Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My White Privilege Story

Human Rights Day 2014 #Rights365

Today is "International Human Rights Day 2014," a day which "commemorates the date on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaiming its principles as the 'common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.'" It's an international day, but it's quite clear that while we Americans regularly like to point out the human rights failings of other nations, we have some work to do to live up to these standards as well.

What do I know about it? I'm an educated, middle-aged, white guy, and have benefited from the same society and system that failed to grant justice in the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and so many more. It's not something I asked for, or purposefully or even consciously participated in bringing about, but I have benefited from it all the same.

Here's one little story of white privilege: I was about 19 at the time, and the car I was driving was a beat-up 1969 Pontiac station wagon. Where it had paint, it was primer gray. Quite out of place in the middle-class Los Angeles suburb where I resided.

One morning, on my way to work, I ran a stop sign. "Ran" -- actually, it was more of what we call a "California stop," where you slow down, check both ways, and roll through without actually stopping. A policeman pulled out behind me and pulled me over. He informed me about the stop sign and asked to check out my ID and registration.

Once my ID (with an address about a mile or two from the intersection) checked out, he asked me, "What do you think we should do about this?"

Being a smart-ass 19-year-old, I said, "Let me off with a stern warning?"

He handed me back my ID and said, "Don't let it happen again." He then returned to his vehicle and drove off.

White Privilege. Had I not "belonged" in the neighborhood, that transaction would not have gone so well. Had I not "fit in," a traffic ticket would have been the least of my concerns.

The pay-off there was obvious, and the contrast to current cases is clear. It's not always so obvious and clear. Walking through stores on a day when I didn't bother to shave and am wearing old, torn jeans, but still get excellent service instead of being followed and scrutinized. Middle-aged white guy privilege.

Of course, I am missing one crucial ingredient for full privilege: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Christian. I've experienced anti-Semitism first-hand, too.

Perhaps my worst story of anti-Semitism effecting me: I was about 21 and working in a real estate office. One of the saleswomen got off a contentious phone call with a client and started screaming about the "fucking cheap kike."

I took exception to her choice of language, and told her so. What word should she use, she wanted to know? I suggested that clients behavior had to do with them being an asshole, not a Jew. Now, I was in trouble.

While she got away with using the anti-Semitic slur, "kike," as well as several choice curse words, I was to be disciplined for saying, "asshole." Needless to say, I didn't work there much longer.

There have been other, more minor, examples, but generally speaking, in my life experience, being a white guy has gained me far more than being "the wrong religion" has hurt me.

Protestor blocks traffic
So, yes, when activists, advocates, and protesters point out the use of excessive deadly force and its racial overtones, I get it.

"But they were thugs!" Michael Brown did not "rob a convenience store." He and the owner had a nasty dispute over about $1.50 worth of cigarillos, and yes, it turned to pushing, but not there was no robbery. And really don't think that $1.50 worth of smokes is a capital crime.

Eric Garner's crime of selling loose cigarettes is hardly worthy of a banned strangle-hold and death either. If Garner had created an iPhone app to match holders of extra cigarettes with people who wanted to purchase one, he'd be hailed for innovatively disrupting the tobacco market and be handed $40 million in venture capital.

"But nobody raises such a stink when white guys get shot by the police!" Well, actually they do. If you pay attention there's plenty of protest about the over-militarization of the police and the abuse of excessive force overall. But within that broader problem there is also the inescapable fact that young black man is twenty times more likely to be shot and killed in a dispute with the police than a young white man.

Black lives matter. (Yes, all lives matter, but not all people rightly feel like a walking target at this time). And, personally, I can't see any attempt to justify the killings of Brown or Garner as anything other than justification of a racist system and the perpetuation of Christian, white, male privilege.

Still don't get what's happening here? How about a few lines from William Shakespeare, Act III, Scene I, Merchant of Venice:
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
Shylock did not appeal to his oppressors to raise them to higher level of caring. He eloquently explained why he chose to sink to their level of evil. Had he sought his pound of flesh without this speech, the audience would have no sympathy. He's still the evil Jew in the play, but he's a humanized evil Jew, thanks to his eloquence.

