Monthly Archives: April 2006

P!nk: beautiful and political

Although i had heard P!nk’s music on the radio over the last couple of years, i didn’t pay much attention to her until her latest video Stupid Girls started popping up all over MySpace. I was floored by the no-bullshit strong feminism coming out of a mainstream artist and utterly ecstatic to see young girls share her video on their pages. So i bought her latest CD. I’m Not Dead unapologetically political and extremely beautiful and i have just been playing it on repeat all night. One song in particular – “Dear Mr. President” – really got under my skin. Featuring Indigo Girls, it’s an open letter to Bush. Here’s a sample from the lyrics:

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry
How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye
How do you walk with your head held high
Can you even look me in the eye

Let me tell you bout hard work
Minimum wage with a baby on the way
Let me tell you bout hard work
Rebuilding your house after the bombs took them away
Let me tell you bout hard work
Building a bed out of a cardboard box

It’s been a long time since i wanted to celebrate a mainstream artist, but P!nk’s latest album really blows me away and i wanted to share that with those of you who haven’t been paying attention to mainstream music. Wow.

captcha gone very very wrong

Spam sucks – we all know that. While captcha certainly helps, it also alienates lots of folks. As a society, we’ve never been good at recognizing disabilities. I remember watching a near-blind computer user try to get past captchas and i felt terrible for what our industry does. Yet, i had never felt the frustration. Until today. The Webby Awards uses captcha on every vote. I wanted to vote for Cute Overload (omg… sooo cute) so i created an account to vote. It took me only 2 tries to get passed the first captcha. But the captcha that i got on Blog-Culture took me SEVEN tries to get right. I tried voting for two more categories – i got past the second one after 5 tries and then took another 8 to get past the next one. I gave up on voting. I wonder how many people stop participating because of stupid stuff like this? I’m trying to imagine my grandmother on her model dealing with captcha – that would so never happen (unless it looked like a Solitaire game).

Since i’m thinking about Cute Overload, i might as well share the picture from today that made me ooh and awww:

medical marijuana

Today, the FDA issued a statement saying that there is no scientific proof that medical marijuana helps patients better than other prescription drugs. This infuriates me. In 1994, i broke my neck. I was given valium (and a lot of other things) and became extremely addicted to it. I was in a constant fog. To make matters worse, it made my body unable to register pain so when i tossed and turned at night, i made everything worse. I kept losing vision and hearing, even while drugged out of my mind. Weening off of valium was hell and i was super resentful towards the medical establishment for getting me addicted to it. Without valium, the pain was brutal, but i refused to go back on that evil drug.

In 1996, after extensive research, i decided to try using marijuana for medicinal purposes. Whenever the pain got unbearable, i smoked a small amount and went to sleep. I didn’t toss and turn; i didn’t wake up groggy; i didn’t get addicted; i didn’t lose vision and hearing. Well-rested, i was able to develop an exercise process that strengthened the supporting muscles, relieving the pain more permanently. Because i was not in a painless daze, this process was far more beneficial than the physical therapy i did while addicted to valium. Because i was able to heal and strengthen, i was able to stop smoking. As i realized the difference this made, i became rabidly agry at the medical system (having no insurance didn’t help).

Today, i smoke marijuana rarely, and only when the pain is really dreadful. Sure, i could’ve stayed addicted to valium to kill the pain – i’m sure the FDA and pharmaceuticals would’ve prefered that. But i chose to take a different path, an illegal one, and i don’t regret it. I genuinely believe that marijuana saved me from more extensive long-term pain and from years of being dazed.

There is a reason that healers have used marijuana for centuries. It is a natural plant with medicinal qualities. The side effects are minimal compared to FDA-approved drugs. But the problem is that you don’t need a bloated pharmaceutical apparatus to use marijuana for treatment. (Translation: there’s no money for the pharms in it and they are big lobbyists.)

