A Nonconformist Among Nonconformists

by John Hertz: (reprinted from Vanamonde 1228)  May I, who voted for Trump’s opponent in the Presidential election, speak against the notion Trump’s supporters were “people … scared silly by the progress we’ve been making for the non-Christians, the blacks…. [who thus] don’t know their place anymore”?  I hear that often.  In an objection we on the Left are quick to raise in our defense, it’s dismissive.  It waves away any possibility that Trump’s supporters have any creditable basis for their opinions – which unsurprisingly those folk maintain we lack.  I think we on the Left have long been smug, self-righteous, arrogant about our opinions.  That isn’t good argument.  It isn’t good politics.  It isn’t neighborly.  It violates our own principles.  Trump cried Aren’t you tired of all those left-wing people’s telling you what to think?  Had we been better preachers, teachers, reachers, that would have been laughed down.  A well-known man in November 1963 was wrong, I believe, to say “The chickens are coming home to roost”, but perhaps that’s a lesson for us now.

Actor Bill Oberst Jr. Unexpectedly Performs Ray Bradbury’s “Pillar of Fire” ‘Unplugged’

By Steve Fjeldsted, Director of Library, Arts, and Culture,, South Pasadena Public Library: An unplanned power outage struck the Library on August 11 at 1 p.m. The facility remained open for the next two hours operating with minimal battery lighting. At 3:15 the utility company said power would not be restored soon and the Library was closed for the rest of the day. After learning that power wouldn’t be back on for the 7 p.m. performance by Emmy Award-winning Bill Oberst Jr., I called many equipment rental companies to rent a generator so that we’d be able to power up the Community Room sound system and lighting. Over and over it was stated that it was impossible.

Considering cancelling the show, I asked for Bill’s thoughts. He’s an in-demand actor with impressive theatre, film, and TV credits. He calmly stated that he’s previously done ‘power outage shows.’ The decision was made for the show to go on, but outside and unplugged. Oberst would play every part because we wouldn’t have the recorded voices of the other characters. Our sound and lighting engineers, Adrian Camp and Scott Brown from 210 east sound!  along with two of Ray Bradbury’s longtime friends, John King Tarpinian and Dave Marchant helped move about half of the Community Room chairs into the Library Park.

By this time, dozens of audience members were already arriving and it was about showtime. Bill was inside in the pitch dark of the Community Room with a small flashlight and softly praying with his friend Tamara Tucker who had arrived to help. Walking out into the park, I acknowledged the co-sponsorship of the Friends of the South Pasadena Public Library and SPARC, the South Pasadena Arts Council. Explaining that we would be unable to present the “Pillar of Fire” show with lighting, amplification, sound effects, etc., I asked the audience, now numbering 75 or so to encourage and support Bill who would be ‘winging it’. Among them was a friend, Joaquin Montalvan and his wife Eunice. Joaquin is a professional photographer who surprised me by informing me he was already a friend and fan of Bill Oberst. This was very pleasing because I knew we’d have some great photos of the unique event.

Draped in a charred and torn garment, Bill leaped to his bare feet, portraying William Lantry who had awakened from the grave in 2349 after 400 years of being buried, at a time in which the earth had been cleansed of morbidity and corpses. Halloween has been obliterated and cities have towering incinerators where dead people are burned without ceremony, The Government decides to destroy the last remaining graveyard and digs up Lantry, who represents all that is absent from the sterile world.

Oberst charged into the audience, standing on one of the few empty chairs. While gyrating and pointing he launched into Ray Bradbury’s 1948 novella “Pillar of Fire” with great intensity, continuing for 50 riveting minutes. Bill changed his voice and character repeatedly while climbing trees and the brickwork, oblivious to the sounds of the toddlers, skateboarders, and can collectors in the Library Park. He captivated the audience with a magnetic performance that was met with a standing ovation. Oberst pulled out the very same soiled Bradbury paperback that had started him on his acting quest at age 12. Bill revealed that he was a “fat kid with acne” in South Carolina and his whole life was transformed when he accidentally discovered the Bradbury paperback containing “Piillar” on a remote trail. Ray Bradbury’s powerful writing had changed his entire life and he had looked forward to performing in a place his literary hero loved.