I hesitate to condone some of the more extreme violence of some of the current protests, but I get the motivation. Unfortunately, I fear, it allows those who just don't what's going on to dismiss it all as, "I told you they were thugs."

Sympathizing with Shylock's demand for a pound of Antonio's flesh doesn't quell our revulsion at possibly having to watch it cut out live on stage, or our relief when a less bloody resolution is found.

But I would say that. I'm a white guy.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Let's Talk About #Inequality

Today is Blog Action Day 2014. Each year, BAD organizes bloggers from over 100 countries to write on a single theme for one day of coordinated action. This year's theme is Inequality, with the catchy tagline, "Let's talk about #inequality" (including the hashtag).

I've been thinking about this for a few days, wondering what I would actually write this morning. I've  written much about marriage equality, and disparities in racial and gender equality already. And as important as it is, I'm not sure I could stomach another post ranting about the 1%. So those topics would be out.

Somehow my thoughts came to Lyndon Johnson, who in signing the Voting Rights Act did much to bring about a certain amount of justice and equality to our electoral system - and how our current Supreme Court has done what they could to dismantle that and turn the clock back on democracy.

LBJ knew that voting rights were not enough, and that there had to be equality in education, economic opportunity, and more. "We must open the doors of opportunity," Johnson said, "But we must also equip our people to walk through those doors."

Political cowardice prevented much of what needed to happen from happening. LBJ had a few choice quotes for that too: "While you're saving your face, you're losing your ass," and "I may not know much, but I know the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit."

Then, last night, looking through Facebook, I came upon a posting from a social worker friend. At a training on homeless shelter rules they were presented with "Rule 18:"
Anyone unable to perform activities of daily living (e.g. using the bathroom facilities, getting into/out of bed, eating, dressing and undressing, etc.) during the hours in the shelter on her/his own or with support from non-shelter staff will result in an immediate denial of services.
(Arrangements for non-shelter support staff are the responsibility of the client.
Notice regarding such support staff must be provided to the shelter staff in advance.)
Sanction Period: Permanent
I commented:
When I worked in a shelter in San Jose the rules were pretty much the same (and in reaction to hospitals putting people who should never have been discharged into taxis with instructions to the driver to dump them at our door).
I frequently think of one such gentleman who we refused service to who turned up the next day, dead in our dumpster where he had spent his final night.
That was actually only one example of a client (or, would-be-client) of ours dying as a result of our bureaucracy's inability to provide care in every situation, and each system trying to pass the buck (well, there were no bucks, so they were passing the "problem") to another torn corner of the "safety net."

There's a little taste of inequality in action. Inequality kills. Not always as dramatically as that, in fact, it took years for a lifetime of inequality to take its toll on that one particular gentleman. Then again, in Ferguson we saw how it can kill in an instant.

Not that I spend much time worrying about such things. As LBJ said, "I seldom think of politics more than eighteen hours a day."

This morning, I decided to take a quick look at the feed on the Blog Action Day site and see what others were writing about. If you only read one other #inequality post today, make it this one: Inequality and "understanding" the poor, on a blog called "Simply Smart Dinner Plans" - not where I expected to find something of this political caliber.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Facebook Meme Found to Contain B*!!$#{}!

Perhaps I was too subtle in my previous post calling for balance and thoughtfulness when posting on social media about the struggle for peace. Maybe some of you didn't even know what "struggle for peace" I was talking about? Because a few of my friends who "liked" the post continued to put out one-sided memes that were clearly manufactured by the propaganda arm of one side and full of misleading (or completely untrue) "facts" about the other.

So screw subtlety. Here's an example of BS posting:

Why is this BS? Isn't it just a "factual" depiction of how the land-hungry Israelis have pushed the peaceful Palestinians off of their property since showing up, uninvited, in 1946? Not exactly.

Let's actually start from one map before this meme begins:

Here we see a Palestine that is considerably larger than current Israel/Palestine. You see, for about 300 years leading up to World War One, Palestine was occupied and administered by the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman's were on the losing side of WWI, and at the end of the war, their territories were divided among the winners (and their home transitioned into modern Turkey).

