Apr 18 23 2018

Damage Control

by Denise Hamilton

A contemporary LA Noir thriller, as experienced by a dolt.

The 21st-century procedural mystery has two core concerns. First, the range of protagonists has expanded greatly, both in terms of the characters themselves and in terms of their vocations. Second, where once a flawed but unquestionably good and capable knight strolled down these mean streets, recent writers have increasingly explored the flaws and the unreliability of the protagonist.

Here, Maggie Silver is a PR agent, specializing in damage control. She’s drifted into this profession because she is herself so damaged, and because from her high school days to he nearly middle-aged present she has always believed that befriending glamorous people will make her glamorous. She’s an expert at rare perfumes, for which she scours eBay and LA thrift stores in time stolen from a 24/7 job and a lonely mother whom, recovering from breast cancer, has moved into Maggie’s little house.

Everyone plays Maggie. She has the street smarts of a fire hydrant, and the question is not whether she will be betrayed, but how often.

Paul Surette, newly-appointed co-moderator of the Facebook group "Penny For Your Thoughts: Malden", is not pleased with me. Who could blame him?

Recently, he complained to the group about Mya and Deenaa Cook, two high school students from Malden who took a brave stand last year against their charter school’s discriminatory dress code. The Massachusetts Attorney General agreed with the Cook sisters; do did the Anti-Defamation League, the ACLU, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe. For some reason, though, Paul wants to take on these two high school girls yet again. (It's not fair; they're much more knowledgable.)

In the ensuing kerfuffle, I wrote:

Mark Bernstein: Amazing how these racists won’t let this go. Malden was already a national laughingstock for harboring the sort of racist school policies normally associated with Mississippi and Alabama. Racism lost; now you want to argue some more?

In response, Joe Kaplan denounced me in an interesting way:

Joe Kaplan: Paul....look who you are debating,. an indoctrinated self-loathing Jew.Save your brain cells.
Paul Surette: You're right, Joe

Now, I have plenty of faults, but self-loathing is not one I hear a lot about. I'm not sure what Joe think’s he’s thinking, but I imagine it all stems from a bunch of boys in middle school with a pilfered copy of Portnoy’s Complaint, trying to find the good parts before the third-period bell. Finding Philip Roth puzzling, perhaps they looked to the flap copy for an explanation. I bet they figured it out eventually; anyway, the phrase seems to have stuck.

“Penny For Your Thoughts” used to be a conduit for local political issues -- the sort of place where you heard about zoning changes for a new restaurant or candidates for school committee. Lately, though, it's changed. More fake news memes were posted and taken seriously, often from Russian or alt-right sites. A former city-councillor decided to catechize a local activist, is a private citizen who happens to be Muslim, challenging her to renounce Sharia. Paul Surette chimed in:

Paul Surette From what I've seen the last 6 years is that a 'moderate' muslim is one who says nothing about secular violence, but quietly cheers it on.
Paul Surette: My 'understanding' of moderate Muslims here is accurate as judged by Muslims I know who live here who know who the moderate Muslum is really about. Moderates live under the quise of being anonymous while quietly cheering secular violence.

The former city councillor joins in, this time ridiculing another private citizen for her religious beliefs.

Neil Kinnon: Some of us have not given up. Better to fight them now. Bruce Warren Lynch is a radical who epitomizes the idea of ”defining deviance down”. He and his significant other according to Nichole Mossalam were elected delegates at the Democratic city Committee out of Ward Two Edgeworth (not confirmed yet) Lynches girlfriend is a self declared Witch, excuse me Wiccan according to him and our lovely friend Nichole, see yesterday’s posts. This is what the local Democratic Party is being taken over by. Pagans who worship witchcraft. The last political group that were elected with widespread beliefs in the occult were the National Socialists in Germany... [emphasis mine]

Another participant lamented the fact that Malden is now “only 37% American”, by which she meant that a majority of Malden residents today are Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Caribbean-Americans, or African-Americans. (A number of Old Maldonians are scions of families that moved to Malden from South Boston to escape school integration in the 1970s, when Malden High was still essentially segregated. The integration of Malden schools may help explain why so many regulars in ‘Penny For Your Thoughts” no longer live in Malden and are so angry at Malden’s current residents.)

In another discussion, Muslims are collectively responsible for, well, basically everything.

Joe Howard …The hateful muslim group is a major problem worldwide, and they're the ones who are responsible for the overseas terror. Immigration sanctions are out of control.

The group’s posted rules call for "No name calling, threats, racism, sexism, or that sort of thing." Interestingly, all the above pass muster. Other posters falsely blamed Warsaw’s Jews for surrendering to gun control and failing to resist the Nazis, attributed credit for Victory in Europe to the German resistance(!), and claimed George Soros was bussing in demonstrators against the Boston “Free Speech” march for white supremacy. What’s behind this bile, in what Mayor Gary Christenson has celebrated as a diverse and welcoming city?

(I have left the spelling unchanged in the quoted posts. A number of these writers often misspell words they dislike — for example, “anti-Semete” for “anti-Semite.” I don't know whether this is meaningful — a dog whistle of some sort? — or merely random.)

