down at me. Oops. Like a grown-up Cookie Monster, I had to make my naps a sometimes treat.

It wasn’t until the birth of my first child that I truly discovered the joy of nappertunities. Sleep deprivation had been taking a harsh toll, as I’d been using the kid’s sleep time for my “me” time. Bad move. The best advice I ever got as a new parent, and the only parenting advice I ever give, is to sleep when the baby sleeps. Naps are restorative for the adult caregiver as was well as the child.

With kids all moved out, and as I age and naturally sleep less at night, I find myself more open to nappertunity than I have been in a long time. I do still occasionally nod off at my monitor at work, but mainly I look forward to lying down for a few minutes when I get home, NPR droning in the background. And for me, the best part of taking a vacation is being able to indulge in the twisted twin pleasures of staying up all night and napping through the day.

How and when do you like to nap? On your back, belly or sitting? On a bad, on the grass, in a train or bus? Morning, afternoon or night?

Categories: Essays Tags: , , ,

EJ’s Oppression

August 2, 2011 1 comment

EJ's imprisonment in Dubai
(source: ejroundtheworld.blogspot.com)

In EJ’s world, being robbed is like being raped and having to stay a couple of extra days in Dubai is like being in Mexican prison.

A few days ago, when the story first broke about “EJ” and the ransacking of the apartment she rented out on Airbnb, I wrote about how inadequate I found the reporting. One of the points I raised was the lack of questions about “EJ’s” identity.

Now, I never said I believed that “EJ” was a fiction, though knowing how easy it is to invent a fake identity and backdate blog entries, I certainly entertained the possibility. And even if she was a real person, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that everything she stated should be taken at face value. Read more…

Categories: Essays Tags: , ,

They call it “ransackgate”

July 30, 2011 Leave a comment

The “Airbnb horror story” is now being identified by a new twitter tag: #ransackgate.

The “-gate” ending suggests that there’s some kind of scandal going on, something unethical, some kind of coverup. We don’t know yet who’s covering up what, but now that Airbnb investor and Y Combinator founder Paul Graham has weighed in, it’s clear there are some differences of opinion. In his statement on his Hacker News website, Graham essentially said that Aribnb has been offering to help “EJ” all along, as she initially stated on her blog:

I would be remiss if I didn’t pause here to emphasize that the customer service team at airbnb.com has been wonderful, giving this crime their full attention. They have called often, expressing empathy, support, and genuine concern for my welfare. They have offered to help me recover emotionally and financially, and are working with SFPD to track down these criminals. (source)

However, in her followup post (the only other comment she has made to date), “EJ” appeared to backpedal on this recognition of Airbnb’s support:

But the staff at Airbnb has not made a positive contribution to me personally or my situation in any way, particularly since June 30. (source)

For the record, I’m not taking any stand as to whether “EJ” is real, or whether anyone robbed her. My beef is with the way this story is being reported. For example, TechCrunch from the start seemed to accept “EJ’s” story at face value:

The facts: Last month “EJ” wrote a long blog post about how a renter spent an entire week carefully robbing and trashing her home. Walls were cut through to get to locked valuables, including her grandmother’s jewelry. (source)

Nowhere in the story is there any questioning of “EJ’s” facts. And followup reporting in TechCrunch does nothing to acknowledge the inconsistencies that Graham points out between “EJ’s” original and later post. Instead writer Michael Arrington chooses to get into a pissing match with Graham.

So far, some of the best reporting I’ve come across is still from the “traditional” media (as represented online). In their original story and latest followup, USA Today contacts primary sources (not just “EJ” and Airbnb, but also the SFPD) as well as other interested parties. They raise questions and attempt to corroborate statements and — most important — generally avoid the echo-chamber like environment of the blogs, which tend to quote (and misquote) each other as a substitute to providing either facts or analysis.

As it stands, in my opinion there are still more questions here than answers. For example, I assume from what I’ve seen that “EJ” is herself a renter. Where’s her landlord in all this? Who is 19 year old “Faith Clifton” who was supposedly in the SFPD’s custody in connection with the robbery? Does she have any connection to “EJ”? Have any of “EJ’s” neighbors (supposedly there were witnesses) come forward to talk about what they heard and witnessed? How did renter “Dj Pattrson” get the key, and did “EJ” ever get it back again? Where are the pictures of the robbery and cleanup? And finally, where’s the timeline of events: was there any gap in time between the dates “Dj” was supposed to be renting “EJ’s” loft and when “EJ” returned from her trip?

Because as any student of scandal knows, a good gap can make for a juicy -gate.

Categories: Essays Tags: , ,

Airbnb Horror Story: Scoop or Scam?

July 28, 2011 8 comments

picture of improperly secured door from The Big LebowskiTo quote Jeff Lebowski, “Look, we all know who is at fault here.”

Or do we?

A month-old story, about a woman named EJ whose apartment was allegedly trashed by an Airbnb user, just went viral, but I think most of the commentary is getting the story totally wrong. And it’s not just the citizen journalists; big-time names like WaPo, perhaps not wanting to be left behind or perhaps due to lax editorial oversight in their online offerings, are also being negligent in terms of some really basic reporting.

Read more…

A happy pony — ditching the landline part 3

June 25, 2011 2 comments

My MLP avatar courtesy generalzoi's My Little Pony generator

Bill Clinton’s stellar performance this morning — 3 out of 3 My Little Pony questions right on “Wait Wait” — is the reason for this slightly pony-themed entry in my “ditching the landline” series.

Once I knew my port was in progress, I was refreshing my Google Voice status page faster than Applejack at harvest time. And here’s one of many things Google got right: even when there was no news, the status messages about my port got a datestamp that reassured me that somewhere, somepony was taking care of things for me.