From this map we see that Britain administered all of Palestine, as well as Iraq, and France administered the former Ottoman territories of Syria and Lebanon (there's more territory as well, but not part of this story). In 1920, the plan was for all of Palestine to transition into an independent "Jewish National Home."

In about 1921, 77% of Palestine - everything east of the Jordan river - was used to create an independent national home for the Palestinian Arabs, and thus Trans-Jordan was created (later shortened to Jordan). In about 1922, another 5%, the Golan Heights, was ceded to Syria. This left 18% of Palestine to be used as a Jewish national home. But not so fast...

Another World War, another attempt to exterminate all Jews, the creation of the United Nations, and then about 25 years later, the world is ready to act. But first, we'll divide the land once more.

Back to the original BS meme. I do not have the census data to swear that the 1946 image is BS, but why I suspect so is because the 1947 UN plan was based on (then) current population centers (which is why it's kind of a screwy map). From the 1946 "data" showing no "Jewish land" in the south, to the 1947 UN plan giving it all to Israel doesn't add up. There should be a lot more white there. Contrary to the popular notion that Jewish emigration to Palestine/Israel began around 1890, Jews had been settling there since at least the 1600's.

And here's a little bit of BS in the image of 1947 UN plan: it shows Jerusalem as all in Palestinian land. The plan actually called for Jerusalem to be a neutral, internationally governed, territory, not Jewish or Arab land. That never happened.

Let's look at the difference between the 1947 plan and the 1949 borders. How did the greedy Israeli's get that additional land? Well, by the time the '47 plan was voted on and adopted, Israel was able to declare its independence on May 14, 1948. The next day - let me repeat that: the next damned day - Israel was invaded by Egypt, Syria, Trans-Jordan, and Iraq (Saudi troops fought under Egyptian command, Yemen declared war against Israel but didn't really do anything beyond words).

Israel prevailed in that war - a war they did not start - and the 1949 border (the "Green Line") is the result of the armistice agreed upon by the parties. So let's look at that 1949-1967 map and discuss why it is BS.

In the '49-67 part of the meme we still see green "Palestinian" land. But there was no Palestine from '49-67. The Gaza strip was occupied by Egypt. The West Bank (including East Jerusalem) was annexed by (Trans)Jordan. Let's make sure you understand this: Palestine's Arab "friends" attacked Israel, and walked off with most of Palestine's territory. Yes, Israel gained some territory, as did Egypt. But the majority of what should have been Palestine went to Jordan. With friends like that...

In that 18 year period, at any time from 1949-1967, Jordan could have given the Palestinians their independence in the West Bank. They didn't. Egypt could have created an independent Palestinian Gaza. They didn't. The world could have cried out about the destruction and occupation of Palestine and insisted that all parties go back to the borders of the UN plan. They didn't.

Nobody said a word or gave a rat's ass about the plight of the Palestinians until after 1967. So, what happened in 1967? Another war with Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Again, Israel prevailed (in just six days). Here's what the map of Israel looked like at the end of that war:

Israel had "taken" the West Bank and Gaza along with the Golan Heights and the entire Sinai peninsula. That's a lot of "Jewish land" that's not shown in the meme. Why? Because it doesn't fit the presumptive narrative of "land hungry Israelis." 90% of land "won" by Israel in the '67 war was given back to make peace. The meme does not include maps where Israel shrunk. BS.

There's more wars - like the October 1973 surprise attack during the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur - but the Israelis were used to it by then and won handily, and again traded land for peace. And there were terrorist attacks from the Palestinian "freedom fighters" - from the 1972 murder of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich, to countless suicide bombers on Israeli buses, in restaurants, etc., not to mention the nonstop indiscriminate shelling of civilian centers.

And Israel - especially in more recent years - has created its share of provocations that have derailed the peace process. I'm looking right at you, settlers in the occupied territories. And so we end up with something like the image in the final "2000" panel of the meme (or "2010" or "2014" in other versions of this meme), although I can't swear to its accuracy one way or another (but at this point, I suspect BS).

