Politics


5
Nov 18

#BTSxCitifield Part 3 – The fans, the show, the experience – so awesome

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About to enter Citi Field stadium, at the front of the line chatting with some awesome fans.

I try to talk about my introvert nature at work a lot, especially with the students on my team, because if they are also struggling with it, I want them to know it isn’t a curse.  I like to say that I’m an introvert who has learned to fake it because people sometimes don’t believe me, but it’s true.  Some people are energized by social interactions, but for me, anything more than a one-on-one conversation can be draining, and the larger the group, the faster my battery runs out.   If I don’t get periods of solitude to recharge, it can be so exhausting that I get physically sick.

This basic fact about my personality has caused me so much angst and unhappiness.  Especially because I also paradoxically feel the need to make useful contributions, whatever the conversation or interaction may be, so there is forever a battle going on with part of me wanting to conserve energy and stay on the side, and part of me wanting to be in the center of the room participating in what’s happening.  It has taken a very long time to find a good balance.


I mention my introversion by way of introduction to this third and last post in my #BTSxCitifield series (read Part 1 and Part 2 here) for two reasons.

First and most obviously because the theme of BTS’s Love Yourself: World Tour is about learning to love yourself, and learning to love my introversion instead of hating it has been one of the hardest things for me to do.  It was only after I stopped fighting it and gave myself permission to be that way that I learned how to balance my life’s social flow in a way that feels sustainable and good.  Ten years ago, flying to New York City and attending a stadium-sized concert like #BTSxCitifield by myself would have been unthinkable.  That I was able to not only go to the concert, but truly enjoy the experience – in part because of the huge crowd – is a personal triumph that seems worth celebrating.

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Enjoying the show with 40,000 (!!) other fans.

And second, because I am such an introvert myself, I’ve often wondered how the artists, creators, and professionals I admire deal with the pressure of fame and the sometimes crazy emotional demands of their fans.  Fame is such a double-edged sword. Attracting passionate fans is a source of success, but losing anonymity, especially today when everyone everywhere has a camera in their pocket, seems to mean losing the ability to just be in the world.

And when does being a passionate fan tip over into being a crazy fan? 

Is it “crazy fan” territory to buy tickets this expensive?

It may be weird to worry about what it means to be a “good fan” but I think Stephen King’s novel Misery must have made a big impression on me when I was young because I’ve always thought the most respectful way to honor an artist is to support their work from afar.  Pay for their work and share/evangelize their stuff to others, but don’t bug them. [1].  There is a natural desire to express appreciation and gratitude when someone’s work has made a positive and meaningful difference in your life, but that should never come at the expense of respecting the boundaries of the real person behind the fame.

I thought about that a lot when BTS released a series of provocative concept photos for their S version of the Love Yourself: Answer album.  It turns out there’s a Korean word specifically to describe obsessive, stalker fan behavior, 사생팬 or saseang fan [2], and they have obviously experienced that.

It makes you wonder how they are really doing.  Not their stage personas, but the real 20-something year old guys behind the scene (see what I did there?).  Is this insane hype-train of record breaking achievements actually good for them?  Are they being exploited?  How are they handling the intense glare of the spotlight, and is my participation in ARMY fan culture hurting or helping them?  The introvert me would have withered and died from that kind of intense pressure in my 20s, as so many of my favorite childhood actors actually did die.

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River Phoenix and Corey Haim, two of my earliest fan-crushes.

I want to hope that the real people in BTS are doing ok, that they have each other and their families, and that they are still young and resilient enough to enjoy the wild ride that they are on.  I have to hope they, and the people who love them, will know when to get off the crazy train when (if?) the time comes.

In my last post, I described how my interest in BTS began and deepened enough to call myself an ARMY and there was a moment, a series of moments, before I clicked the buttons that sucked a ridiculous amount of money out of my bank account, when I wondered if it was crazy-fan territory to sit for an hour in a virtual queue to buy expensive concert tickets, and an expensive plane ticket, and an expensive hotel reservation, just to see a bunch of 20-something boys from Korea for just a couple of hours.

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Sitting in a ridiculous virtual line to buy tickets, only to be unceremoniously dumped out to this error message.

Ultimately, I decided that I enjoyed their music and appreciated their art so much that I wanted to be counted among their fans for their first stadium-sized concert and their last show in the US.  It wasn’t just about attending the concert, although I was of course excited to see them perform live, but symbolically, I think every fan who came to Citi Field was there to show them and the world just how much their work inspires us.  We wanted to give them another win, another trophy for their bag.  That super-fun feeling of winning together, ARMY+BTS synergy, is what tipped the scales enough for me to actually purchase the tickets. [3]


The Night Before the Show

I flew out of Cincinnati on the Friday evening before the concert, with just enough time to land at LaGuardia and get settled into the hotel for a good night’s sleep before the show.  Hilariously, the first ARMY I met in the wild once I got to New York was another person from Cincinnati!  Queue that old joke about flying a thousand miles to meet your neighbor.  Our hotels were in opposite directions so we split up shortly after meeting, but we followed each other on Twitter and re-connected after we got home – and now we’re set to watch Burn the Stage together when it comes out in a couple weeks!

That chance encounter with a friendly ARMY was the first of many happy meetings.  I saw groups of ARMYs everywhere I went as BTS fans descended on New York from all over the US, and really all over the world. It’s hard to describe the feeling of meeting strangers who don’t quite feel like strangers because you already share a common interest, the instant smiles when we recognized each other, the excitement that everyone felt about arriving for the show.  I really didn’t know what to expect the next day, and after agonizing over what to stuff in my no-larger than 16 inches backpack to comply with the venue rules [4], I managed to sleep like a rock.

Arriving at Citi Field Stadium

I had no idea what it would be like at the venue, so I didn’t really have a plan, but part of the reason I made the trip was to experience the ARMY fan culture, so I took a cab from the hotel around 6:30 AM and got dropped off right at the stadium.

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The first picture I snapped after arriving at Citi Field, ~6:45 AM.

The first thing I noticed as I walked across the parking lot was the merch line (the line to buy official merchandise from the band like the t-shirts, bags, etc.), and it didn’t seem crazy long yet, so without even looking around at anything else, I headed for the back of the line.

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That big group of people on the right side is the merch line, which hadn’t started moving yet, ~ 6:45 AM.

At that moment, as I approached the back of the merch line barriers, I felt .. nervous.  I’d met a couple of fans at the airport and at the hotel, who were all super nice and friendly, but I wasn’t sure what it would be like in the REAL ARMY crowd.  Would there be crazy sasaengs?  Would it be weird that I was by myself?  Was I even a big enough fan to deserve to be there when so many fans couldn’t get tickets?  My introvert nature and all the anxiety that comes with it suddenly popped out and I felt.. shy.

I needn’t have worried.  I got in line and spent the next couple hours chatting with the fans around me, gawking at all the hand-made signs, watching the merch line grow and grow and grow..

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ARMYs behind me in the merch line..

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Can you tell how diverse the crowd is?  Young, old, men, women, every ethnicity.. 

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JOON FOR PRESIDENT!

It turned out that the whole day before the show was a series of waiting in one line or another, and universally, the crowd was friendly and cheerful and happy to chat about BTS endlessly.  It was terrific!

Entering the BTS Village

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The “Village” is what they called the cordoned off area where you could buy the “merch” and visit a bunch of different booths to pair your bluetooth-enabled light stick, take a picture with a hologram of your favorite BTS member, donate to their UNICEF LOVE YOURSELF campaign, etc.

Once the merch line started to move when they opened the Village, everyone ran in to.. get in yet another line for whichever specific area or booth you wanted to visit.  I stuck with the merch line, and got handed an order form to fill out while waiting with a new group of ARMYs.

I can’t remember how long we stood in that line, but it seemed to move pretty quickly.  I was super disappointed that the official concert t-shirts sold out within the first 15 minutes, since that was the main thing I wanted to get, but there were plenty of other (way overpriced!) things to buy to commemorate the experience.

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An example of available merch and the crazy prices.  There were like 6 or 7 pages of things you could buy.

Talking about it with the other ARMYs around me, I was surprised to find that everyone hated the new Americanized “Beyond the Scene” branding and didn’t want any of the t-shirts if it didn’t have the original Korean 방탄소년단 (Romanized as Bangtan Sonyeondan) wording.  Not that Big Hit Entertainment asked for my opinion, but I think the sincerity and authenticity of BTS is one of their biggest selling points even with American fans, so I’m not sure the “Beyond the Scene” re-brand is gaining traction.

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I ended up with t-shirt version 1.  No one around me wanted to buy version 2 because it said “Beyond the Scene”.  The lady behind me reeeeealllly wanted a hoodie and was afraid they would sell out before she got to the counter.  I think she was successful in her quest but I’m not sure, I lost track of her in the crowd.

With my merch in hand and my wallet further emptied, I wandered around for a bit trying to decide which booth to visit.  Suddenly I remembered that I had won an express “skip the line” ticket from Big Hit to visit the “BTS Studio” booth where you could take a picture of yourself with a hologram of your favorite member, so I headed over in that direction.. and got in the express ticket line. (Which was only like 10 people long, but still, another line!  lol)

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The Korean tour staff were all very nice and seemed super amused at the Americans saying 감사합니다 (kamsahamnida – thank you).