Bill said he would be leaving soon for film projects in South America and Europe, but vowed to come back, hinting that he might return as Bradbury in a living history performance. Oberst has previously appeared as Mark Twain, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesus Christ –so that’s certainly within his reach as an actor.

[This report originally appeared on the City of South Pasadena website.]

No Time For Yeomen (Don’t Tell Janice Rand)

By James H. Burns: Haven’t our current military brass ever watched Star Trek?

From the New York Times: “’Yeo-Person’? One Title Vexes Navy’s Push for Gender Neutrality”

The Navy and the Marine Corps, Mr. Mabus said, had to come up with new names for the dozens of job titles that ended in “man,” like rifleman, mineman and assault man. “Man” can be replaced by “technician,” “specialist” or “professional,” so carrying out the order has been fairly straightforward.

But one title has vexed Navy officials: yeoman, the traditional name for sailors who work in clerical or administrative positions that are now held by many women.

The problem with the title, which has been a part of naval terminology for centuries, is that if you lop off its “man,” you are left with a prefix — “yeo” — that means very little by itself.

“You can’t have yeo-specialist or yeo-technician, right?” said Michael D. Stevens, the master chief petty officer of the Navy, the service’s top enlisted sailor, who has been assigned the job of coming up with new titles for his service. “Yeo-person? There is no such thing.”

Burns sent along a photo collage of Grace Lee Whitney in character as classic Trek’s Yeoman Rand.

 

Diversity, diversity

By John Hertz: (reprinted from Vanamonde 1193) William Shakespeare (1564-1616) died four hundred years ago, on 23 Apr 16, St. George’s Day, he was probably born on 23 Apr 64. He left three dozen plays, a hundred fifty sonnets, and a couple of narrative poems: we esteem them in that order now: his thought of what would sustain his reputation was the reverse, but as Isaac Asimov once said, “What do I know? I’m only the author.” Shakespeare was the greatest author in the history of English — where there’s a Will, there’s a way — and a candidate for greatest in the world, along with such mind-rackingly different artists as Firdausî (Persia, 940-1020), Murasaki Shikibu (Japan, 973-1025; literary name by which she is known), Pushkin (Russia, 1799-1837; as has been noted, he looked like Ravi Shankar 1920-2012), Tu Fu (China, 712-770) — and Homer (Greece, a millennium and a half earlier) — not counting giants of nonfiction.

Diversity, diversity. How urgent is You must allow me. How hard is I shall allow you. And understanding? You must understand me — yes; and? Pushkin’s great Eugene Onegin (rev. 1837) is set in the 1820s, when Russia was — from the perspective of, say, Lady Murasaki — much like the rest of Europe; only two centuries ago, but we on the other side of a watershed have so much trouble grasping this relatively recent time that with Jane Austen (1775-1817), who wrote in English, we keep trying to remake her into ourselves, despite her warning Turn not windows into mirrors, or we cry against, or mock, her difference. Rabbi Leo Baeck (1873-1956) said in The Essence of Judaism (1905; Howe ed. 1948, 2nd Shocken printing 1965 p. 191) “The command in Leviticus, which Akiba [50-135] called the determining sentence of the Bible, and which is usually rendered ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ (Lev. 19:18), means in its truest sense, love thy neighbor for he is as thou”; I’ve suggested we might reach still higher to Love thy neighbors for they are not as thou. Perhaps human nature can change; so far it never has; but it gets packed into various baggage.

Shakespeare has been, in the best sense of the word, called the poet of love. I’ve heard him called, by women, an honorary woman. But to see the light he shines we must look. Hans Andersen said (1835) only a real princess could through twenty mattresses and twenty beds feel a pea, but Lao Tzû quoting a Chinese proverb said a journey of a thousand leagues begins with what is under the feet (Tao Tê Ching ch. 64, two centuries after Homer; Waley tr. as The Way and Its Power p. 221, 1934). Opening the blinds to Shakespeare can start with looking up words — like naughty in “So shines a good deed in a naughty world” (The Merchant of Venice Act V scene i), which there means not what it does today.