One other bit of Facebook meme BS going around that I'll clear up, as long as I've got your attention, is the idea that Jews are all newcomers to the Middle East, and that Zionism was created by a guy who "wasn't even a Jew!"

The modern return of Jews to Palestine began in the 1600's, with the expulsion of Jews from Spain. This is about the same time that the Ottoman Empire took control of Palestine. To put things into perspective, the first permanent British settlement in America, Jamestown, was also founded about the same time. So, for a white American, with no intention of returning "home" to Europe, to say that Jews don't belong in Palestine requires a special kind of hypocrisy.

By the time political Zionism took root in the 1880-90s, through the promotion of Theodor Herzl, it was in response to pogroms and the expulsion of Jews from the "Pale of Settlement" in Russian dominated Eastern Europe leading to the fourth wave of Jewish emigration to Palestine.

Was Herzl even a Jew? Yes. "But I heard he was an atheist?" Yep. You can be a Jew and an atheist, and both sides of this were important to the development of political Zionism. Traditional, religious Jewish teachings about Zion, were that the Jews could only re-establish the Kingdom of Israel once the Messiah came. It took a Jewish atheist to say, "Forget the Messiah, it's time for us Jews to stop living under the boots of those who push us out from place to place and take control of our own destiny."

Now, I am not writing all this to put 100% support behind Israel. I believe in their right to exist, but I am appalled by their continued occupation beyond the Green Line, the settlements within the occupied territories, and their "kill 100 of them for 1 of us" attitude. Yes, a nation has the right and obligation to defend its citizens. I get it. But there comes a point when defense crosses into retribution. Israel is past that line.

I also believe in the right of the Palestinians to live in peace in their own self-governed lands. But I do not and cannot support their elected "leaders," Hamas, even 1%. The charter of Hamas explicitly calls for the murder of not just Israelis, but all Jews. Sorry, but once you start talking genocide, you don't get any passes from me.

Now let me be real clear about this: criticism of Israel is not automatically anti-Semitism. Support of the Palestinian people is not necessarily anti-Semitism. But, support of Hamas, clearly and without question, is (go back and read that charter before you argue with me on this one).

It also makes one wonder about the motivation for the non-stop pace of anti-Israel posts while things like ISIS crucifying their enemies in Syria while the Syrian government bombs and murders thousands of its own citizens are all but ignored. ISIS is also actively killing by the score in Egypt, Iraq, and elsewhere. Among the three or four anti-Israel posts you share daily, couldn't you find a moment to be outraged about that?

I don't bring those up to in any way explain, justify, distract from, or minimize the horror that Israel is perpetrating in Gaza. I'm just saying, if you only care about murdered Arabs when they're killed by Jews, you might have some issues.

Still, despite the actions and words of the settler-zealots and politicians in Israel, and the Hamas terrorists and extremists in Palestine, I still believe that the majority of each people want - and deserve - peace and secure co-existence. We can all get along.

And so, in my previous post, I asked for balance and fairness and sharing the blame and working together for peace. I guess that makes me Mr. Moderation, which is not popular.

A final BS meme I'll mention was a cartoon showing an Israeli fighting a bloodied Palestinian. "Mr. Moderation" enters to tell them that the blame is shared, and that they should work together for peace. For that he is shown to be a naive fool, with the Palestinian clearly the only one making any sense.

This I found offensive, not because the Palestinian came out on top, but because it mocks moderation, it mocks discussion, and it absolves one side of all guilt or responsibility. If moderation is not the answer, what is? More extremism? That's what each side has been trying for nearly a century since the Ottoman Turks lost control of Palestine. Extremism hasn't really worked out that well for anybody, has it?

So here's my proposal: Learn to work and live together without killing each other or we just give the whole damn thing back to the British to sort out.

