There’s a new post over at mine; & a special Easter egg for those who click all the links!
Today (2nd February) is Imbolc, or Candlemas; it’s also the first anniversary of my having steady, gainful employment after a long period of zero income…
…read more over at mine.
January looks to be an exciting month — there’s a lot goin’ on. On the 4th I attended a writing workshop over at Brooklyn Brainery; my initial goal was to instill more discipline into my writing practice, but during the workshop I realized the need to move beyond my usual journal scribblings…
(Read the rest over at my place.)
On Saturday December 13th there were protests throughout the United States concerning police brutality against the African-American community. While the march in Washington DC arguably received the most press, it was the NYC march that made the strongest impression in terms of crowd size and duration. If both the official march and non-official excursions are combined, it lasted from 2 PM ET until after midnight, with a crowd of up to 60,000 in attendance. It started in Washington Square Park and moved uptown to Herald Square, snaked back downtown to One Police Plaza, then crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and passed through the Fulton Mall to Barclays Center. A smaller contingent* moved onward through Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Brownsville and finally reached the 75th Precinct in East New York where the cop who gunned down Akai Gurley works. Sections of the march also branched out to Harlem, as well as over the Queensboro Bridge.
I didn’t march myself, mainly for physical reasons (I have a lingering ankle injury, and can’t outrun a cop). But I’m 100% in agreement with the protestors and support them fully. I live near where Eric Garner was killed, and remember often seeing him smiling and greeting people at St. George Terminal. It’s sickening to know he’ll never be seen alive again, that the only way most people will remember him is by the video of his murder. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer responsible for Garner’s death, has a history of violent & racist tendencies; while it’s unfair to tar all cops with the same brush, he’s far from the only one in the NYPD who thinks and acts like this.
It may seem surprising, then, that there’s been very little actual protest in Staten Island. We did have a 7-minute shutdown of the SI Highway, and Eric Garner’s daughter has been organizing die-ins at the spot where he died, but for the most part…folks aren’t showing up. Why?
That question has multiple answers. Start with the usual components – lack of time, money or awareness of anything outside one’s personal bubble – as well as the frank reality that Staten Island is a highly racially divided community. Add in the looming “revitalization” of the North Shore, including the shady EB-5 money pumped in for the New York
Eyesore Wheel. When North Shore residents are demonized as “thugs” and “criminals”, it’s easier for other Staten Islanders to look away as they get displaced for outlet malls and tourist traps.
Mind you, the much-maligned South Shore is going through heavy changes as well. Things still aren’t 100% after Sandy, and the Ethnic White Heroin Epidemic™ rages on. Staten Island is still the most insular of the Five Boroughs, but the national attention being paid to police brutality – Eric Garner’s case in particular – shines a cold, bright light on how things are, and perhaps how things need to change.
*An interesting thing about the Brooklyn section of the march: every neighborhood they passed through either used to be communities of color that were hypergentrified and reconfigured for affluent whites, or are currently communities of color in direct danger of being displaced by that same hypergentrification.
Theorizing the Web, according to its site, is “a new space that values theory, specifically theories that view technology as always rooted in society, culture and history, and that deal directly with power, domination, resistance and justice.” The conference is four years old, and I’ve had the pleasure of attending the most recent two in NYC. Last year’s conference focused mainly on the topic of surveillance—highly pertinent to my interests at the time, both as someone who deeply dislikes the idea of online data-gathering & surveillance tools and as someone who worked with clients that promoted & sold online data-gathering & surveillance tools. It’s fitting that, as I’m between gigs at the moment, this year’s conference was also more amorphous and wide-ranging in scope.
The organizers of TtW14 wanted to break out of the “academic conference” mold, going for something both more accessible to a general audience and more fun for their presenters. The industrial warehouse in Brooklyn they ended up using had its drawbacks, however: the bathrooms were a fetid mess by the middle of the first day, and the WiFi was spotty (since there were various video feeds for livestreaming, and participants were encouraged to livetweet comments and questions during each panel, this was a very big problem). As someone who fits the “general audience” category that TtW14 wants to reach out to, I’d have preferred a venue that could accommodate the needs (virtual and otherwise) of all the attendees.