It royally sucks that i have to feel like a criminal for using natural plants to heal while there’s nothing criminal about the $600+ i spent per month getting addicted to an FDA-approved drug. I hope that one day we’ll look back on this move with cultural condescension at how foolish and greedy the FDA was in the early 21st century.

now let’s get talking reefer madness
like some arrogant government can’t
by any stretch of the imagination
outlaw a plant
yes, their supposed authority over nature
is a dream
c’mon people
we’ve got to come clean

is MySpace safe for predators?

Things on MySpace have taken a funny twist. At first, the media was all about the harm predators on MySpace could do. Yet, in the last month, the media has taken a new angle and is now reporting stories about how law enforcement has used MySpace to lure out predators and take a bite out of all sorts of other crimes. While Dateline’s perverted justice reports poorly convey the likelihood that teens will respond to predators, they do show just how stupid predators are about believing that they are talking to teens. Following this same model, LAPD and other police groups have been logging on, pretending to be sexy 14 and 15 year olds and happily responding to all sexual predators who approach them, without making their profiles private. I’ve lost count of how many predators have been lured out by these raids. Of course, my favorite is Brian Doyle, a high-ranking homeland security official.

I find this turn of events really cool because no cop could pretend to be a 14-year old and go see a priest or turn up in a school to see if they’d get molested. Online, they can! Cops: 1, Predators: 0. People often tell me that online worlds make it easier for predators to find kids, that they couldn’t lure kids in otherwise. Sadly, the arrests have showed us that this too isn’t true. So many of the people who have been arrested have been pediatricians, teachers, rabbis, etc. 🙁 They have access to kids and i don’t even wanna think about how many they’ve fondled. Luckily, the online arrests are stopping them both online and offline! I hope that the cops keep it up.

While predators have been arrested, i’ve stopped hearing about teens getting themselves into trouble. At this point, MySpace is safer for teens than for predators! This makes me smile. If anything positive can come out of all of this moral panic predator hype, it will be an increase in predator arrests and a decrease in the frequency in which predators reach out to youngins for fear that they might be cops. Predator arrests are making the world safer for teens everywhere. Tis a much better approach than asking teens to go further underground. MySpace is so much safer than the AOL/Usenet/BBS world of my day. I’m super glad to see both law enforcement and the folks at MySpace work to rid the world of predators rather than trying to stop online interaction. I really really hope that parents and legislators follow suit.

Of course, teens still do stupid stuff on the site. They bully each other, put up risque photos of themselves without realizing that teachers are watching, spread gossip, etc. There are also quite a few teens who are trying to get dates with folks in their early 20s, even when that’s illegal. But, for all of the fear of predators, things don’t seem to be getting worse.

Unfortunately, though, lying also appears to be on the rise. The problem isn’t the predators. With parents banning participation or stalking their kids’ profiles, teens are being smart. They’re creating new profiles and lying through their teeth. ::sigh:: An entire generation adept at lying to cope with super publics and fear of mom. (Of course, this is precisely what has saved my ass from the ghosts of Usenet past – mommy fear stopped me from using my own name and now you can’t find those old posts!)

On a related note, i want to take a moment to discuss Justin Berry. For those who don’t know he is, read the NYTimes article. Make sure you read the ENTIRE article. Seriously. I’m really stoked that he’s been standing up to Congress for how bad law enforcement is around child porn. That said, i’m a bit concerned that folks think that what happened to him can happen to anyone. There’s no doubt that he got himself way in over his head and that people took advantage of him. But the worst part is that his own father took the worst advantage of him, really pushing it over the edge to pimp him out, drug him up and make certain that the cash kept flowing. Prior to his father’s involvement, he wasn’t having sex on camera, he wasn’t doing cocaine, he wasn’t having sex with the men who who paid for his cams. He went to his father when he realized that he had gotten in over his head. Rather than helping him get out, his father pushed him down further. This sickens me beyond any of the webcam stuff. While we’re going after predators, can we please please please go after the sick parents who are molesting and taking advantage of their children too? This part of the story gets too little attention, but most molested children in this country are abused by the hands of their own family members.