While I was waiting to get my picture taken, I noticed an ARMY who had just come from the merch line struggling to juggle all of her purchases. Because the “shopping bag” merch item was the cheapest thing on the menu at $5, I bought 3 of them, which was the maximum allowed, so I stepped over and asked her if she wanted a bag to hold all of her stuff. I was glad to have an extra to share! We snapped a picture together once she got her stuff all sorted out.

Then suddenly it was my turn to enter the little BTS Studio tent!  I have to say, the “hologram” technology they used to make it seem like your favorite BTS member is walking up and sitting down with you to take a picture was pretty freaking cool.  I was so flustered trying to sort out my bags and all the stuff I was carrying that I didn’t get a video of that (that’s one time when I really wished I hadn’t come alone), but it was fun all the same and sort of made your heart beat a little faster even knowing it wasn’t real.  I also had a little panic trying to pick which member because at this point, I really do love them all (OT7!), but my original favorite won in the end.

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Quick, pick your favorite BTS member!

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A picture snapped with my phone of the slightly blurry picture I got in the BTS Studio booth. Me and Jimin!

After that I wondered around the Village a lot taking pictures and videos and just enjoying the scene and the freedom of not being in a line for the first time since I arrived.

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Fans dancing in the Village..

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Another dancing fan… You can see the merch booths in the background.

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Tour staff would watch your bags and take a picture of you with your phone at the various sign boards and photo backdrops..

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Making a donation to the UNICEF #BTSLoveMyself campaign to end violence against children..

I’m not sure what time it was, but by that point, my feet were starting to hurt a little and I was ready to take a rest.  See my note below about the awesomeness of the Trekology YIZI Go Portable Camping Chair – which I promptly pulled out and set up to rest my weary bones and have a drink and a snack.

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Having a rest and filming people entering the Village area..

I thought it was pretty irresponsible of the lady yelling at people to run to the lightstick tent because they were selling out, they didn’t sell out the whole day as far as I know.

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Lots of people started to sit down and eat things they had brought at that point.

There seemed to be no food or drink vendors anywhere, which I thought was nuts.

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A short video I intended to send to my sister but for some reason it wouldn’t upload so I never sent it..

Finding my Gate and Observing the Front of the Hard Core “General Admissions” Line

Shortly after filming that clip, I left the Village area thinking I should at least figure out what gate I would be entering and where the line (surely there was another line!) would be for that.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but it turned out that the private box seat ticket holders would be using a gate in the same vicinity as where they were letting the General Admissions line form up to actually enter the stadium.

Now keep in mind that some of the General Admissions folks had been camping out for over a week to get closest to the stage, so as I approached them, I had a feeling like the General Admissions line were the “real” ARMY and the rest of us were just baby ARMYs.  We still had hours to go before the show started, so I set up my awesome little camping chair again and watched all the hoopla at the front of the GA line.

Periodically you would see fans who had stepped out of line to get merch or something come running up frantically worried that they had missed their spot, so I started posting short video clips and tweeting them out in the hopes that it would help keep things calm.  There were definitely a couple of moments there where it seemed like the crowd might get shovey and pushy, but for the most part, it stayed orderly and calm.  After watching them deal with one situation after another, I thought the security staff did a great job of being kind yet firm to keep everyone safe.

Somewhere in the midst of the GA line drama, I started to feel really hungry and decided to go off in search of food.  I walked and walked and walked and finally came upon what may have been the only food cart out there, a Nathan’s Hot Dog cart.  I hate hot dogs, but boy if you’re hungry enough, even a hot dog can taste delicious.  In fact, I had two!  The Twitter timestamp says I posted this at 3:04 PM, and the stadium opened at 4, so this was shortly before they let us go in to get our seats!

Entering the Stadium!

Phew, I feel like I’ve been writing this blog post for eons, and we’re just now getting into the stadium!  Picking up from the last section, once they let all the GA folks through, they finally called for our gate and I managed to be like the 10th person in line for that. It was definitely a very buzzy excited feeling getting ready to go into the venue.  After months and weeks of planning and then waiting in lines all day, everyone was ready to get inside.

Of course there was one more line to go after they opened the big fence – the security line.  I apparently didn’t take any pictures during that period, but they had big K-9 dogs, and a seriously armed police presence at the concert.  We saw groups of officers in full riot gear, and some with what looked like long range rifles.  It was pretty intense, but given the death threats against members of the band and all the recent public shootings, everyone in line with me agreed that we’d rather have more security than less.

The security check was pretty intense, too.  They really did search every single compartment of every single bag I had.  I can’t remember if they physically patted us down, but I did have to remove my jacket and sweatshirt and fanny pack, and they definitely wanded us in addition to going through metal detectors.  It felt as thorough as any airport screening I’ve been through recently.

And then suddenly we were inside!  I must have gotten so excited to actually get to our seats that I forgot I had a camera for a while, because I have no photos of the super posh Porche suite at all.

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GA folks getting in place around the stage, before the music videos started.

I did take a few snaps of the GA folks still streaming in around the stage though, and shortly after that they started playing BTS videos on the big screens.  The screaming and cheering began in earnest at that point, and it didn’t stop until the show was over.  It was sooo loud, you really can’t imagine it.

Somewhere around here, I started streaming live on Periscope, with the intention of streaming the whole show if I could.  I know it’s against the rules, illegal, etc. etc. but.. well, there are a lot of people who really can’t afford the crazy expense of attending a live BTS concert.  As concerts go, it is one of the most expensive shows on the planet.  Seriously, Billboard says it was the most expensive tour of 2018, and that’s just for the tickets.  That doesn’t event count the cost of travel, hotel, food, and the aforementioned expensive merchandise, which I guess isn’t a necessity, but who goes to a concert without buying the t-shirt to prove it?

In any case, I watched a lot of live concert streams in preparation for going to Citi Field, and I was always grateful to the people who risked their seat to stream for all the ARMYs around the world who couldn’t attend, so I intended to try my best to stream, too.  Which I did, for a couple of hours.  Until security came. 🙁   Having the security guy breathing down your neck and risking getting kicked out of a show you really want to see, waited forever to see, and paid a bazillion dollars to see.. Well, I put my phone away.  When I looked at the stream playback much later, it said over 100,000 people had viewed it.  *gulp*  That’s a lot of people.  I’m sorry ARMYs, I really tried.


Another great thing that happened around this point was the arrival of my most awesome seat buddy, Chris.  Like I said before, for the most part, I was fine to attend the concert by myself and I really enjoyed everything solo all day long.  But when Chris showed up, a guy around my age, also by himself, and just super friendly and fun to chat with.. it really made the concert just that much more awesome. We chatted through the whole show and he even helped shield my phone from the security dude for a bit when I was still trying to stream despite the stress of it all, bless his heart.

Chris, I hope you read this post!  Super thanks for being such a fun seat buddy!!  If you’re ever in Cincinnati, definitely ping me and I would go to another show with you anytime, anywhere!  🙂

I don’t have many other pictures of the pre-show since by this time I was streaming, so now it’s on to the show itself!!!  FINALLY!!!!!

And the Show Begins… Breathing the Same Air as BTS!!

I know, I’ve written a whole novel and half and haven’t even gotten to the actual live concert yet.  What can I say, it was a long, fun-filled, busy day!

By the time the show actually started, the crowd was so amped up, with huge swelling screams and cheers and ARMY bombs blinking.  The start of the show was LITERALLY explosive, like fire shot out of the stage!  And it was so LOUD!  And so high energy!  And we’re seeing Idol performed live!  Right in front of us!

I don’t have any pictures because I was still streaming when the show started.  I  hoped to have some of my video footage edited by now to include, but I think it will have to come later or I won’t get the post up this century.

Fake Love from outside the stadium..

I do have a few clips that I filmed after I gave up streaming and after the security dudes departed, but my crappy phone cam footage doesn’t even begin to do justice to what it really felt like.  Singing along to your favorite songs with 40,000 other fans who love it as much as you is really something else.  The energy was insane, I can still feel the vibrations in my chest if I close my eyes and think about it.

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The twinkling ARMY bombs everywhere added so much to the atmosphere..

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I didn’t get even one single great shot of the band. Even though the screens were huge and we could see clearly in person, the light noise and cables and whatnot made it impossible to get a great photo with a phone camera from where we were sitting. That’s ok though, the experience itself was the reason for being there, and the memories are more than enough.

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Seesaw nation rise!

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Serendipity!

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Sparkly Jimin!

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The Truth Untold!

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The best pic I took of V! (That one’s for you Chris!) 🙂

I cried a couple of times.  When Jimin cried, I bawled like a baby. Not my footage, but thanks to the ARMY that caught this on camera. *sniffle*

I cried again during Namjoon’s ending comments.. (JOON FOR PRESIDENT!)

If I’m in the right mood, hearing Magic Shop still makes me cry because I can hear the echo of 40,000 ARMYs singing back to them in one voice.. it was really beautiful. I sang, and screamed, and danced, and cheered, and enjoyed the hell out of those 2.5 hours.

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By the end of the show, we all said our good byes, wished each other safe journeys home, and parted ways. It was really a magical experience.

End of the Show & Heading Home

I’d read about post-BTS-concert depression from other ARMYs, but what they don’t tell you is it starts the very second the show is over.

I felt like I was in a shell-shocked daze as we started herding out of the stadium, and by the time I got outside and back out to the parking lot, I think I stood there for I don’t know how long, just too overwhelmed to even move.