But those were my only major beefs—I enjoyed the panels that I attended immensely. The first one, Small Data: Big Trends in the Little Ns, had some technical snafus so the presentations were somewhat hurried. While the discussions concerning online suicide notes and studies on how teens express grief on Facebook were popular with the crowd, I was more intrigued by Lesley Gourlay’s too-brief panel on Open Education, digital critique and utopian fantasy.
The second panel, Meetspace: Rethinking Public Spheres provided much food for thought. Highlights included Dara Byrne’s panel on digilante culture (using online tools & methods to fight cybercriminal activity), specifically how racist imagery is used to attack “Nigerian scammers” when the majority of those scams aren’t based anywhere near Nigeria, and Willow Brugh & J. Nathan Matias’ snazzy Prezi presentation on hackathons and their misrepresentation in the media (to the detriment of the community-building that lies at the heart of the concept).
Next came Consensual Hallucination: Fantasy in Public Life, which made up for its lack of psychedelia with tons of info regarding creative misuse and/or reconstruction of real-life interactions, situations and events. Lauren Burr’s panel on Netprov and Twitter bots (mostly bears, but a rather creepy Tofu bot was also referenced) was fascinating, as was Iskandar Zulkarnain’s discourse on “Nusantara Online” and how a popular RPG tweaks with the concepts of Indonesian nationalism and identity. I loved Amy Papaelias & Aaron Knochel’s talk on how they used art theory/history and interactive design to help their students make sense of—and fight back against—racial incidents on campus. Finally, Molly Sauter’s discussion of Civic Fiction, using the “Gay Girl in Damascus” mess as an example (and adorable cats throughout her slideshow), was a massive hit with the crowd.
I skipped out on the two evening plenary discussions. The first one revolved around online sex work, a topic I have absolutely zero interest in, and by the time the Big Data panel rolled around I was having some Consensual Hallucinations of my own at some dive bar in Williamsburg with a live band, a super-annoying hypergentrifier couple, and the guy they were trying to negotiate a threesome with by means of an apartment rental. (“It’s cheap rent—if you’re nice to us!”) Thank fuck I’m not in my twenties having to navigate today’s NYC; being young & poor around here is just brutal.
At this point I should note that TtW14 worked on a “pay-what-you-can” model, which allowed for a diverse range of folks (such as myself) to attend.
Day 2 of TtW14 started bright and early with All Watched Over by Memes of Loving Grace. I missed part of Patrick Sharbaugh’s talk on meme culture in Vietnam, but caught enough to get the gist of how innocuous imagery can empower people to enter into civic engagement despite adverse circumstances. Joel Penney’s discourse on real-life protest vs. online “clicktivism” and the persuasive power of web-based political actions was the highlight for me; every time he mentioned “meme warriors” I heard Dokken in my head (George Lynch’s hair could be a meme in its own right—considering he hacked it from the singer of Kajagoogoo and turned it up to 11…)
San Francisco was in the house for Streetview: Space, Place and Geography. Tim Hwang looked at Frisco’s urban geography with an eye towards its tech infrastructure and the social inequality the tech boom is engendering. I found it rather ominous when he said SF was a test case of sorts, and as the tech industry moves to other cities it will refer back to what is and isn’t working there. Surely every city is different—what works in Frisco ain’t gonna work in Detroit! He also said NYC wasn’t really a test case because the already-entrenched financial and media industries compete strongly for resources. Mathias Crawford blew my mind when he showed how social networking is rooted in post-WW2 community networking based around parks & recreation—moving people “out of the house”, away from their previous forms of interactions towards a more socially approved/controlled form of interaction via recreation centers. Update this to the 21st Century, and our rec centers are now Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, etc. Finally, Jay Springett tore the roof off the sucker with a discussion on how nation-states and corporation behave in the same ways, both seeing the Internet as territory to be conquered, commodified and utilized for their own profit.