(BTW, I know, I know. "It's only a Facebook post." That's why I rant here, on my blog, and not in the comment section of their posts. Got a problem with it? Find your own place to rant.)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Just my opinion, but

If you're picking sides in a war

If you think one groups' children are any more precious than anothers

If you only share pictures of one sides casualties (and do so repeatedly)

If you judge a situation on the history of three weeks instead of (at least) three generations

If you excuse the violence and murders of only one party

If you are keeping score based on a body count

If you think that just one side "started it"

If you accuse one side of media manipulation through the shared posts of the others propaganda machine

If you think soldiers in civilian garb are any more innocent or holy than soldiers in uniform

If you think official recognition makes anyone more guilt-free or holy than another

If you blame the people of one side while excusing the generals of the other

If you place the rights of one group to exist in peace above those of another

If you only recognize the extremism of one side's all-or-nothing stance

If you think mothers only weep in one language 

If you think you can choose a side in a battle 

and still claim that you stand for peace

You are likely a hypocrite, a fool, a liar, or worse.

Friday, July 11, 2014

BWG2: Diane Keaton’s Hotel Room (& Belinda Carlisle’s breast)

My last posting here, Brush With Greatness #1: Carole King, got a pretty good reaction, so I'll continue the series now with a story requested by one the participants in it: my brother Steve.

This story is from about 1988, also from my time working at Limelight Film & Video in Hollywood. We were shooting a couple of videos for former GoGo, Belinda Carlisle, Heaven is a Place on Earth, and the follow-up, I Get Weak, each of which was to be directed by the fabulous and talented Diane Keaton.

My job as a staff production assistant sometimes put me on-set, carrying cables, moving equipment, painting signs, buying sushi, or other such tasks, and between times were spent driving up and down LA's Westside running scripts, tapes, and money all over town.

Ms. Keaton arrived the evening before we were to shoot I Get Weak, and was staying at the Shangri-La Hotel in Santa Monica. I was to drop off some last minute papers and notes along with a cassette of the song at her hotel for her to review before the shoot.

I pulled up to the Shangri-La, went to the front desk, explained I had a package for Ms. Keaton, and figured that I'd leave it there, and my day was done.

The desk clerk told me, "Hold on a second. Don't go anywhere." He probably thought I was rather suspicious and he wasn't going to take any chances on my making an escape. He called up to her room, "There's a guy here with a package for you?" Then to me, "Are you from Limelight?" I nodded. He told her, "Yes," then handed the phone to me.

"Do you just want to leave it up front? Or, no, hold on, do you mind bringing it up to my room?"

I didn't mind. I got the room number, went up to the room, knocked on the door, and was invited in. Just me and one of my favorite actresses, alone in her room. I handed her the envelope, she opened it, checked out the contents, talking to herself, "Very good. Excellent."

Finally, after what seemed like an hour in her company, but was probably about 10 seconds, she thanked me and gestured to the door letting me know our encounter was complete. I don't remember if I managed to utter even one word in her presence.

The next day - the day of the shoot - I was off, and hanging out with my brother, Steve. After telling him about the encounter of the night before, I asked if he'd like to stop by the set and watch them shoot for a few minutes. He didn't take much convincing.

There was Belinda, with Diane screaming at her to "Act! Dammit!" doing take after take, and still not getting it the way Ms. Keaton wanted. Belinda tried harder, and harder. So hard, in fact, that her actions led to a wardrobe malfunction and one of her breasts sliding out of her top.

Steve still thanks me for that. Belinda's breast was good, but being alone with Diane Keaton in her hotel room was better.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Brush With Greatness #1: Carole King

One thing I've pretty much resisted doing is talking about meeting celebrities. Until now, I guess.

Having been a music and film obsessed teenager and young adult in Los Angeles, then working first in major record stores in Hollywood and Studio City, then working for a music video production company, I've crossed paths with many famous people.

It was just part of what I was doing at the time, and not really that big a deal, and so I don't usually talk about it. But, for whatever reason, or maybe just for the hell of it, I think I'll start sharing some of those stories here for those who care about such things.

During my time as a production assistant at Limelight Film & Video in Hollywood (roughly 1988-89) I worked with dozens of popular artists. But one of my favorite moments of that time came from somebody I only met on the phone.

We had just completed the Bridge of Sighs video for Louise Goffin, when one of the Limelight office staff came to me, very irritated, and said, "Louise Goffin's mother is on the phone. She wants a copy of the video," (exasperated over-dramatic sigh), "Do you mind talking to her?"