Believe it or not, I didn’t realize until right that moment that I’d planned every detail of my arrival TO the venue, but I had absolutely no idea how to get back to my hotel FROM the stadium.  40,000 people were all trying to leave at the same time, it wasn’t like I could call a cab.  I was so disoriented, I didn’t even know which direction the hotel was in from where I was standing. As more and more people poured out of the stadium, I got swept up in the moving crowd, and just ended up going with flow with no destination in mind.

That was the only moment the whole day that I felt somewhat vulnerable and a little afraid to be alone.  The crowd was still very friendly, but it was dark and chilly and I suddenly felt like I could get lost or disappear and no one would even notice.

Once we got to the outer edges of the parking lot near the street, I sort of came back to my senses and started looking on my phone for options.  There were already huge lines forming for Uber and Lyft drivers, but then Google suggested a ride service I’d never heard of, Juno, so I downloaded and installed it and like MAGIC – even in that insane crowd – a driver in a big black SUV was there in less than 5 minutes to pick me up.  It was fantastic.

I honestly don’t remember much after that.  I know I made it back to my hotel, and I think I was too late for room service so I just crashed.

The next morning, I wandered downstairs to get coffee, where I met some young ARMYs with their dad getting ready to head home.

And a little later at check-out, I met one of the stagehands who had traveled with BTS for their whole North American tour.

I took one last selfie sitting outside the hotel waiting for a cab..

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And then I headed for the airport and flew home..

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Back in Cincinnati with the #CitiFieldFlu

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, I got so sick within a day or two of coming home that I basically didn’t get out of bed for a week.  I saw someone on Twitter call it the #CitiFieldFlu, I guess loads of people picked up whatever nasty bug was going around.  By the time I recuperated from that enough to go back to work, I was too busy playing catch-up to write much, so that’s why it took almost a month to get this posted.

I sent a few messages to some of the folks I met at the concert once I’d recovered to thank them again and wish them well, and got back a bunch of nice replies.  And I was super delighted when the Cincinnati ARMY I met at the airport DMd me on Twitter to ask if I wanted to go see Burn the Stage in a couple of weeks.  She was so awesome, she even bought an extra ticket!  Thank goodness, because they sold out while I was too sick to even notice anything.  I’m really looking forward to meeting up with her to see the movie!

At this point, even I’m tired of this post, so I’ll wrap it up quickly.

It’s hard to describe, even with all these words and pictures and videos, just how much I enjoyed the show.  The fans, the concert, the music, the love, the whole experience.

At a time when the political climate in the US feels uglier than anything I can remember in my lifetime (the election is tomorrow as I write this, I am desperately hoping for positive outcome), it felt sooo good to be with sooo many people from soooo many different places and walks of life, all coming together to celebrate and enjoy good music.  It felt soooo good to support a bunch of young guys from the other side of the world and send them our love and appreciation and admiration and all the best hopes for their future.  It’s really a tribute to the boys of BTS, and to Big Hit, and the entire team of professionals who produce and support them that we could all come to New York City and enjoy the show like that.

It made me feel and remember that Obama-style hope, and I’ve really missed that.

Thanks to all the ARMYs I met on my journey for making the trip so special, and to BTS for a concert that I will never forget. I purple you.

💜


 

[1] As a lifelong Constant Reader and huge fan of King’s work, it really wigged me out when he joined Twitter and I realized I could actually send a message to one of my favorite people on planet Earth.  I never did, of course, because that would violate my “don’t bug them”  principle, but I’ve been tempted a time or two.

@stephenking if you ever see this, I’ve loved your writing since I was 8 years old and got grounded for reading The Dead Zone. Thank you, sincerely super thank you, for a lifetime of awesome stories.  <3

[2]  I saw some crazy sasaeng behavior at Citi Field, but thankfully not too much.

[3] I actually purchased tickets THREE times.  The first time, I bought tickets on Stub Hub after losing out in the virtual queue, but I didn’t realize the ticket I bought was for wheelchair users only.  Stub Hub wasn’t very helpful when I contacted them, their only advice was to put the ticket back up for sale and buy another one, which is what I did.  Then a week or so before the concert, Citi Field released a block of box-seat tickets, and even though it was much more expensive, I snagged one of those and then re-sold my second ticket.  I didn’t want to be a scalper jerk, so I always set the ticket prices for what I myself paid, but I lost out on transaction fees and whatnot each time.  I never did the math to total up how much I really paid in the end to see the show, I don’t want to know.

[4]  I bought a couple of items for my trip which I’d like to recommend.  It took hours of scouring Amazon to find a backpack that met Citi Field’s size requirements.  I ended up with the Red Rock Outdoor Gear Drifter Hydration Pack and just left the hydration pack at home.  It was a good purchase, for such a small backpack, I managed to cram a lot in it, and clip a lot on it. I also packed two Jackery Portable Charger Bars (6000mAh) and a Solar Charger RAVPower 24W Solar Panel which clipped to my backpack to keep me fully powered for the whole trip.  My phone never ran out of battery even with constant use and lots of filming.

And last but definitely not least, my favorite purchase of all was something I almost left in the hotel room.  Right before I walked out the door, I clipped the Trekology YIZI Go Portable Camping Chair to my backpack and I spent the rest of the day so grateful that I had it.  Two thumbs up, it really saved my feet!  I even had several offers to buy it from me throughout the day!

The lightweight Trekology camping chair that saved the day and my feet/back.

 


28
Oct 18

#BTSxCitifield Part 2 – Finding BTS + Joining the ARMY = Going to Citi Field

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This post is part of a series, see #BTSxCitifield Part 1 – The Backstory: How Trump and #MeToo led to finding #BTS and joining the ARMY to start from the beginning.


 

Remember when I said I wasn’t sure if I even remembered how to blog since it’s been so long?  Well, I managed to misconfigure an IFTTT trigger and caused an endless loop of alerts about the new blog post being posted to Twitter, which posted a blog post on here that I had tweeted, which triggered a new tweet.. lol.  Like a noob all over again!  Thank goodness a RL friend texted me to let me know about the problem.  Thanks Phil!


 

So back to the story.  Exactly how did a middle-aged (!) white lady living in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio get into a Korean boyband?  In the last post, I talked about my unexpected reaction to the election of Trump and the #MeToo movement, and how my inability to cope with the endless cycle of upsetting news led to an American media/internet blackout.  Shutting off the information flow opened space for new interests and hobbies at a time when I was in need of distraction, and that was the context in which I discovered BTS. [1]

I also mentioned that the first BTS songs to catch my ear were Save Me and Dope, but I’m trying to remember what it was exactly that prompted my deeper dive into BTS.  In the beginning, it was hard to distinguish one boyband group from the next, EXO, Winner, GOT7.. The whole K-pop genre was a stretch for me musically, and I found the “super innocent yet super sexy schoolgirl” vibe of the girl groups especially disturbing.

K-Pop girl group AOA in what appears to be typical “sexy school girl” styling.

Even if they produce a catchy tune, I have a hard time supporting an industry that over-sexualizes young women like that.  I suppose the boy bands are not so different, since sex sells the world over, but it feels somehow less in your face with the men than it does with the women.  I’d say BTS in particular seems to dress fairly conservatively these days, though there are shirt-ripping and belly-showing dance moves from their earlier videos.

BTS in school uniform styling, not sure what year this is from though.

Digging around in my YouTube history (yikes, not recommended!), it looks like a fan-made video I stumbled upon about the BTS “alternate universe” story might have been an early hook.  It’s basically a short film explaining the fictional universe that connects many of their albums and music (sort of like a rock-opera). It tells the story of 7 high-school friends who drift apart, facing their various painful childhoods and personal demons as they grow into adulthood.  But one member, Jin, has the ability to time travel, and as he watches his friends meet one tragic fate after another, he rewinds time searching for what to change to bring them all happiness, failing over and over again in each alternate timeline.

The time-travel story arc crosses several album cycles and if you search for “BTS storyline” on YouTube, you’ll find a plethora of fan-made videos with theories about what all the clues mean.

As a newcomer to the BTS scene, I think it was the fans’ obsessive attention to detail and endless theorizing as much as the storyline itself that caught my interest.  Over the next few months, I began to realize that it was a truly global phenomenon.  Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, North America, all around the world there were crazed passionate fans following these guys’ every move.  It made me wonder how this baby-faced K-pop boyband had somehow developed a following that was so intense it crossed time zones, national boundaries, language barriers, cultural differences, age, sex, gender.

Korean fans (or fans who speak Korean) translate their work into English, and other fans translate it from English into other languages.  On Twitter, which seemed to be the preferred social media channel, there were endless conversations, in every language you can imagine, at any time day or night, sharing, arguing, debating, writing fan fics, producing their own videos, explaining, theorizing, analyzing.  (Look at the live, global BTS feed right now, how many languages do you see?) [2]

And the band was producing a near continuous stream of new content themselves, releasing their new album Love Yourself: Her in September 2017, with new videos, new theories, new tweets and posts.  The synergy between the band and the fans was.. well, crazy.  It sucked me in.

It was like watching a reality television show unfold in real time, except instead of seedy cat-fights and endless love triangles, you had these innocent, hardworking Korean guys from an underdog small-time record label trying to beat the odds, and fans from all over the world cheering them on, and over and over again, I had the thought that the international dialogue happening between BTS fans was so different from the hate-filled “us vs. them” rhetoric happening in the US.  I’m not sure how to describe it, but it felt like… the exact opposite of the toxic brew of ugly Trumpist nationalism.

BTS performing “DNA” at the American Music Awards, November 2017.