That was a tough act to follow; sadly Ref(user): Movements of Resistance wasn’t up to the task. The talk on feminism and subversive online identities showed great promise, but lost me completely by insisting that Tumblr (owned by Yahoo, a major corporation) was a “safe space” for feminist worldbuilding. I was fucking gobsmacked, as that’s not my experience with Tumblr! I don’t engage with Tumblr in a way that puts too much of myself or my work out there because it’s owned by a major corporation, and therefore ISN’T a safe space for my thoughts OR my photographic copyright!
I tweeted that feminists shouldn’t settle for “free” space provided by corporations, and instead shell out for their own online space and servers for full control of their message & online reach, but that suggestion…was not terribly well-recieved. One of the responses was “Should the government provide server space for every citizen, since access to information is a right?” The sender probably went to a different session and missed Jay Springett’s dicussion on nation-states and corporations. I wasn’t comfortable with the shitting-in-the-punchbowl vibe and really didn’t want to argue with anyone; when a brief discussion of the Livejournal exodus took place, I was grateful for the distraction and bowed out of the conversation.
Due to the anti-productivity of multitasking, I missed the rest of the session. It seems the other speakers had their detractors as well (especially the one who discussed the gamification of charity websites as a positive goal), to the point where the hashtag moderator mentioned the “antsy backchatter” on the livetweets and complained via Twitter that “nobody wanted to bring these questions into the room”. Perhaps it was more that no-one wanted to insult the panelists to their face, since getting a presentation together requires so much hard work and bravery; when it all goes pear-shaped, an incredulous “ARE YOU SERIOUS???” from the crowd is as useless to the speakers as “antsy backchatter” on a Twitter hashtag. Actually, they might get more out of the Twitter critiques, due to being written down and therefore easier to reference at a later date.
The last panel I attended was a symposium on drones, and it rocked. References were made to the Murmuration Festival, My Little Droney, the emergence of the Internet from militaristic roots, and a refusal to distinguish military-style drones from hobby drones—as they both compile algorithimcally processed data and both are used for purposes of surveillance. I was pleased to notice some “antsy backchatter” on the Twitter hashtag between members of the panel and a pro-drone lawyer…
The keynote session revolved around Race and Social Media, and many powerful points were made (not least of which was “Feminists shouldn’t trust Yahoo/Tumblr/other social platforms with their content archives!” Which, you know, I said earlier in the day…). Since my phone and I were wiped out at that point, and the WiFi was borked, I have no notes; I’ll leave the Youtube version here for your edification & viewing pleasure.
I’m glad I attended TtW14; it’s given me a great deal to think about regarding both how the Internet affects my life, and the agency I have in controlling and directing its use and influence. I already own my own website space, and utilize it (somewhat) regularly with my work, thoughts and ideas. I’m proficient in using social media to an extent (one has to be in this day and age), but I don’t particularly enjoy it. It’s more fun to work on my own space—and I control the writing, the coding, and the uploading. This weekend confirmed that I’m heading in the right direction digitally.
Have you ever noticed, when walking into a divey bar or pub, that the music is decidedly uncool? Especially at odd hours or during the day? I’m not just stating the obvious; there are reasons for that.
On a base level, it’s a means of self-selecting one’s market. Those who frequent this type of place at non-peak hours tend to be regulars who are okay with the bartender’s musical selections, or folks more focused on either the work at hand—usually writing, although various forms of telecommuting have also been noted—or the drink at hand to care about what’s coming through the speakers. (Daytime laptoppers often use headphones to provide their own personal soundtrack, or keep tabs on their co-workers.) The crowd is generally older, having some familiarity with the music even if it’s not their particular cup of tea. “Bad”, “boring” or “old” music can serve to deter the young, hip, & trendy from finding out about and overrunning the joint. (Not always, as there’s a subset of the young, hip & trendy who specialize in finding dive bars and ruining them…a story for another time.)
Yet perhaps there’s also a more esoteric reason, one that probably isn’t a conscious decision on the owner or management’s part but happens nevertheless. Think about how many people have spent time in these bars over the years—living & loving, drinking & dying. In a way, playing music from another time evokes and honors those who frequented the place back then.