Vizster on Numb3rs

On March 3, the CBS TV show Numb3rs used Vizster in a thought sequence about how social networks can be used to solve crimes. Vizster is the prefuse-driven network visualization tool that Jeff Heer and i crafted to look at Friendster data. Obviously, they are not using any real data, but instead using it as a backdrop that looks all snazzy and sophisticated (they even added sounds). Anyhow, it’s a trip. Take a look:

haunting secrets

I organized a SXSW panel on global and local social play. A huge chunk of it consisted of getting people to play a game that Jane McGonigal (and Irina Shklovski and Amanda Williams and i) conjured up. The game was simple: pass on a secret that no one else at SXSW knows; that then becomes your secret; keep passing. The idea is that when i called stop, you’d have someone else’s secret as your identity and you would write this on a sticker that you’d stick to yourself for others to see. This made for some strange interactions. You ended up with men having “i had an abortion” written on them. The thing is… a month later… one of the serets still haunts me.

I steal Adderall from my kids.

I have no idea whose secret that was, whether it was a father or mother, whether the kids were young or old, whether or not it was a fabrication. Does the parent use the drug to work or to party? Does the kid have it to study or because so many kids have it when they don’t need it? I’m so used to kids stealing prescription drugs from their parents that it never dawned on me that parents would still them from their kids.

There’s also something interesting about the guilt embedded in that secret. And the idea that the Adderall is the possession of the kids and that when a parent takes it, it is stealing. (You would never say that you steal food from your kids even though you buy that for them too.)

Anyhow, i just had to share this secret because there’s something intensely personal and utterly fascinating about it. God i want to hug that mother/father and make sure that s/he is ok.

on being notable in Wikipedia

Back in July, Justin Hall created a Wikipedia entry for me. I found this very peculiar. I was also mildly intrigued by how i was described in such a setting. Since then, some of my colleagues have edited the entry and my advisors have taunted me continuously. The most that i could say was weird weird weird.

A month ago, a discussion emerged in the Talk section about whether or not i was notable and then i was nominated for deletion. My colleagues (who are also dear friends) were accused of crafting a vanity page. People wanted “proof” that i was notable; they wanted proof of every aspect of my profile. Then, when people in my field stood up for my entry in the discussion for deletion, they were attacked for not being Wikipedians. This was really intriguing to me, especially when Barry Wellman (who is an expert on social networks and online interaction) stood up for me. (I was completely honored.) Wikipedia is not prepared to handle domain experts. Of course, this is a difficult issue – how do you know someone is a domain expert? Still, something felt strange about the whole thing.

As the conversation progressed, people started editing my profile. While the earlier profile felt weird, the current profile is downright problematic. There are little mistakes (examples: my name is capitalized; there is an extra ‘l’ in my middle name; i was born in 1977; my blog is called Apophenia). There are other mistakes because mainstream media wrote something inaccurate and Wikipedia is unable to correct it (examples: i was on Epix not Compuserv and my mother didn’t have an account; i was not associated with the people at Friendster; i didn’t take the name Boyd immediately after Mattas and it didn’t happen right after my mother’s divorce; i didn’t transfer to MIT – i went to grad school at the MIT Media Lab; i’m not a cultural anthropologist). Then there are also disconcerting framing issues – apparently my notability rests on my presence in mainstream media and i’m a cultural anthropologist because it said so on TV. Good grief.

Why does mainstream media play such a significant role in the Wikipedia validation process? We know damn well that mainstream media is often wrong. In the midst of this, the reference to my fuzzy hat had to be removed because it couldn’t be substantiated by the press and because i didn’t wear it on O’Reilly. Of course i didn’t wear it on Fox – i was trying to get across to parents, not be myself. As much as i don’t think of the hat as core to my identity, i’m very well aware that others do. Hell, just last week, John Seely Brown decided to start his keynote wearing my hat, talking about how the hat is the source of all of my brilliance while i turned beet red and scrunched down in my seat. As embarrassing as that was, it’s more embarrassing that Wikipedia is relying on Fox over JSB for authority.