John Hertz Warned Us

Ann Leckie’s Hal-Con report (see Pixel Scroll 4/21/16 Pixel Like It’s 1999 no. 17) prompts this reprint from Vanamonde 229 — also in John’s first collection West of the Moon:

I often recount my first adventure at a Japanese bakery, I think in New York. On display were hundreds of little cakes in many shapes and colors.  I bought one, and took a bite.  It was filled with bean paste.  How interesting, I thought, never having tasted it before.  I picked out a different one, and took a bite.  This one was filled with bean paste.  How interesting.  I tried another and another and yet another, each of wholly distinct appearance.  Each and every one proved to be filled with — yes.  Remarkable.  I remember describing this adventure to a girl I knew.  She thought I was putting her on.  Maybe a year later, she happened into a Japanese neighborhood, and found a bakery.  Look, hundreds of little cakes!  She bought one.  Well, well.

Robots in The Iliad

by John Hertz: (reprinted from Vanamonde 1163 in honor of National Poetry Month)

Homer translation TRIM
These two translators achieved differently. Each in his own Introduction speaks for himself.  Garry Wills, “On Reading Pope’s Homer” New York Times Bk. Rev. 1 Jun 97 p. 22, reviewing Shankman’s 1996 ed’n, applauds Pope who “alone equals the original in its ceaseless pour of verbal music” (p. 22), comparing Lattimore, “the most literal of the modern verse translators” (p. 33) — no discredit for me the fan of Nabokov (1899-1977) but answering, as Allan Sherman put it on another occasion, “What can he do that I can’t?” (“Shticks of One and Half a Dozen of the Other” no. 4; My Son the Celebrity, 1963).  Homer’s Iliad three millennia ago (just when and how it was composed remain vexed questions) being human action complicated by Greek gods, this incidental moment of science fiction is striking.

SXSW Holds Online Harassment Summit

Over the weekend South By Southwest hosted the Online Harassment Summit it created to allay the outrage over a decision made last fall to cancel a pair of gaming panels, one essentially about Gamergate, the other about anti-harassment efforts in gaming.

Here are a series of excerpts from news reports about the event

The atmosphere at the summit matched its sobering content. Security was much tighter than the typical SXSW panels. It including bag checks upon entering the building, policemen outside of bathrooms and panels, and constant reminders not to leave bags unattended or they would be “confiscated and destroyed.”

Each session began with a reading of SXSW’s code of conduct — something that isn’t done at other panels.

It painted a stark picture of the day-to-day fear that online harassment victims live in.

Held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, it was also distinctly separate (across the Colorado River) from Startup Village, the Austin Convention Center, and popular bars and restaurants where companies host their festivities.

That’s perhaps one of the reasons why the event was sparsely attended. It was hard not to notice more empty seats than people….

 

Digital Sistas executive officer Shireen Mitchell and Giant Spacekat co-founder Brianna Wu speak at SXSW on Saturday in Austin, Tex. (Brian Fung / The Washington Post)

Digital Sistas executive officer Shireen Mitchell and Giant Spacekat co-founder Brianna Wu speak at SXSW on Saturday in Austin, Tex. (Brian Fung / The Washington Post)

Nobody made a scene. And nobody wanted to talk about Gamergate….

The show of force aimed to ease concerns about a potential physical confrontation between some of the day’s high-profile panelists — such as game developers Brianna Wu and Randi Harper — and their biggest critics. But their opponents stayed away, and the panelists studiously skirted the caustic online battles that gave rise to that particular event in the first place.

“I don’t want to make this a Gamergate panel,” Wu said in her opening remarks.

Other session moderators seemed to take a similar cue, steering clear of any specific mentions of Gamergate. And the result was a day-long series of talks that were less about the problem of online harassment than the emerging solutions to it.

Wu is among the women in the gaming industry who have faced multiple death threats and harassment in the Gamergate controversy.

What the Online Harassment Summit lacked in headline-grabbing conflict, it made up for with compelling voices that saw tech, policy, and academic experts finding common ground on the subject of antagonistic and threatening online speech. At its best, the results included informed analysis, mountains of data, and calls to specific action—all while trying to balance both free and responsible speech with paradigms that looked beyond the United States’ model.