Understanding that Louise was the daughter of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, one of the most successful songwriting teams of the 1950-60s, and appreciating that Carole King's Tapestry held the record for most weeks on the Billboard chart for an album by a female artist (a record eventually broken by Whitney Houston), I didn't mind. I picked up the phone.

KG: "Ummm... Hello?"

CK: "Hi, this is Carole. I'm Louise Goffin's mom. How does the video look?"

KG: "Well... it looks very good, actually. Suits the mood of the song, and Louise looks great..."

We talked like that for about 5-10 minutes, and I shared how I'd enjoyed Louise's work since her Kid Blue debut, but that this new album showed a new maturity, yadda, yadda, yadda. Since she wanted to talk about Louise, and had not introduced herself as "Carole King," I refrained from comparing Louise's songs to Carole's.

Eventually we got around to her asking if it were possible for us to send her a VHS copy of Bridge of Sighs. Yes, we could. "Where should I send it?"

CK: "To Carole King, c/o..." (address in NYC, where she was then working on a play).

That five or ten minutes has stuck with me more than many of the other encounters with celebrities I met in person, and been a favorite moment of mine, because she wasn't being Carole King, most successful female composer of the 20th century (nearly 120 songs on the Billboard charts), popular recording artist, and sometime actress.

She was just being little Carol Klein, Jewish momma, who only wanted to talk about how proud she was of her baby. I had a glimpse of the real Carole King, and she did not disappoint.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What if They Crowdfunded a War and Nobody Gave?

Way back when I was a child, there was a popular poster that said, "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." (Posters were a crude pre-Facebook era meme communications device.)

Well, it seems that the great day is finally here!

Well, at least, if you live in Ukraine. And if you update "bake sale" to "crowdfunding campaign." (And ignore that bit about funding schools.)

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has turned to social media and crowdfunding to get their troops combat ready. Ukrainian activists claim the campaign has raised nearly $2 million so far. (Right now, only 6,000 Ukrainian troops are considered combat ready, according to the BBC.)

And would it be a crowdfunding campaign without a video up on YouTube? That would be a big, "Nyet!" And here it is:

By the way, did you take a close look at the thumbnail icon before you played that video? Just in case you missed it, here's it is again:

Yeah, that's right. In Ukraine, people still use Blackberries.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Post Title Goes Here

I am not perfect. Obviously. Often these dispatches are typed quickly, read over once, and the publish button is clicked without too much afterthought. I don't have anybody else proofread these things either. So, yes, I often find embarrassing typos here after I've posted, and others often find such typos and take great pride in pointing them out to me.

Not to justify my sloppiness (or laziness), but I also often find obvious mistakes in the various blogs, magazines, and books of others. These things happen. Oh well. But sometimes you come across an error that just makes you scratch your head and wonder WTF?...

... Last month we visited the Mission at San Juan Bautista (Vertigo location, for all you Hitchcock fans). There are many historical displays throughout the museum/mission. In this one room, there's a bit about the native plants and crops that the original Californians used for foods and medicines.

The posters above the display say "Indigenous Food Plants." Arranged around that are examples with pictures and plant names and the words "basic information about this plant, uses, habitat." Yes, each one has "basic information." Not actual information, just the words "basic information." Oops, did somebody forget to put in the basic information that was supposed to go here? I'm pretty sure "spanish common name" is a placeholder as well...

But that's not the biggest error. Under the heading of "Indigenous Food Plants" are a couple of paragraphs of text. Not in English. No, not Spanish. Is that Latin? Let's see... "Lorem ipsum..."

For those unfamiliar with the words "Lorem Ipsum," it is standard placeholder text used by graphic designers when they are creating the art for a printed piece and the actual, final copy has not been written (or delivered) yet.

On this poster, the block of Lorem Ipsum is repeated; first in standard typeface, then in italics (probably where the Spanish translation is supposed to go).

And it's not just one such poster: there are two of these. And, judging by how faded the paper is, they've been hanging there for several years.