By the time they came to the US and performed at the American Music Awards in November, I had passed the threshold from casual observer to proto-fan, and by May of 2018 when Love Yourself: Tear was released (which went on to break a zillion records including landing at #1 on the Billboard charts), I could have passed any “You’re an ARMY If..” quiz.  I even had a handle on all this newfangled fandom jargon (wow it made me feel old) of stanning and biases and ships and K-Diamonds and I-Lovelies.  It wasn’t just the band.  It wasn’t just the music.  It wasn’t just the fans.

The real catch is the thing that unites the fans and the band, an infectious hopeful optimism that crosses every language, cultural, or age barrier.  Even though they are so young, their music tells the story of a group of boys growing up and trying to discover how to live a meaningful life in a world of such disparity.  And even though I’m 42 years old, I’m still trying to figure out how to live a meaningful life in a world of such disparity, too.  Their solo albums and side projects delve into how hard it is to overcome anxiety, perfectionism, and depression, and through their music and countless interviews, it’s clear they’re figuring out that fame and fortune don’t buy happiness if you don’t like yourself.  And here it took me 30-some years to discover that.  How wonderful would it have been if I had realized it in my 20s?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as cynical and jaded as the next gal. Yes sometimes the lyrics are cheesy, and yes sometimes the music is pure pop syrup, and yes the K-pop machine has an ugly underbelly including sexual abuse, suicide, and contracts that aren’t far from indentured servitude, and yes the band is a commercial, capitalist enterprise making zillions of dollars with their $50+ t-shirts, and lightsticks, and this, that, and the other.  BTS and BigHit Entertainment is a business, BIG business, and they are monetizing the passion of their fans to make a killing (Forbes reported in March 2018 that Big Hit Entertainment was valued at 783 billion KRW, or $687 million USD, I’m sure that’s only gone up since then).  That’s all completely true.

BTS ‘Fake Love’ dance practice session.  Even if you don’t like the music, you can’t tell me that isn’t art.

And.. somehow I don’t care.  Somehow, I’m glad for them.  Somehow I still find sincerity in their finger-hearts and silly smiles, earnestness in their practice videos and sweaty concert performances, optimism and a refreshing naivete in their lyrics and rap wordplay.

Why not a bunch of young guys from Korea who have still have the unbelievable youthful audacity to think they can change the world? 

Ultimately, that’s what turned me into an ARMY.  Adorable Representative MCs for Youth.  At a time in my personal life when I felt despair, I happened upon a global thread of hope through BTS and their fans, a reminder that young people all around the world are struggling, thinking, hoping, trying to find a way to live and move forward, and that the way forward is as it has always been, one step at a time, to just plain not give up.  To not let cynicism win.  A reminder of the joy of music, the release you feel dancing to a good beat, and the inspiration that came from seeing the often smiling, sometimes tired, but still hopeful faces of 7 Korean boys who aren’t yet ground down by the machine, the world, life itself.


A favorite tweet from a few months ago..

As the last album of the Love Yourself cycle came out in August 2018, Love Yourself: Answer (which also went on to break a bazillion records including #1 on the Billboard charts again), BTS and the Adorable Representative MCs for Youth became (part of) the antidote to my Trump depression.  BTS and ARMY culture shows that there are other ways to to respond to the challenges the world faces other than tribalism and building walls, and that good music, good art makes us think, feel, reflect, absorb, change, and no joke, it can be healing.

Anyone who has watched a BTS video has seen the Big Hit Entertainment intro: “Music & Artist for Healing”.  Indeed.

So after all that, I did what every other self-respecting ARMY (who could afford it) did, and started planning a trip to see them live when they came the States for their globally sold-out Love Yourself World Tour.

Coming soon, #BTSxCitifield Part 3 – The fans, the show, the experience – so awesome.

 


 

[1]  My rekindled interest in Korean culture was not my only new diversion.  During an unusually long power outage in November, I dug through the closet and found my guitar, and have been faithfully teaching myself to play (again, but kind of for the first time).  I took piano lessons as a kid, and played clarinet very badly in grade school, but this is the first time that I’ve passed the threshold of playing an instrument well enough to really enjoy it.  And practicing requires a level of obsessive repetition that feels almost meditative, it’s given me an enormous amount of solace.

Don’t make fun, I know I’m not very good at singing OR playing, but that’s the first song I learned after picking a guitar up again for the first time in 20 years. (I’ll say it again, Music for Healing!)

[2] BTS landed in the 2018 Guinness Book of World Records for having the most Twitter engagements, apparently more than Trump and Justin Bieber combined.  I find that really funny for some reason.


22
Oct 18

#BTSxCitifield Part 1 – The Backstory: How Trump and #MeToo led to finding #BTS and joining the ARMY

This is Part 1 of a three part series, see Part 2, and Part 3 here.

It has truly been an age since I’ve written an actual blog post. [1]  I may even have forgotten how to do it, I guess we’ll see.  It’s not so much that I haven’t felt the urge to write from time to time, but once you get out of the habit of blogging, it feels insurmountable to start back up again.  And yet here I am, trying to remember my website password on a Saturday morning.

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The impetus for this blog reset was that I wanted to write about the experience of going to see BTS at Citi Field in New York a couple weeks ago. (If you need a primer, here are a few from the Guardian, Rolling Stone, NYT, and Vulture).  Like many, I picked up the #CitiFieldFlu while I was there, so I’ve basically been bedridden or trying to catch up ever since I got back into town, but I hope I can remember everything because I think it might be one of the best trips of my life.  It was not only a great show, the whole trip was the kind of awesome, life-affirming experience that makes you see the world differently when you come back home, and not many concerts can do that.

PART 1:  THE BACK STORY

But to back up a bit, I feel like I have to explain how I got into this Korean boyband in the first place…

It actually starts with the election of Donald Trump, the #MeToo movement, and the absolutely paralyzing trauma I felt near the end of last year.

By mid-2017, as the daily insult and injury of the Trump Administration took my breath away, and every American media outlet, news program, channel, and pop-culture reference  everywhere became All Trump All the Time, I began to experience a kind of cognitive overload and emotional upset that I’d never felt before.  Then in the fall of 2017, the #MeToo movement broke open with one horrific story of abuse after another.  Coupled with the shock and complex emotions that came with each days’ news cycle, I also began to feel a sense of shame that I was having so much trouble even coping with the news.  I’d be heading into work listening to NPR, and suddenly find myself bursting into tears of anger, sadness, fear, horror, and sooooo much disappointment, it’s still hard to comprehend.  Until one day, I just couldn’t cope with it anymore.

Magazine cover picturing all the women accusing Bill Cosby of sexual abuse, with an empty chair representing other women who had not yet come forward.

I turned the radio off.  I turned the TV off.  I canceled my subscriptions to the New York Times and the Washington Post.  I un-followed hundreds of accounts on Twitter.  For many months, I was pretty much offline but for what I absolutely had to do for work and I told everyone in my personal life that I was on a complete news blackout and that I did not want to know what happening.  No, that’s not quite right – it wasn’t just that I didn’t WANT to know, it was even worse than that.  I couldn’t even force myself to look at what was happening.  [2]

My family and friends were shocked and confused, I think, and concerned.  For anyone who knows me at all, tuning out and ignoring things is an extremely uncharacteristic response.  And since the day I first discovered the internets back in 1994, most of my personal hobbies and interests, not to mention my whole career and professional life, has revolved around the internet, activism, and using technology to improve the human condition.  And yet suddenly I found myself unable to engage with any of it.  All of it. I felt compelled to shut the internet off.  [3]

That was about a year ago, in November of 2017.

So what does a person DO when the thing that occupied all of their waking life for all of their adult life suddenly becomes toxic?

A SLOW-SIMMERING INTEREST IN KOREAN HISTORY/CULTURE TURNS INTO A REFRESHINGLY DIVERTING MINI-OBSESSION

How do any of our obsessions begin?  Some tiny niggling seed that takes root and grows into something strange and unexpected.

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My grandpa is in the center kneeling, with Korean children wearing UN hats.  Not sure of the year, 1953 or 1954.

My most recent one has deep roots, if I think about it.  My grandfather on my mother’s side, who I called Dad, served in Korea when he was in the Army, and it’s one of those episodes in the family lore that holds myriad meanings and significances.  Family rumor has it that Mom and Dad got married because she got pregnant after (before?) Dad went to Korea.  Not sure about the timeline there, maybe my mom will correct me. The cherry lacquer wooden bowls that Dad sent back from Korea were a source of bitterness for my aunt Mary when Mom and Dad passed away and we couldn’t find them.  My uncle Frank probably still hasn’t forgiven me that I wouldn’t give up the photographs of Dad in Korea.  (In my defense, I kept them to scan them in so everyone could have them. :P)

After Dad died, I spent many hours scanning in photos and tracing through his life story, and I never could determine exactly where he was stationed in Korea, but I had the thought that I’d like to go there some day.  He didn’t talk about his military experience much, but it obviously helped shape who he was, and if the family rumors were true, I was indirectly a product of his Korean adventure.

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With Dr. Youngkyun Baek and Korean National University of Education graduate students at the University of Cincinnati, 2007.

Another root of my new obsession was a wonderful experience many years ago meeting Dr. Youngkyun Baek, who at the time was an Asst. Professor at Korea National University of Education.  In 2007, he joined the University of Cincinnati with a Visiting Professor appointment and arranged for me to lead a week-long seminar with a group of his graduate students from Korea to discuss the use of Virtual Worlds and Second Life in higher education. That was my first sense that Korean society is far more accepting of and quicker to adopt technology than the US.