“We represent ourselves as a target”

The day’s highlight came courtesy of Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), who sponsored a Congressional bill in November that would criminalize the act of “swatting,” or inciting police responses under false pretenses. That activity has spiked in recent years thanks to masked Internet telephony, and Clark was joined in her panel by someone with plenty of first-hand knowledge about the damage swatting can do: Sergeant BA Finley of the Johns Creek, Georgia police department.

Finley recalled a recent story in which a home in his jurisdiction was the target of a swatting attack—and its instigator turned out to be a British Columbia teenager who was subsequently convicted of 23 counts of swatting across the United States and Canada. Finley joined that teen’s pursuit after responding to a false report of a woman and two children having been murdered in the home, and he described that account at length—including meeting the parents in question and describing “the fear and panic” he saw on their faces.

Finley next confirmed work on other swatting cases, two of which have since resulted in convictions. The officer said he stood with Clark on her work to broaden local police forces’ access to better tools to fight such Internet-enabled crimes.

“When we speak against [online harassment] and try to make change on it, we represent ourselves as a target,” Finley told the crowd. “But someone has to do it. We’re not going to take any more of it. I’m going to find you and I’m going to stop you. It’s more than a prank. It’s more than a joke.”

…After Clark recalled her own recent swatting story, she admitted one of the biggest educational gaps to address is among her Congressional colleagues, who “look at me when I use terms like ‘swatting’ and ‘doxing’ like I’ve lost my mind.” Clark compared their dismissive responses to years of legislative silence about how police should respond to issues of domestic violence. To paraphrase their responses, Clark said, “This is an online problem. We really can’t do anything about it, it happens out there on the Internet, we don’t know how to address that, to deal with something that isn’t potentially imminent.”

…And if SXSW is taking harassment more seriously, it’s not clear that its attendees are. Despite heavy promotion, the summit itself was a ghost town. It was held in a trio of frigid ballrooms at the Hyatt Regency ?— a long way across the river from the Austin Convention Center, where most SXSW events are hosted. None of the panels I attended were full, or even close to full. Most drew between 30 and 40 attendees, and usually about 70 percent of those people were women. At least half of the attendees were reporters.

Soraya Chemaly of Women’s Media Center remarked toward the end of a panel about women in the media: “It’s mainly women in this room. Probably we don’t need this information. If we had named this panel ‘The Freedom of Expression on the Internet,’ which is what it is, the room would probably be more 50-50.”

In a discussion about how harassment can silence diverse voices online and even end careers, She Knows Media’s Elisa Camahort Page argued that law enforcement still doesn’t understand how fundamental online platforms are to many people’s careers. The purpose of the panel was initially to highlight the bottom line for brands — dollars lost when advertisers don’t want to appear beside racial epithets, and users lost when sites sacrifice trust for growth — but the conversation quickly turned to individuals. Panelists emphasized that individuals usually don’t have the resources to fight harassment at scale, and that the frequent, callous suggestion that society seems to make to these individuals is “just don’t go online.”

…Several panelists also expressed disappointment that the existing research on online harassment insufficiently captures the reality of having more than one oppressed identity. Women of color, for example, who experience racialized and gendered harassment, do not yet have a body of research dedicated to their experiences. Jamia Wilson of Women, Action, and the Media said that women of color and transgender women had to wait longer to get a response after reporting abuse, and she expressed hope that more research would be conducted soon by her organization and by others.

…A dearth of diversity in tech was also singled out as a root cause of abuse, with Jamia Wilson commenting that “the people who build online tools inform the tools.” Katherine Cross of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York echoed this sentiment in a separate panel, saying, “it was largely men who designed these platforms, and they didn’t see these problems coming. Now they have to build backwards. New platforms should be built with community management in mind from the start.”

The tool on everyone’s minds seemed to be Twitter, which Cross referred to as “one of the most addictive games ever made.” Caroline Sinders, a design researcher for IBM Watson, characterized Twitter as a dangerous place because it’s a tool and content platform that people often mistake for a community. “How do you have community ownership of a tool that you’re not supposed to own, that you’re just supposed to exist in?” she asked.

As part of a panel discussion called “Is a Safer, Saner and Civil Internet Possible?” Ms. [Brianna] Wu said she has had over 200 death threats in the past few years.