I shared these images with my designer friend, Bill, last month. Yesterday he sent me the link to a blog post called What happens when placeholder text doesn't get replaced. If you are amused my mission example above, you'll love the examples on that link.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mac and Me

If you've been anywhere near any tech media the last week or so, you are quite aware that it is the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Macintosh computer. You may or may not know that I'm a "Mac guy." Pretty much all my websites, blogs, videos, songs, etc., that I've posted over the last couple of decades have been created on Macs.

My earliest computer experiences were actually on a Commodore 64 that belonged to my friend (and for a time, roommate) Dave. It was fun, easy to use, and we even managed to do some very basic programming without having to learn much (I remember creating a rudimentary Madlibs-type game). But it wasn't a machine that anybody would use for any serious work.

My first desktop computer experience in a work setting was probably about 1987, when I was working at an ad agency in Hollywood. We had a couple of Compaq Deskpros in the office (looking pretty much like these photos), and if memory serves, the software I mostly used was WordStar (writing) and Lotus123 (spreadsheet).

There was no graphical user interface, only text line commands, and a tiny, fuzzy screen that sucked the ability to see the color green right out of your eyes. But it was still considered pretty cool, and you could easily update documents and print them out so you could put them on the fax machine and magically share them with people outside the office.

Then I changed jobs and went to a music video production company down the street, and we had one of those funny looking all-in-one box thingies I'd heard people talking about, called "Macintosh" (it was about 1988, and it may have been the Mac SE, but I can't be sure).

The monitor was still pretty small, and black and white - but so much easier on the eyes than that horrid green glow of the Deskpro. And when you typed a document, it looked pretty much the same as it would when you printed it. It was still pretty basic, but light years ahead of what I'd just been using.

Then I returned to school (1989), and I needed to bring better technology with me than just a basic typewriter. But a Mac was still too costly for me, so I bought a Smith Corona "Personal Word Processor" (pretty much like this photo).

It had a screen that displayed about 12 lines of text, and a slot for a disk that could store about 25 pages of text. No images or fancy formatting (the print wheel was still just a basic typewriter), but I could write my papers, correct them, print them, and get through UC Santa Cruz for my BA in Politics.

When I went on to grad school at CSU Sacramento in 1991 (Master of Public Policy & Administration), the Smith Corona was just not cutting it anymore. It was time (finally) for my own real computer. The Macintosh LC III filled that bill with an 80 Mb hard drive, which - at the time - seemed like I would never be able to fill.

That machine got me through grad school, and also opened up entire new worlds. It was on the LC III that I first connected to the internet, first through Delphi, then AmericaOnline, then finally a local ISP called Quiknet. It was through Quiknet (1994) that I had my own webspace and started to learn html.

After the LC III I owned one other desktop Mac, a Power Mac (I think the 7300?), then I switched to laptops, first an iBook, then a MacBook, and now a MacBook Pro, for a total of five Macintosh machines over 22 or 23 years.

The upgrades were never because of hardware failures, but mostly to have access to faster/better software that wasn't supported on the older platforms. I've never had a loss of data that wasn't my own darn fault, and the only repairs I've ever needed were handled quickly, easily, and free at my local Apple stores.

I've also owned two PCs in that time.

First I got a Dell laptop as a premium gift with credit card points. Even as a "free" computer, it was over-priced. The Dell never worked well (or at all, really), was frustrating as hell, and did nothing to break my Mac loyalty.

Later, I purchased an HP Mini, to have something smaller and lighter than the MacBook when traveling (and something I wouldn't be too upset over losing). This was actually much better than the Dell, and I got some good use out of it. Until the day certain letters on the keyboard stopped working. Including letters that I needed for my password to log-in. End of HP story.

And, of course, I've used a variety of PCs in various office settings over the years, and never found one that I enjoyed using nearly as much as any of my Macs.

My other Apple devices over the years:
* First generation iPod Shuffle
* iPod Touch (1st or 2nd generation)
* iPhone 3GS
* iPhone 4S

No iPad yet, but if (or when) I decide to get another lightweight machine for travel (to replace the HP Mini), it will probably be an iPad.