For example: a couple of days ago I had a delightful writing session at the Spring Lounge (also known as the Shark Bar). While there’s been a bar at the corner of Spring and Mulberry for nearly a century, it didn’t properly become the Shark Bar until the 1970s. Unsurprisingly, the cheesy soft rock oozing from the speakers dates from the very same period in time.
As I sat at a corner table with an open notebook and a pint of Empire Cream Ale, I easily saw in my mind’s eye the more hardscrabble denizens of Little Italy and SoHo from 30-odd years ago flowing in and out of the bar, sitting in their favorite stools and booths, telling each other stories and dreaming their dreams. The music, while passé to 21st century ears, seemed viable enough for past regulars to come back around for one more can of Schaefer.
Another example: Canal Bar in Gowanus has an incredibly diverse jukebox. Jazz, Blues, Classic rock, Disco…all types of music are represented. Things get a bit spooky when the Doo-Wop comes on, however. More than once I’ve been there on a late afternoon, with 5 or so customers at the bar, and a weird sensation suddenly falls over everyone when the harmonies start. Invariably a discussion of what Gowanus used to be like 50 years ago, when mostly Italians lived and worked there, will arise. Names and businesses get mentioned. But no-one at the bar—not even the owner—was alive 50 years ago when those tunes first came out.
Being a realist, my first assumption is that people are talking about their relatives or ancestors who spent time in Gowanus. Hypergentrification in that part of Brooklyn, however, makes the possibility of grandkids living and drinking in the same place their grandparents lived and drank rather remote. Canal Bar, like others in that neighborhood, promotes itself as a bar that caters to residents who come from another city (Chicago, in their case)…likely because “locals” can no longer afford to live there. So where are these conversations coming from, and why don’t they ever happen when the Jazz or Blues tunes hit the jukebox?
Canal Bar opened in 2005; I don’t recall what originally stood there, somehow I thought there was a much older bar there previously. The area was heavily industrial, and very close to SBB territory. I wonder if some of the old greasers come back around to shoot the shit when they hear the music they enjoyed in life? If one feels discomfited by the idea of ghosts or paranormal woo, consider this: that particular genre of music would have been immensely popular with whoever worked or hung out there back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. When it comes on the jukebox there’s a resonance…not presences or “hauntings” per se, more a sense of recalling those who came before.
Whatever is going on in bars like these when deeply unpopular music plays is integral to the ambiance of these spaces…part of what makes them what they are. The feeling is subtle but definite, keeping the atmosphere consistent year after year, decade after decade. So don’t complain about the wack tunes—sit down, order a drink and give props to those who sat in that same seat back in the day.
This past weekend I heard Fran Lebowitz converse with Martin Scorsese over at BAM. Fran did all the conversing, really—Marty just sat there and cackled for the most part! He did answer a few questions at the end, however; I recall an interesting one about how he integrates his soundtrack choices into his filming process. He often has music in mind before filming, although there’s room for leeway in the editing phase.
Fran was in top form, garrulous and eviscerating yet deeply thoughtful regarding the changes that have taken place in NYC during her lifetime. Highlights included approval for Mayor Bill de Blasio (she hasn’t heard the word “tourist” come out of his mouth yet), disdain for the pedestrian plazas in Times Square (“Planters, lawn chairs, trinkets…New York looks like my grandmother’s living room. I expect to find glass dishes filled with sour candies!”) and telling NYU students when they whine about $60K annual tuition that thanks to them, New Yorkers who make $60K/year can’t afford to live in the Village anymore—so if they get an education AND an apartment in the Village for that amount, they have NO reason to complain!
Perhaps a less popular point of view (although one that I sympathize with) was Fran’s insistence that NYC’s smoking bans have little to do with actual data concerning the dangers of secondhand smoke and more to do with the bullshit neo-puritan mindset of the Bloomberg administration. I’ve often wished there were both smoking and non-smoking bars so people could have a choice. That being said, so far de Blasio intends to keep the bans in place.