She criticized some of the technology companies that acted as meeting hubs for GamerGate supporters — particularly YouTube and Reddit, the online message board — for not doing enough to take down offensive content when it was posted. Reddit does not require users to register real names or any other identifying information to use the site. It is a regular congregation spot for GamerGate activists.

“I can’t say this clearly enough: Reddit is failing women in every marginalized community spectacularly,” Ms. Wu said….

But beyond general harassment, a recurring theme across all the sessions — told through chilling anecdotes and statistics — was the extent to which online hatred is disproportionately directed toward women.

….Power players from companies like Facebook , Google and Cisco shared the stage with victims like Wu.

The volume of harassment — from bullying to revenge porn — is higher than ever, making it hard for platforms to respond quickly. Facebook head of policy management Monika Bickert said the company receives more than one million reports of violations from users every day — which it manually vets to determine their validity.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told CNNMoney that companies like Facebook are dealing with an incredibly high volume of messages, more than 4 billion daily.

Greenblatt, who previously worked as a special assistant to President Barack Obama, said he’s been the recipient of hateful tweets due to his role at ADL.

As for the summit, Greenblatt said the fact that key players gathered to spread awareness of the issue of harassment is a positive sign.

“It’s a first start,” he added. “[But] we’re certainly not where we need to be.”

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the story.]

Birthday Verse

By John Hertz: Congratulations on the 8th birthday of File 770. I wrote you this Birthday Poem. It’s acrostic (read down the first letter of each line) in unrhymed 5-7-5-7-7-syllable form.

Gathering rosebuds,
Leaving not the thorns behind,
Year by month by day,
Elucidatingly or
Ready for light others bring.

The Bright Moon

By John Hertz: Ever since Earth sent a man to the Moon, landing on July 20, 1969, that day for many of us has been the Glorious 20th — yesterday; we who cherish such thoughts looked, literally or figuratively, or both, at the Moon.

In China, since I’m about to quote a Chinese poem, but also e.g. in Japan, often people looking at the Moon think of those apart from them, who may also be looking at it, and on whom it reflects too.

The poet is Wang Wei (701-761), famous for poetry, music, and landscape painting.  The first line quotes a poem by Ch‘u Yuan, and the last alludes to one by Li Pai (also called Li Po) — this sort of thing is applauded as an art.

The translator is Red Pine (literary name of Bill Porter, who has taken the name of an immortal in Taoist mythology, sometimes considered Lord of Rain — “In emptiness and silence I found serenity … I heard how once Red Pine had washed the world’s dust off”, tr. D. Hawkes); his rendition of the T‘ang and Sung Dynasty anthology Ch‘ien Chia Shih (literally Poems of a Thousand Masters but “a thousand” isn’t meant literally) he calls Poems of the Masters (2003; below is No. 13, pp. 32-33).

Poems like this, only a few words, are meant for savoring.

Sitting alone amid dense bamboo
strumming my lute and whistling
deep in the forest no one else knows
until the bright moon looks down

Teaching

By John Hertz: Happening to re-read A.J. Arberry’s Classical Persian Literature (1958) I came upon this description (by Badî‘ al-Zamân Furûzânfar 1904-1970) of Jalâl al-Dîn Muhammad ibn Muhammad (1207-1273), known as Rûmî from the land where he lived, celebrated as a poet, revered as a saint, called simply Maulânâ “our teacher” by Persians religious or no.

Incidentally, if you know the tale of the Six Blind Men and the Elephant as told by John Saxe (1886-1887) “And each of them was in the right, / And all were in the wrong,” as told by Rûmî six centuries earlier they weren’t blind, they were in a dark room, and none of them struck a light.

In his conduct he was peaceful and tolerant toward [those] of all sects and creeds, looking with the same eye on Muslim, Jew and Christian alike and urging his disciples to comport themselves similarly…. throughout his life, despite the attacks and unworthy misrepresentations levelled against him by blind-hearted enemies, he was never heard to utter one bitter reply.

Persian poetry depending so much on sounds and rhythms is particularly hard to translate, the result often looking like one of Thomas Edison’s carbon filaments held alone in the hand.

O blessed hour, when thou and I
Together sit within this hall:
Two forms, two shapes then, thou and I –
Two bodies, and a single soul.