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Having a traditional Korean meal with so many side dishes it blew my mind!

It was fascinating and so much fun to spend time with them.  The  language barrier was only a mild impediment to a fun-filled week of exploring virtual worlds during the day, and exploring Cincinnati and Korean culture after class.

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Canoeing the Whitewater River with my new friends.

I’d say it is one of the great regrets of my career that I didn’t stay in better touch with them all.  Maybe I’ll try to reconnect now that I’m less ignorant of Korean culture than I was back then (I feel embarrassed now to think of how much I didn’t know).  If any of them happens to find this blog post, I hope they’ll say hello!

In any case, a few months before my Great Media Blackout of 2017 began, one of the news headlines that contributed to my sense of panic also re-ignited my interest in Korea.  You may recall in August 2017 when headlines like Trump Threatens ‘Fire and Fury’ Against North Korea if It Endangers U.S. began to appear.  For a split second, I was afraid Trump might get us into a nuclear war, and thinking of my conversations with Dr. Baek’s students way back when, I wondered what it must be like to live in South Korea and have that worry constantly.

One thing led to another, and I began reading about the Korean War and South Korea’s military enlistment policy, and then an online friend suggested that I watch a Korean drama on Netflix called Descendants of the Sun if I was interested in how the military experience and North/South relations are portrayed in Korean popular culture.  After that completely addicting experience, I discovered I could add Rakuten Viki and Dramafever apps to my Amazon Prime/Amazon Firestick, and well, let me tell you, once I fell down the K-Drama rabbit hole, there was no turning back.

Next thing I knew, I was ordering books from Talk to Me in Korean (highly recommended!) and getting monthly deliveries of Korea Box (also highly recommended!) and scouring the Cincinnati area for soju.  (I never found it in Cincinnati, you have to go over the river into Kentucky at Party Source.)

It was all a marvelous distraction from the Trump/#MeToo madness, and though I have a lot of critical thoughts about the conservative, patriarchal parts of South Korean culture, it was still a welcome respite to leave the American mediascape behind and learn about a faraway land with their own history and myths and fabulous cuisine.  As you can imagine, once I entered the world of K-Drama, then the music of K-Pop wasn’t far behind.

 

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One of my favorite songs, so good. #Eagles

A post shared by Fleep (@fleep513) on

My musical tastes are as weird and varied as everyone else’s.  I cut my teeth on a combination of bluegrass gospel from my biological father’s Kentuckian side of the family, and 50’s/60’s bubblegum pop, the Beatles, and “classic rock” from my mom and step-dad.  The Eagles (who I just saw in Cleveland this past weekend!), CSN(Y), and Jackson Browne are in my childhood DNA, and then as an adult, well, it’s too varied to categorize, but I can say in the last decade or so, pop music and hip-hop were not really in the mix.  I remember a couple years ago having the realization that I was Officially Old because I didn’t recognize even one single artist who won a Grammy that year.

So K-Pop was really a field afar for me, and I think I started with some generic “Top K-Pop Hits” playlist on YouTube, as one does these days.  It all sounded kind of the same at first, and then one of the songs starts to grow on you, and then another one, and then you realize, hey, those two songs are by the same group, and then.. and then..

So yeah, that’s how I discovered BTS (Hangul: 방탄소년단; RR: Bangtan Sonyeondan), translated as Bulletproof Boyscouts, also known as the Bangtan Boys, a seven-member South Korean boy band.

For any ARMYs who might be reading, the first song was Save Me.

The second one was Dope.  I had to know who that red-headed dancer was.  (Once you Jimin, you can’t Jimout, as they say.) ((Now OT7 for life.)) =)

This seems like a good place to take a break.

Coming soon:  #BTSxCitifield Part 2 – Finding BTS + Joining the ARMY = Going to Citi Field


 

[1] I looked it up, my last sincerely written, totally original content blog post was in January 2014 about Edward Snowden.  Wow, that’s even longer than I thought.
Re: Snowden – Whistleblowing & Its Consequences and Part 2: Snowden – Whistleblowing & Its Consequences

[2] In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say publicly that I am also a survivor and a victim (even though I hate both terms) of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.  #MeToo.  Part of my shutdown was undoubtedly related to those past traumas that I thought I had overcome. Obviously not. It’s clear to me now that the way that the Trump election and #MeToo became entwined in my emotional response has as much to do with my personal history as it does with my political identity.

I also want to say that if any other person out there also had a total shutdown response to Trump and/or #MeToo, just know that you are not alone.  I think we’re human and there are limits to how much trauma a person can process.  We all have our own roads of recovery.  I remain truly really grateful for the men and women who had the strength to speak up when I myself did not.

[3] Relatively speaking, of course, I really couldn’t maintain a 100% blackout even with great effort.  In this modern day and age, there really is no total escape no matter how hard you try.

[4] Dramafever was just shut down last week after Time Warner/AT&T bought them, and there was a great wailing heard round the world by K-Drama fans everywhere.  =(


19
Jan 14

Part 2: Snowden – Whistleblowing & Its Consequences

Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning

A couple of weeks ago, I posted some thoughts about clemency for Edward Snowden and whether I thought he was a hero.  My main point was that I was grateful to know the information he gave the world, but I felt that fleeing the US was an immoral choice, that whistleblowers who make the decision to “go public” have a responsibility to stand by their decision whatever the consequences.  I said that even if I could understand the choice to run, that that didn’t meet my standard of “hero”.

The post generated a lot of comments, and I’ve been thinking about some of those responses.

First, I have to acknowledge the insensitivity of referring to Chelsea Manning as “he” and by a prior name.  I fully 100% support everyone’s right to define their own identity, and it was thoughtless of me to do otherwise.  I suppose that the name “Bradley Manning” had become somewhat iconic in my own mind and though I was aware of her choice to become known as Chelsea, it was almost as if the whistleblowing icon and the actual person had become separate entities in my brain.

But of course they aren’t separate at all, Chelsea Manning is an actual person, and its exactly these kinds of careless and unthinking errors that expose cisgender privilege and, however unintentionally, perpetuate prejudice and discrimination.  Many thanks to those who pointed this out and I will be more conscious and thoughtful in the future.

Regarding the discussion about whether or not Snowden is a hero, everyone who commented here or on G+ or other places universally disagreed with my position. I have a lot of respect for the people in my network and when my perspective is completely out of step with the majority view, it definitely gives me pause.  Even more so when virtually everyone thinks I’m wrong.  😉

I think it speaks very highly of the folks who read my blog that though they disagreed with me, passionately even, no one was disrespectful or rude, and I appreciate that. For me, blogging is a form of processing, of trying to think through issues and problems, and I’m always ready to acknowledge that I may be wrong.  The whole point of posting publicly is to get feedback and to have good dialogue with people who are also passionate about the issues I care about, and I’m happiest when we’re really digging into an issue but doing it kindly and civilly with each other.  So thanks to everyone for keeping it cool.

I can’t say that I’ve been completely swayed from my position by the arguments everyone made, but it has made me think more about the complexity of Snowden’s particular situation.  My mother and many others asked if I thought Snowden should have paid with his life for his actions, and the answer is no, I don’t think he deserves to die or spend life in prison for trying to expose the wrongdoing of the NSA.  I also agree that both of those scenarios were plausible outcomes if he had chosen to stay instead of leaving the US, and by that logic, then he would be justified in trying to protect himself from that fate.

Despite that, I still feel resistance to the idea that it is a moral choice to blow the whistle and run.

I may be persuaded that Edward Snowden’s, or to some extent, even Chelsea Manning’s, specific circumstances were extraordinary.  That they were not exposing your run-of-the-mill malfeasance or wrong-doing, but rather they were exposing wrongdoing of such a horrific scale and magnitude, and perpetrated not by some low level official or small corporate concern, but by our own government across many branches and departments, and therefore that deserves some leeway.  I think that’s a fair argument and it’s forced me to reconsider my position.

I would still argue, though, that universalizing Snowden’s decision to flee is ultimately NOT the best outcome – for whistleblowers OR for the society a whistleblower is trying to protect.  In the best of worlds, what should happen is that the whistleblower should be safe, should be protected, should be given safe harbor until the disclosures can be digested and the situation investigated.  Edward Snowden shouldn’t have to flee his own country, rather our government and our society should have better measures in place and better systems to protect those who make the brave choice to expose wrongdoing.  We should be demanding better protections for the Mannings and Snowdens (and Swartzs) of the world.

And I guess that’s where it shakes out for me.  If we universalize Snowden’s decision to blow the whistle and flee, and say that’s ok, then we run a two-fold risk:

1) We open the door for anyone claiming whistleblower status to get a pass whether it’s deserved or not.  I maintain that making a public accusation of wrongdoing carries with it a responsibility to stand behind the claim. We all must have the right to face our accusers, and whistleblowers are not and cannot be exempt from that.  Due process matters, it protects us from unfounded accusations and (in an ideal world) acts as a safeguard against vigilante justice, by the state OR other people.

2) We let ourselves off the hook for failing to provide the protections that legitimate whistleblowers deserve.  While I’ll admit that Snowden likely had little rational choice but to leave, don’t we all agree that he shouldn’t have had to?  I think in some way, blessing Snowden’s decision to flee is a form of ignoring our own complicity in a system that we know is terribly unjust.  Instead of arguing about whether or not he was justified in running, we really should be expending that energy on making it so he doesn’t have to – not just for Snowden, but for all the legitimate whistleblowers out there who don’t have international visibility and media scrutiny to protect them.