- - -

Why not simply ignore white-supremacists and bigots on social media?

I’m a long-time student of new media; it's my primary research area. This year, I’ve been focussing on some dangerous asymmetries that facilitate malefactors on Twitter and Facebook. With Dr. Clare Hooper, I wrote “A Villain’s Guide To Social Media and Web Science” for the 2018 ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media. The conference was good enough to give us a prize! (If you enjoy funny academic papers and don’t mind 25 footnotes, happy to share a preprint. Email me.)

One important lesson we have learned is that, in social media, ignoring villainy today makes it harder to oppose villainy tomorrow. This is the lesson of the 1930s: if you close your shutters when the brownshirts are shouting in the street and don’t call the police, next year those same brownshirts may be the police. If you don’t oppose Vichy today, after the Liberation comes your friends and neighbors may look at you and see a collaborator.

A second vital lesson — one that was entirely unexpected — is that on social media it is easier to spread lies than to disseminate the truth.

Third, we have the core asymmetry: a single scurrilous word can do lasting harm that a thousand well-intentioned “likes” will not repair.

In better, safer times, we may safely ignore wretched hives and scum and villainy. This is not such a time.

Since the Trump disaster began, Penzey’s Spices has unabashedly stood for a free and decent America. This weekend, they outdid themselves.

The promotion offered a free 8-spice sampler, featuring some of the best ad copy I’ve ever read.

With the revelations of this week the time has come for us all to stop pretending that what is happening in America is in any way normal. Right now we are in a struggle for the Heart and Soul of our country. It is a struggle we can’t allow ourselves to lose.

America matters, not just to us but to the world. The forces both foreign and domestic who’ve worked to shape the Republican Party into what it is today knew what they were doing. As long as America is America there is hope in all the corners of the world. Shut off our light and hope fades, opening the door for corruption to take hold.

The spice sampler is billed as the “American Soul” package. What’s in American Soul?

  • Galena Street BBQ rub
  • Ozark spice rub
  • Adobo
  • Cinnamon
  • Curry
  • Florida Seasoned Pepper
  • Italian Herbs
  • Cajun Seasoning

Even better, the enclosed recipe book urges you to bake a pie, because pies are American. Better still, bake two pies, because it’s really no extra trouble, and give one to a neighbor. That’s really American.

Locally, I hear they had lines out the door. Penzey’s sent out a followup email apologizing for running out, not only of promotional boxes, but of the custom-made spice bottles they use to make more. Rain checks for all!

Innocent people don’t do what this administration is doing. If you go along with this you are lost. Please don’t be lost. Snap out of it. Too many people need you. If you give up your values and replace them with his it will be at least a decade before the young people in your life respect you again.

by John McPhee

John McPhee collects his recent New Yorker essays on his writing process. The key here os the first essay. , Progression, which addresses the large-scale structure of McPhee’s work, and Structure, which looks at starting places, end points, and at the Kedit text processor on which McPhee has long depended.

I do wish that Tinderbox had been around for McPhee back in the day.

I wish I knew more about some details — especially, a feature that highlights overused words. I’ve just written a paper with Clare Hooper about “A Villain’s Guide To Social Media And Web Science.” When writing about bad guys, some words and phrases do tend to recur. Wicked, vile, repellent, nefarious: use them once, you’re on a roll, but use them twice and you might be turning into Donald Trump. This sounds like a useful tool, but simply doing a word count with a stoplist of common words seems far too clumsy. I’d like to know how McPhee did this, and I’d like to know whether there’s now a better way.

by Jeffrey Clement

An intriguing look at Afghanistan, which I grabbed because Tom Ricks pointed to it as a key book about logistics. As the Trump madness grows, I fear it makes sense to learn what we can about the wars that are coming.

Jeffrey Clement was a second lieutenant in Northern Afghanistan, in command of a truck platoon. He argues that the command of a truck platoon is the very best job a Marine can have, if not the absolute pinnacle of human happiness. That in itself is interesting.

Early in the first convoy Clement led, he sighted an isolated observer watching the convoy in the distance. He prepares to shoot the man if the man does anything hostile, while hoping he would not. When nothing happens, Clement is relieved but confident that he was in fact a “bad guy” and that he would have killed him if necessary. This is strange: Clement was there and he was a professional and I am a civilian with an yellowing 1-O card, but Clement cannot actually have know whether this man was a “bad guy”. He might have been curious. He might have been undecided in his allegiance. He might have been Lawrence of Fucking Arabia. Clement doesn’t discuss this further, but it seems to me this epitomizes a constant and growing problem in both our military and our police.

I’m co-author of the 2nd-place finisher for this year’s Blue Sky Award from the ACM Conference on Hypertext And Social Media:

Mark Bernstein and Clare Hooper, “A Villain’s Guide To Social Media and Web Science”

And I’m the author of the 3rd-place finisher:

Mark Bernstein, “As We May Hear: Our Slaves Of Steel II”

Congratulations to the winner:

Charlie Hargood, Fred Charles and David Millard: “Intelligent Generative Locative Hyperstructure”