What really weirds me out about all of this is that everyone acts like i’m dead and incapable of speaking for myself. It is culturally inappropriate for me to edit my entry, even when there are parts of it that are dead wrong. No one asks me to fact check – journalists matter more than me. I understand why i shouldn’t have the right to get rid of negative commentary about me, but wouldn’t it make sense to allow living “notables” correct facts? Am i not the leading expert on the biographical facts of my life? I wonder who else is looking at their entry and shaking their head at the biographical inaccuracies.

I can’t fully put my finger on why the media-centric thing bugs me, but it does. The media has decided that i’m an expert because of my knowledge in a specific domain; Wikipedia has decided that i’m notable because i’m on TV. Why is Wikipedia not using transitivity and saying that i’m notable because of my knowledge in a specific domain? Why does it matter more that i’m on TV than why i’m on TV?

Now, i love Wikipedia. But i think that there’s something broken here. Personally, i would rather my entry been deleted than have this very inaccurate and media-centric entry written. (Deletion would’ve been far more entertaining.) I think that this approach to notability makes Wikipedia look downright foolish. Personally, i’m embarrassed by this public representation full of mistakes. There has to be a better way to handle living people. The “no original research” approach is really not working here.

I’m posting this both because it’s interesting and because i can’t fully get a handle on why this situation is really bugging me (other than the fact that it’s weird to be an object of inspection). Anyone have any thoughts?

(Here’s a proactive thank you to those who are inevitably going to correct my entry because of this blog post. For those who are looking at the entry after this correction, look at the April 13 version to see what i’m talking about here.)

sex in the MRI

Pharyngula just wrote this blog entry about experiments done a few years back where couples (who all seemed to be amateur street acrobats) had sex in an MRI tube to help researchers understand how all of those parts fit together. The research is definitely fascinating, but the experimental method is utterly hysterical. Thank goodness for viagra, right?

why i oppose HR 4437

When i posted about the teen walkout, i wanted to highlight how excited i am that students are speaking out for something that they believe, for something that they know is wrong. Embedded in my post was my disdain for HR 4437, but i did not fully articulate my own views. The comments that followed made it clear that i need to explain why i oppose HR 4437.

The status of undocumented workers in this country is very tricky. Over the years, we have looked the other way as immigrants enter our country illegally and work doing the most grueling labor that no citizen will do. We have turned a blind eye because our economy depends on that cheap labor. Some employers have taken this to a new level and slavery in this country is at an all-time high. The abuse of immigrants is atrocious. There are no labor laws to protect them, no social security, no social services. In most places where undocumented workers live and work, there is a social contract: behave, work hard, and no one will turn you in. Undocumented workers stay because, even with these atrocious work conditions, their lives are better here than where they came from; their opportunity is greater.

Our approach is not sustainable, nor is it morally just. Thus, the question emerges: what do we do about the 20 MILLION illegal aliens living in the United States? This question is both a moral and a practical question.

Many of these people have been living in the United States for decades. They no longer have homes in their country of origin. They have children who are citizens of America. They have obeyed the laws, paid taxes and worked harder than most of us can imagine. There is nothing morally just about treating these individuals as criminals and expelling them. They have done their time, they have paid their dues. And we have always treated them like the trash of the earth.

Some people argue that these people don’t deserve to stay because they did not get visas, did not follow the rules and that it is unfair to legal immigrants. Unfortunately, this argument misses the class dynamic that is critical to the story of undocumented workers. The American visa system is set up to welcome wealthy, educated individuals into white collar jobs. Take a look at how many people get visas to work on farms, in meat packing factories or as janitors. These are not the visas that we offer; most undocumented workers are not eligible for the visas we do offer.

Once an individual is in the United States illegally, it is very difficult for them to begin the process to become a citizen. You cannot apply for a green card if you are here illegally. Thus, there are people who have been here for 20 years and have not taken the steps to become citizens; they have simply worked hard to remain undetected because they do not know of a better way.