That’s where my reasoning is at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll keep thinking on this for some time to come.  Thanks again to everyone who commented, and as always, feel free to disagree!  🙂


4
Jan 14

Re: Snowden – Whistleblowing & Its Consequences

Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning

I was very surprised to read the New York Times editorial calling for clemency for Edward Snowden, less so to read Slate’s piece about why he won’t and shouldn’t get clemency, since it is difficult for me to imagine any scenario in which full clemency would be granted by this administration or in this geo-political climate. I expect Snowden to be on the run or in exile likely for the rest of his life.

Without knowing all the details of what he leaked, how he leaked them, and the explanations for his actions afterwards that led him to China and then Russia, I can’t in good conscience call for his clemency either. Even if I acknowledge that his leaks have better informed a critically important debate about the surveillance power of the government and the constitutional balance (or lack thereof) of the NSA’s programs, even if his stated motivations as a whistleblower are 100% true, and even if I acknowledge that, like Bradley Manning, there likely were no “legitimate” paths he could take to take to expose the truth to the public, I still can’t go so far as to say that they deserve clemency because I’m not in a position to have enough information to make a good judgement, and my guess is, if you’re reading this blog, neither do you.

My own (very small, insignificant except to those of us who were affected) experience with being a whistleblower was a wholly terrible and unpleasant experience. Exposing misconduct and bringing to light what (some) people in power do not want revealed is a dangerous undertaking, even when the stakes are much less than national security. It is fraught with difficult ethical and moral decisions about how much information and when to disclose and how to proceed, and at least in my experience, I had absolutely no way to fully appreciate all of the unintended consequences of my actions, and how many other (innocent in the scheme of things) people would be hurt by my choices, no matter how well meaning and good my intentions were when I started.

I’m not comparing myself to Snowden or Manning, of course, the situations were completely different and on a completely different scale of importance, but I can only draw from my own experience. I certainly felt that I had an obligation take responsibility for the fall-out, and I guess that is where my own, however insignificant, experience as a whistleblower leads me to feel critical of both Manning and Snowden’s decisions to hide and run from the path they chose.

Yes, it stinks that whistleblowers are often punished for trying to do the right thing, but if you choose to do battle with the powers-that-be, then you have a responsibility to stand up and say, “Yes, I did this, my conscience demanded I take action to right this wrong, and be damned the consequences to myself.” That is what sacrifice is, that is what a “hero” does, and that is not quite what either Manning or Snowden did. Even if their initial motivations were largely for the right reasons, even if there have been many good things to come of their disclosures, they still failed to see it through by trying to hide from or escape from the consequences of their choices.

What makes that a “wrong” is that all the untold number of (innocent in the scheme of things) people who paid a terrible price for their actions had no choice in the matter. The co-worker who gave Snowden a password because of trust or because he thought Snowden’s request was legitimate as a sysadmin who was later fired. The diplomats or soliders or, heck, full on spies whose careers were destroyed or lives were endangered by Manning’s or Snowden’s disclosures. Those people had no choice in the matter. They didn’t have an opportunity to hide or escape from the fall-out of those decisions, so why should Manning or Snowden?

When you set the ball in motion, you have a responsibility to see it through to the end, no matter how bitter that end may be. To do less may be only human, but it doesn’t meet my standard of “hero”.


11
Sep 12

A September Eleven Blue Sky

In a moment of tragedy or crisis, it’s strange what single detail stands out most among a thousand details of a scene. Some people remember where they were standing when they saw the towers fall on tv, some remember who they lost that day.

For me, the single detail I remember most is a certain shade of blue sky that I will always think of as September Eleven Blue. As I walked to work after spending hours glued to the television set, my brain was on some strange surreal loop. I kept looking up into the most pristine and sparkling blue sky I’d ever seen and thinking over and over:  How could this happen? How could someone deliberately fly a plane full of people into a building full of people on such a beautiful sunny day? How could this happen?

The horror of it was more than I could fathom, it seemed somehow all the more horrific against that backdrop of happy blue – as if tragedy could only happen when it’s storming outside.

Image courtesy of New York Social Diary, “The Morning of September 11” by Alexandra Lebenthal

I don’t think I’ve ever posted a reflection on that day before, because in the weeks and years that followed, I became exhausted by and to the whole spectacle of 9/11. Instead of engendering feelings of patriotism or love of country, the cheap plastic flags and yellow ribbons pasted on every available surface, car, window, and t-shirt came to feel very cheap indeed – hollow symbols of a feeling of unity that lasted for only a brief millisecond before we turned to, not politics as usual, but far worse, the politics of fear and retribution. I didn’t know then that it would eventually lead to the War on Terror and the War on Iraq and the War on Afghanistan, so many wars on so many things, I just knew that I felt numb and frightened and suddenly very painfully aware of how fragile life is.

I had friends and colleagues who seemed for a while to need to know every gory detail of every victim’s last moments, but I didn’t. I didn’t listen to the last voice mails and the 911 recordings, I didn’t watch the videos of the people jumping, I tried not to imagine what it would have felt like to be in that plane over Pennsylvania, or to be burned alive or buried in the rubble. I couldn’t. For me, the horror of what I already knew was enough and the fascination with the tragic details felt repulsive – I couldn’t understand it. They have a name for that phenomenon now, disaster porn they call it.

To me it just felt somehow.. disrespectful. And something worse, some word I can’t put a name to, that thing that makes us gawk and take some creepy pleasure in seeing other people’s agony. Or maybe using other people’s agony to fuel our own ugly impulses, to go kill whoever was responsible, even if it meant killing hundreds of thousands of other completely innocent people as collateral damage to salve our wounded American soul.

I was afraid, back then, to even say words like these. To not feel a burning patriotic fervor to hunt down the evil-doers in the post-9/11 world was to be a traitor. In the city where I live, conservative, religious, American heartland Cincinnati, Ohio, it was impossible to avoid the forwarded-hundreds-of-times email chain letters (this was before Facebook or Twitter existed) about how we would destroy Osama bin-Ladin and every “towelhead” who got in our way. Jingoism doesn’t begin to describe it, I saw blood lust even in the eyes of my mild mannered office mates. That scared me far more than the terrorists did, far more than whatever horrible thing al-Qaida might have planned. I became afraid of my own countrymen and my own government more than I was afraid of any shadowy enemy in the middle east.

Terror Alert: Orange lasted for years afterwards. And when it was over (is it over? will the wars ever be over?) I felt mostly sadness that all those people died so tragically, and sadness that in their names we destroyed nations and our own civil liberties. That so many of our own young men and women in the military had paid as high a price as the victims of 9/11 in as senseless a tragedy through the War in Iraq.

Another Anniversary, Another Election

As another 9/11 anniversary approaches, another presidential election, I can’t help but think back about that time and how that incident really did change us. How it really did change the trajectory of our nation, our politics, our financial security. For a long time there was that cynical joke about how if you do X, the terrorists win.  I sometimes think, looking back, that the terrorists did win, and win big.  9/11  changed so much about our culture, made us so much more willing to surrender our privacy and our human rights for often just the illusion of security.

One of the things that struck me about the political conventions this year was how little 9/11 was mentioned, how little the history of the last 10 years was discussed beyond the current economic issues and pandering to military voters.  There was little acknowledgement even from the Democrats about the truly brutal, dishonest, and frightening Bush administration.  They didn’t really tell the narrative about exactly how and why the Republican Party led us into disaster and how and why it would be disasterous to put them back in charge of the White House again.  Why didn’t they tell that story more forcefully?

For my part, I felt an enormous amount of rage towards the those who had led us to that precipice.  After spending billions or trillions of dollars in Iraq, after pushing through tax cuts for the wealthy, after de-regulating financial reforms put in place to protect us from another Great Depression, the Republicans marched us to catastrophe.  In US Economic Crisis – “Privatizing Gains, Socializing Losses”, I wrote:

The REPUBLICAN PARTY, representing free-market capitalists, has largely had their way in terms of economic policy, they passed their tax cuts, they gutted many of the laws put in place after the Great Depression, and theysuccessfully protected the profits – the sickeningly vast profits – of a very, very tiny percentage of very, very wealthy Americans. […]

I am angry. Afraid. Worried. The REPUBLICAN PARTY has quite literally wrapped themselves in the American Flag and used every dirty trick in the book to keep the average, church-going American distracted by issues like guns, abortion, and gay marriage so they can rob our country blind. And they seem to be getting away with it.

When does it stop? When does the party of “Country First” actually start putting the country – the whole country, not wealthy investors – first?

It was a welcome relief to me when Obama was elected at the end of that year. Obama’s campaign rhetoric stirred in me some of those patriotic and hopeful passions I remembered from the days before 9/11, when I still believed that reasonable people could find some agreement.  That’s back when I thought most Republicans were conservative like my grandpa, a staunch life-long Republican, who I loved and respected greatly, even as I passionately disagreed with his philosophies about human nature.  Where he and I found common ground, I assumed so would be the case between the Left and the Right.  I thought love of country and the need to help each other in such dire times would bring some kind of relief from the endless political bickering.