This morning, I was excited to find the status message replaced by an honest to goodness dashboard. And while perusing all those options, and trying to decide whether to enable call screening (and have unknown callers leave their names), I got my first call to my old landline number on my cell. I was sold on the feature — I doubt telemarketers and robocallers will play the home version of the game.

So far my favorite feature is the ability to set a schedule for when calls will go through to my cell (weekends and evenings) and when they’ll go to voicemail (when I’m at work). And when I’m not taking the calls, I can still monitor them and read the transcriptions via email, just like I could with Vonage.

In all, it took me 9 days and $50 to get my landline moved from Vonage to Google Voice, and despite my antsiness the process was actually pretty seamless. My main recommendations to anyone else wanting to move their landline from Vonage to Google Voice are:

  • Do your homework. Everyone’s experience is a little different, but reading enough of the horror and success stories gives you an idea of what to expect, and the more prepared you are the fewer surprises there will be.
  • Be patient. I know some people report the whole thing being done in a few days but it could take a lot longer — up to a month by some accounts.
  • Know thy enemy Vonage. Be aware of your billing cycle — if you can, start the process at the beginning rather than the end — and contact them to cancel at 9:00 am eastern time the next business day after the initial port is complete.
  • Use a cheap no-contract provider. I used Net10 but others are probably just as good. The high degree of automation that makes them cheap means you can run the whole game without having to spend any time listening to elevator music whilst waiting for the next available operator. And while it might mean a tougher time if something goes wrong, this will be less likely if you’ve done the hoofwork.

Now if you’ll excuse me… I have some more options to play with. Geek out!

What a difference a day makes — ditching the landline part 2

June 24, 2011 2 comments

Talking dimeYesterday I wrote about wanting to avoid the nickle-and-dime ($50 and $100) tactics of various phone and internet companies by ditching my Vonage landline, and keeping the number (for free) via Google Voice. As Google Voice doesn’t port landlines, I decided on Net10 as a cheap way to move my number to a wireless carrier first.

But seven days after activating my Net10 phone, I still didn’t have the number fully ported and it was looking like Vonage might be able to nick me for another monthly fee (today would mark the start of my Vonage monthly billing cycle). Read more…

Let’s talk nickles and dimes — ditching the landline

June 23, 2011 2 comments

Talking Nickels and DimesWhen I was a kid, I saved my money for trips to the candy store. Well it was technically a “stationery store” but I rarely made it past the front counters which featured many nickle and dime options for satisfying my desire for sweets.

Years later, some in my college cohort had other cravings that could be satisfied by nickles and dimes, though under these circumstances it meant getting set back by $5 or $10.

Now it seems our collective hunger for data and communication services are getting us nickled and dimed to the tune of $50 to $100 month. Read more…

Why that fake MLK quote matters

May 3, 2011 5 comments

By now I assume everyone who re-posted the following quote (in reference to celebrations of the death of Osama bin Laden):

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

has learned that it wasn’t exactly a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. who apparently is right up there with Nelson Mandela, Mohandas Gandhi, Kurt Vonnegut and Bill Gates in terms of false attributions. To be fair, the original facebook post had it right: the author’s own words, followed by the quote. Which then got combined and re-posted.

There was a kerfluffle on my own facebook when I pointed this out after a friend quoted it as a comment on a related post of mine.

Now, I agree with the sentiment, the whole thing. And while I didn’t join in the repost of this particular misquote, I’ve participated in such post-fests before. And when I get called out I feel foolish, defensive or embarrassed (or some mixture of the three). Some of the reactions I’ve seen this time around are “well it’s not like this is an academic paper” or “well it’s a good message anyway.”

But I think dismissing the misquote problem by saying “hey, it’s just facebook” misses a big point: that quote wouldn’t have been so widely passed around had it not had “MLK” attached to it. To me, that’s a form of cultural misappropriation just as egregious as the rewritten African American spirituals included in the UU hymnal Singing the Living Tradition.

As a white person I’ve been conditioned to think my good intentions will insulate me from criticism when I try to earn points by appropriating the words of people of color. Turning this kind of criticism around and making the issue about my own hurt white feelings is not the kind of behavior that’s going to make anyone want me as their ally.

Snarky’s Machine pointed out to me that Damon Brown tells how to recognize fake quotes like this in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Memes. Until I read this, I vow to be a little more discerning about reposting and retweeting things attributed to others, and sticking to using my own words.

Even if they aren’t going to make me Internet-famous.

When Fatties Attract

October 28, 2010 2 comments

There’s been a lot of talk on the internet about Maura Kelly’s blog post over at Marie Claire wherein the blogger proclaimed her disgust at the thought of watching fatties get it on on TV.

Now of course it’s your right to be disgusted by whatever disgusts you. And to talk about it. And to receive the natural consequences of picking a portion of the population to “other.”

What’s I find missing in the discussions is any reference to the idea that there may just be people out there who enjoy seeing larger folks on TV.

And I’m not just talking Christina Hendricks full-figured, but still: the fact that her Mad Men character Joan Holloway is so wildly popular suggests to me that there are folks out there who’d go even a little larger.

I remember when I was a kid, and used to watch the Spanish language UHF stations 41 and 47 in New York. I’d watch for the wrestling, sure, but also to see Iris Chacon wiggle her — well, large — butt.

Now, I’m a hetero male, so I’m really not that interested in seeing big guys on TV. But I have it on good authority that fat actors like John Goodman, James Gandolfini, Paul Sorvino and Raymond Burr have all been considered extremely sexy by a large portion of the guy-appreciating population.

So my reply to Maura Kelly is to look elsewhere when fatties attack her TV. It will never be “fatty free” as long as there are people who don’t mind — and even enjoy — looking at people who are the opposite of skinny.

Categories: Essays Tags: ,
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