HR 4437 is not the answer. While the adjustments to penalties for child abuse and other atrocious acts are logical, what makes HR 4437 problematic is actually its adjustments to employment. By requiring mandatory employment identification, people who have been working in this country for decades will be forced out of jobs with no recourse. This section aims to starve out the population, to force law abiding undocumented workers to leave. Certainly, there will be an even darker underground and many desperate undocumented workers will be forced to turn to more dangerous work in an attempt to stay in the country. There is no doubt this will also increase gang activity and other illegal activities. Racial tensions will rise and violence will erupt, all because of desperation.

I can respect that we need to move to an above ground market, but we cannot turn our backs on those who have been working hard for years. We need to provide ways in which law abiding undocumented workers can come forward without fear of expulsion and apply for citizenship and visas. As we move towards an above-ground system, we need to temporarily forgive undocumented workers for certain crimes committed out of desperation to stay in the past (such as social security number fraud).

I am also very concerned about the sections on “gangs.” What is the legal definition of a gang? It worries me greatly that people can be deported or refused admission for presumed association with gangs. It also worries me that the Attorney General can designate any group or association as a street gang. (Why do i have a sneaking suspicion that i would be considered a gang member for my affiliation with Burning Man?) I completely understand why the government wants to deport people for illegal activities, but i worry about the guilty until proven innocent framing of this section of HR 4437. And i really worry about the guilt through association implications. Didn’t we learn anything from the McCarthy era?

People ask why it is so significant that teens walked out. These teens are legal; they are citizens. They are speaking out for a population that is silenced, a population that cannot be visible. They are doing so on school hours because that makes the most impact. Even with the knowledge that they will be fined and given detention, they walked out. Frustrated teachers argued that this is foolish, that their parents came here to give them an education and they aren’t even trying. While these teachers have the best intentions, students have a better grasp on reality. They know that their parents are at risk of being deported. They know that they are mostly not eligible for good jobs that depend on an education; they are going to do the kinds of work their parents do. They are living a working class reality and are completely alienated from it. It is the saddest aspect of our failed education system and our unacknowledged class hierarchy.

Unfortunately, this political regime is doing an amazing job of approaching world politics with brute force and xenophobia. HR 4437 is no different. No wonder the world hates us. I am glad people are thinking about how to handle undocumented workers; i just wish that folks would have more compassion and understanding of the dynamics and lives of people who have worked fucking hard to fatten our privileged asses. Most undocumented workers are not criminals and they should not be treated as such. They are good people, trying really hard to make their lives and the lives of their families better.

On a personal note, i spoke with a neighbor about this bill. She’s been here illegally for almost a decade; she has two small children that she works hard to support. When i brought it up, her eyes got wide with fear. I told her not to worry, that i am on her side; this gave her much relief. It is clear that she’s very scared. She told me she didn’t understand this bill. She pays taxes, she works hard, she obeys laws, she is trying really hard. She doesn’t know what to do. I wish i could tell her not to worry, that everything will be OK. But i have to admit that i’ve lost faith in the humanity of this country.

teen digital outreach programs

In college, many of my friends worked at teen outreach programs. They helped kids who were on the street, suicidal, struggling with addiction, working as prostitutes, or engaging in self-harm. Often, they got money from the city or state to distribute condoms and clean needles, do prevention education and do outreach social work.

With sites like LiveJournal, Xanga and MySpace, many teens are expressing similar kinds of out-of-control behaviors. Are there any digital teen outreach programs? Are any social workers or therapists reaching out to teens who are clearly battling tough issues? I recognize that these websites are not the best place to do actual therapy, but neither is the street. A huge part of what teen outreach programs do is help direct teens to places where they can get help. Are there any such outreach programs on the web?

Unfortunately, it seems like the only people reaching out to these teens are friends who are scared by what their friends say (this is not a good way to do outreach). There are organizations who have set up help websites, but they rely on people to find them via search. Wouldn’t it be great if concerned social workers and outreach organizers could hop onto MySpace and reach out to some of the teens who clearly need help?

I’ve also seen religious organizations do outreach. Some is simply missionary work – reaching out to convert teens. Unfortunately, though, the bulk seems to be religious individuals approaching queer teens to threaten them with damnation. 🙁