But I was disappointed to discover that we were more divided by partisan zealotry than ever before.  Obama’s complete cop-out on a single payer system, or even a public option, for healthcare reform, his wholesale embrace of the Right’s solution did nothing to quell the divide.  Such a pitiful excuse for a “socialist” solution to the healthcare problem was so well spun by the Right that it led to the birth of the Tea Party nutjobs and the “Keep the government out of my Medicare” protests.  Republicans in Congress began their steadfast refusal to do anything but say “no”, be damned the consequences, including the debt ceiling fiasco that actually led to the downgrading of our nation’s credit rating.

These last few years, it has seemed as if all sanity has flown the coop.  One cannot reason with those who are unreasonable, those who do not believe in science, or education, those who would rather scream about God than have any faith in or compassion for each other – those who seem to revel in the disaster porn that our nation has become.  The divide has become such a chasm, I wonder what America they are even living in, because it doesn’t seem like the one I am living in.

The only exception to these political divisions seemed to be the night Osama bin-Ladin was finally killed. I wrote about how it felt to experience that moment with others through Twitter, and just like with 9/11 itself where I could not feel pure hatred and bloodlust, I could not feel pure joy and glee that we killed bin-Ladin, either.  I felt somewhat ashamed of the reactions; disgusted by the calls to literally put bin-Ladin’s head on a spike as if we should engage in some gruesome medieval display of power.  Reflecting back, I wrote:

 By my view, the world really did change on September 11th, and it has been a long, brutal, depressing decade since. Whatever innocent naivete I still held at the wise old age of 25 began to crumble as those towers fell and the 10 years since have held many bitter lessons still. Wars that seem unending and against people and ideologies that are complex and don’t lend themselves to simple narratives about “defeating our enemies”. A decade of absolute fiscal corruption and robbery that would have made the robber barons blush. A political system that seems barely functional on the good days and completely ill equipped to address any of the real issues facing our nation. Catastrophes like Katrina from mother nature, and catastrophes of our own making, leaving people without homes and jobs and even those of us who still have both ever fearful that they could disappear tomorrow.

” A nation that can’t resolve sensibly any issue that matters..”

I’ve been pretty candid about my political views.  I’ve written about why I consider myself a progressive, and about the values and beliefs that guide my political conscience.  I know that other people value other things, have beliefs that are different than mine, and I can accept and understand that.  What I can’t understand, what I can’t accept, is pretending as if this history didn’t happen: Two wars costing trillions of dollars, millions of wounded, and hundreds of thousands of lives lost.  An economic disaster that triggered a global crisis, erased a decade of wealth in the US, and left millions of our own people in desperate straights.  These two things frame the beginning and the end of the last decade of our nation, and both of them happened under the leadership of the Republican Party, and with little to no meaningful dissent from the Democratic Party.

This history leads the partisan part of me to want to ask anyone who’s even considering voting for Mitt Romney – what the heck are you thinking?  Have you completely forgotten that it was a Republican led White House that took us falsely to war in Iraq?  Have you completely forgotten that it was Republican led de-regulation of the financial industry that led us to this depression/recession/whatever mess?  Aren’t you absolutely horrified by the voter suppression, the racism, the insulting belief they should control women’s bodies, the religious zealotry, the anti-science, anti-education, anti-common-freaking-sense craziness of today’s Republican Party?

But make no mistake, that partisan part of me is just as furiously angry with an Obama administration who has not closed Guantanamo Bay, not ended either war, continued and even extended some of the worst parts of the Patriot Act, who completely caved on the Bush era tax cuts, whose administration has not done more to help homeowners and average working people after bailing out big business and big banks, who has not prosecuted those who were responsible for the collapse, or passed any reasonable legislation to stop it from happening again.

Indeed, I am left feeling that, while I’ll be voting for Obama again this election because the lunatic right just isn’t an option, the entire system is so corrupt that a vote for Obama or even a win for Obama is just a degree in difference, not kind.  When Lessig points out that:

A tiny number of Americans — .26 percent — give more than $200 to a congressional campaign. .05 percent give the maximum amount to any congressional candidate. .01 percent give more than $10,000 in any election cycle. And .000063 percent — 196 Americans — have given more than 80 percent of the individual super-PAC money spent in the presidential elections so far.

These few don’t exercise their power directly. None can simply buy a congressman, or dictate the results they want. But because they are the source of the funds that fuel elections, their influence operates as a filter on which policies are likely to survive. It is as if America ran two elections every cycle, one a money election and one a voting election. To get to the second, you need to win the first. But to win the first, you must keep that tiniest fraction of the one percent happy. Just a couple thousand of them banding together is enough to assure that any reform gets stopped.

Some call this plutocracy. Some call it a corrupted aristocracy. I call it unstable. Just as America learned under the Articles of Confederation, where one state had the power to block the resolve of the rest, a nation in which so few have the power to block change is not a nation that can thrive.

.. what else can a simple working girl like me think but that the whole game is just plain rigged?  When so many pressing issues of our time go unaddressed while we spend billions and billions of dollars and months and months of time on campaigns, not just for president, but for congress and governors and local officials as well, it seems that the entire system is just plain failing us. I feel so frustrated, so distrustful, so dissapointed in what has become of our country since 9/11, that I am paralyzed by it.

Many things have changed since the Twin Towers fell, but eleven years later, I’m still looking up into a September Eleven Blue sky caught in that surreal loop, wondering how all these things could have happened.  Just as I wondered how on earth someone could deliberately fly a plane full of people into a building full of people on a perfectly beautiful sunny day, I wonder what kind of craven souls could deliberately be playing political cat and mouse with each other instead of dealing with the enormous challenges facing our country – or worse, how it has come to be that we the people seemingly have no more power to stop this calamity than we had to stop those towers from falling.

Lessig ends by saying that a nation that can’t resolve sensibly any issue that matters is a nation that will fail.  I’m afraid he’s right.

 


25
Nov 11

Reflections on Black Friday, de Tocqueville Nailed It in 1840

Shoppers wait in line at the Kenwood Towne Center in Cincinnati, OH.  Image courtesy cincinnati.com.

After participating in the midnight Black Friday sales with my mom and cousin despite my general political antipathy towards such raw displays of capitalism run amok, I was reminded of one of my favorite passages from Democracy in America by de Tocqueville, and I had to look it up this morning to see if it was as spot-on as it seemed in my memory.

And it was. See for yourself:

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest—his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind; as for the rest of his fellow-citizens, he is close to them, but he sees them not—he touches them, but he feels them not; he exists but in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country. Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild.

It would be like the authority of a parent, if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks on the contrary to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness: it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances—what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range, and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things: it has predisposed men to endure them, and oftentimes to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned them at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a net-work of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described, might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom; and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people. Our contemporaries are constantly excited by two conflicting passions; they want to be led, and they wish to remain free: as they cannot destroy either one or the other of these contrary propensities, they strive to satisfy them both at once. They devise a sole, tutelary, and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people. They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite; they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings, because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large that holds the end of his chain.

By this system the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master, and then relapse into it again. A great many persons at the present day are quite contented with this sort of compromise between administrative despotism and the sovereignty of the people; and they think they have done enough for the protection of individual freedom when they have surrendered it to the power of the nation at large. This does not satisfy me: the nature of him I am to obey signifies less to me than the fact of extorted obedience.

~  Chapter VI: What Sort Of Despotism Democratic Nations Have To Fear, Democracy in America, Volume 2 by Alexis de Tocqueville,

In this time where the Occupy movement continues to protest our corporate overlords, the Tea Party continues to protest the long arm of government, but the average American is still willing to stand outside in the cold at midnight to save $400 on a wide-screen TV…  I fear that the despotism that de Tocqueville imagined is as entrenched as ever.  A sobering thought even as I am enjoying my newly purchased heavily discounted slippers this morning.


16
Sep 11

What’s Missing from Governance in Second Life

In the past week or so, two of my favorite thinkers about Second Life have written about governance – Gwyneth Llewelyn’s post Humble Governance is typically lengthy but worth reading, and Prokofy Neva responded on How to Improve Governance in Second Life.

This has long been a topic of interest, I was a polisci undergrad after all, and I’ve been trying my own hand at governance with varying degrees of engagement, success, and failure with the Chilbo Community on the mainland.  In fact, I presented about Chilbo’s model at the Governance in Virtual Worlds conference  back in March 2010, and I’ll never forget the upbraiding I received from a fellow panelist who simply could not believe that governance could exist without constant disagreement and strife, or that any system that didn’t include a parliament or direct democracy could be feasible or representative.  I begged to differ then and now.

Governance in Virtual Worlds 2010: Virtual Self Governance – Fleep Tuque

View more presentations from Fleep Tuque

I’ve never claimed that the Chilbo model of participatory consensus was scalable or feasible for all communities in Second Life – I think our system developed to suit our specific community, our specific geography on mainland rather than private sims, and to suit the personalities of our specific members – but I certainly think it has been a viable model that others might learn from as one example of a long lasting, self-governing community.  We’re coming up on our 5th anniversary, which in Second Life terms is a pretty long time!  But I remain a big believer in the old adage “those who show up make the decisions, those who are willing and actually do the work get to decide how its done” and so long as that is tempered by a fair, open, and transparent input process where those who don’t have the time to show up or do the work get to put their two cents in, we’ve found in Chilbo that it mostly works pretty well.