I try not to be too much of an ass about my affinity for Apple products, but I've been accused of "being rude to PC fans." To me, Macs just work better. They're more intuitive (to the way my brain works), they don't crash/freeze/die with nearly the same frequency (in my experience). Yes, they cost more initially, but I have found them to be worth the price differential in the long run.

If you disagree, that's swell, enjoy your PC. But, for me, I salute the Mac on its 30th anniversary, and I look forward to the next 30.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Let Them Ride Ferries!

As the legend goes, at a time when France was in the midst of a famine, Queen Marie Antoinette continued to spend lavishly on her extravagant lifestyle. When somebody pointed out that she was doing this while the peasants had no bread, she deadpanned, "No bread? Let them eat cake!" ("Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!")

While Old Marie A likely never really said those words, the phrase has come to represent pompous, pampered, out-of-touch aristocracy, who have no concern for the poor, not so much out of evil, but out of willful ignorance. An aristocracy that is so isolated from the problems of the average person that they imagine what they'd do if they ran out of plain bread; simply switch to brioche.

Let's jump forward a couple hundred years and change the location to the San Francisco Bay Area. Specifically, Highway 101 between San Francisco and Mountain View, where a little kingdom called "Google" has its headquarters.

For years now, Google, along with other tech giants like Apple, etc., have provided their employees (or "Googlers," yes, really) with luxury coach buses that pick them up from various locations and bring them to work without having to deal with traffic, etc.

Quite a nice perk, and one that could be said to be an environmentally sound policy of getting private cars off the road (without making their employees use, iiiiccck!, public transportation). I'm fine with that. Personally, I prefer to be cut off by one or two massive gray buses than have to deal with fifty separate Tesla's darting in and out of traffic.

The problem that many of us have had is not with the buses themselves, but what they have come to represent.

That the Valley of Heart's Delight has been re-christened Silicon Valley brought many advantages and great wealth to this region. But it has not been all-inclusive, and those left-behind have fallen further below the economic divide. We have a greater division of wealth here than in most other regions, and are divided into the privileged tech few, and the invisible poor who serve them.

And it's the invisibility of the poor that the buses represent.

The tech crew moves from their home enclaves to private buses where their commute is protected from sharing a seat with "ordinary" people. The buses deposit them at massive campuses where their meals are provided in wonderfully equipped and staffed cafes. Then they are brought home again in the private buses.

Meanwhile, poverty in Silicon Valley is very real, and very hidden.

It's not all Google's fault! Really. I like Google. I use gmail. I use YouTube. This blog is hosted by Google's Blogspot But over-all, the major tech companies have been unable to successfully address whether or not they have any responsibility as corporate citizens to do anything about the poverty their employees get to ignore.

In the last few weeks, however, the media has finally taken notice of this. Not because the media finally cares about the homeless sleeping along the banks of the Guadalupe River in San Jose. No. Because middle-class, non-tech yuppies in San Francisco got tired of rising rents and decided to protest.

The SF group noticed that the tech buses were picking up their passengers at public bus stops, where if anybody else were to stop, they'd get a ticket. This became the focus of the protests. Long-story-short, the city reached a deal with the companies to pay for their use of public bus stops.

This "solution" is supposed to result in a truce. It doesn't do anything about gentrification in San Francisco, or homelessness all along the Peninsula, or income disparity, or anything else really, but it brings in some civic revenue, so everybody's happy. Right? ... Right?

And now, Google has done one better. Completely missing the original point of the recent SF protests, or the years of resentment building around their Mountain View Googleplex, Google has announced they will provide free ferry service to their employees, saying in a statement to the press, "We certainly don't want to cause any inconvenience to SF residents and we're trying alternative ways to get Googlers to work."

For years advocates for the poor have talked about the buses being a symbol for the isolation and divide between the tech community and the rest of the Valley around them. So now, they are further removing and isolating their "Googlers" by letting them commute on the Bay, where they don't even have to notice an older model Chevrolet breaking down by the side of the road.

In Silicon Valley, Google was told that the peasants have no bread. And Google's answer was to move the brioche onto a ferry.

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