And even though in the past year or so I’ve been much less active myself, and some of the more administratively heavy processes we had in place have been eliminated or downsized to accommodate people’s changing schedules and time availability, the fact that we continue to iterate, flex, and experiment without carving immutable laws into virtual stone is one of the very reasons I think Chilbo has lasted as long as it has.  From my perspective, the biggest issue with our “real life” political institutions right now is their inability to cope with the rapid pace of change in today’s crazily quickly changing world.  Being flexible and nimble is crucial to ensuring that governance is responsive to actual reality and actual problems rather than continuing to run on auto-pilot addressing problems from previous decades or, at this point, a previous century.  I have come to hate the buzzword “agile” because it’s so overused in the IT industry, but governments need to have the capacity for agility when necessary and neither the real world nor most Second Life government systems I’ve seen in practice have demonstrated that capacity.

In any case, there were several points in Prokofy’s post that absolutely resonated with my experience as a Second Life Resident and community organizer.  My favorite quote was the following:

Governance in SL will do better when it’s a verb, not a noun.

I couldn’t agree more!  Further, Prokofy goes on to say:

What is needed isn’t a parliament, a resident body that the Lindens fete somehow, or self-appointed busy-bodies who want to run *your* land. What’s needed is functionality — the ability to minimize grief in groups and get better traction on mainland complaints revolving around neighbours’ and Governor Linden land.

This is something I’ve been saying for years.  Back in August 2008, I wrote an open letter to Jack Linden when they first proposed changes to the Mainland to deal with litter, griefer objects, ad farms, and the all-too-common abandoned first land plots.  In that letter, I wrote:

Linden Lab has for years claimed that they eventually wanted to put more governance in the hands of residents since they do not have the staff or the time to resolve all disputes. So do it. Where organized communities exist, empower long-term residents with established records of good payment, good stewardship, and good relations to manage the sims instead of Linden Lab. Enforce our community-generated standards or allow us to enforce them. Whether through appointment or elections or petitions or through some other means, give community managers the ability to remove offensive ads, griefer objects, and banlines. Put your money where your mouth has been for the last 5 years.

I absolutely agree with Prokofy that the biggest issue is the need for group and land management tools to better allow us to govern our OWN communities.  I don’t need that argumentative fellow from the Confederation of Democratic Simulators to come and inject his contentious brand of politics into our easy going consensus-based community, what we’ve long needed in Chilbo is better mechanisms to enforce our own community standards – better data, better management tools, better and more flexible group permissions and management – those are the things that would genuinely help our community.

Having said that, I’m not sure I agree with Prokofy that there’s no need for larger governance structures.  While I very much like the concept that participation should be tied to some kind of stake in the grid – if not direct land ownership, then some kind of representation on behalf of those who rent or play on group owned land or systems like Chilbo’s – the fact that we are all at the mercy of a privately held company and have done little to effectively organize ourselves in ways that can leverage our power as customers of Linden Lab has been to our detriment.  As Gwyn rightly pointed out, the forums become a cacophany and the JIRA was never intended to be a voting mechanism, and so we’ve been left to individually or in small groups try to fight for the changes we hope to see with the platform, the interface, or the policies that Linden Lab adopts.

Gwyn wrote:

I think that there was always a need for mechanisms to represent residents’ opinions in a systematic and inclusive way, and that the “fear of corruption and drama” has been just a convenient excuse to avoid a democratic forum. The consequence of this way of thinking is that it’s far easier to blame the Lindens for making the wrong decisions instead of organising a grid-wide method of aiding their decision process.

I think that’s pretty spot-on.  And applicable to more than just Linden Lab and Second Life, in fact, since increasingly more and more of our interactions and civic life is conducted online in virtual spaces that are owned by, “governed” by, and controlled by third party private or publicly owned corporations who are not accountable in a democratic sense to their constituents, er customers, er.. whatever label you call us.  For another example, see the Nymwars with Google.

This is a 21st century problem that we must solve, and it will require 21st century solutions and institutions to do it.  Many of us have long said that Second Life is merely a precursor of the things to come, that in many ways it portends the future of our physical world and other online spaces, and I find myself agreeing with Gwyn that it is time we tackle these issues and stop passing the buck.  If we can find workable solutions for dealing with governance in Second Life, perhaps we’ll find structures and systems that will be useful in dealing with other service providers who forget who they’re serving, too.

So.. where do we start?


7
Sep 11

What I Mean When I Say I’m A Progressive

As we start to head into another Presidential election season, I want to write more about political issues, but I’ve always been a little shy of blogging about it because I live in an area that has overwhelmingly different political views than my own.  Since I moved to Green Township (a western suburb of Cincinnati), I’ve voted in nearly every single election and most primaries, but the candidates or issues I voted for have only won maybe a half a dozen times in 8 years because this is such a conservative area.

Feeling unrepresented at both the local and state level (nevermind the national level) gets a little depressing after a while, and realizing just what a minority view I hold in this area of the country has made me hesitant to post about it.  Still, I think we have a civic duty to speak up and be heard, so I’m going to start by just putting some of my core political beliefs out there.

~

I consider myself a progressive.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read an official definition of progressivism, but to me, at its core, to be a progressive means to believe in the ability of people to improve the human condition and our way of life – that we have the intelligence and ability to analyze our situation, discover where problems lie, and fix them.  It is above all a hopeful viewpoint that refuses to give in to despair.

I believe government is not only necessary, but that it can create positive social change in ways that the private sector or other public sector actors simply cannot.  It is popular these days for people to argue that government isn’t necessary at all, for example a leading Republican candidate for president recently argued that the federal government had no business helping victims of hurricanes, but as a progressive, that’s exactly the kind of thing that I think government can and should do.  In the face of widespread natural disasters, I believe government has a duty and an obligation to care for its citizens.

Further, in my view it is the government’s job not just to protect and defend the people and our nation as a whole, but also to protect the average working person from the greed and excesses of the wealthy, the under-privileged from the excesses of the over-privileged, the minority from the tyranny of the majority, and to create the kinds of “public goods” that the private sector will never provide because some of the most important things in life can’t be quantified in dollars and cents and there is no profit motive to provide.  Some things are simply more valuable than money – like clean air, safe towns and cities, safe food and water supplies, and an educated and healthy populace.

I also believe Science is one of humankind’s greatest achievements and our only hope of dealing with some of the most pressing environmental problems of our time like climate change, depleting petroleum-based energy sources, and dwindling supplies of water.  Science also is responsible for our increasing life span, reductions in infant mortality, improvements in cancer survival rates, improvements in nutrition, and a whole host of other improvements to our general health that were often funded by, you guessed it, government.

Government can and should fund fundamental science and research for the benefit of society at large, in my view, and all of that is absolutely dependent upon a population with a solid education.  Without public education, this nation would never have achieved the triumphs of the last century and we won’t achieve triumphs this century if we don’t make our schools and education system a true priority. I simply can’t understand those who would abolish the Department of Education or the National Institutes of Health or NASA, or any of the other government agencies who are tasked with educating our people or researching cures for diseases and future technologies.

Another thing that really frustrates me, especially in our political discourse, is that our public rhetoric doesn’t seem to allow you to be considered a spiritual person unless you are some variant of the big three religions.  I disagree with that entirely.  A person can be spiritual and compassionate and caring about their fellow man without being religious, and despite what the media might say, conservatives don’t own the market on spirituality.  I want the other political parties to recognize my spirituality, government to protect me from having the religious beliefs of others forced on me, and both to allow me the freedom to practice the kinds of charity, volunteerism, and public service that I feel called to do.

I also want government to protect my right to make decisions about my own body. I believe one of the very best things a society can do for women is to provide access to affordable birth control and reproductive health care services so that we have control over our own lives and can choose when and how and the circumstances under which we have children.

And speaking of control of our own bodies, the criminalization of certain categories of drugs has been about as successful as Prohibition was (in other words a total disaster), and though Prohibition was a classic political goal of the Progressive Era, I’d like to think the progressives of then would appreciate how much we learned from Prohibition and would oppose the War on Drugs now.  Just as Prohibition ended up greasing the wheels of organized crime and political corruption then, the War on Drugs serves the same purpose now, and I want our politicians and governments to acknowledge this and treat addiction as the sickness it is instead of imprisoning those who suffer from it.

Finally, as a progressive, I have been utterly and absolutely appalled by our government’s response to the economic crisis our country has been in for the past three years.  From the bailouts of the big banks and large corporations to the focus on cutting spending on social services when they are needed most, it certainly feels like all the election rhetoric about needing to help Main Street and reign in Wall Street was simply fancy talk.  Instead I know more people out of work or fearful of losing their jobs, more people struggling to find work or pay for school, more people struggling to make mortgage and rent and car payments, and all of us struggling with higher gas and food prices.  I think the Obama Administration should be ashamed of itself for the condition of the American worker – it was so hard to swallow Obama’s speech on Labor Day that I had to turn it off.  I believe government absolutely has a role to play in ensuring that every American who wants to work can and that those of us who do shouldn’t be ripped off by the Presidents and CEOs and shareholders at the top of the pyramid.

~

I’m sure I could go on, but these are just a few of the core things that are important to me politically and I keep hoping to see these beliefs represented at ANY level of government, local, state, or national.  But I don’t see much of it and I’m really not sure why.  I think people get so caught up in labels and boxes, so caught up in the election horse race, so invested in a particular political party or cause that they stop even thinking about what their actual core beliefs are.

It’s hard not to get so jaded by how corrupt the whole mess is that you tune out completely, but despite all the cynicism and corruption, the progressive in me wants to remain hopeful.  The progressive in me still believes that we’re smarter than this, we’re better than this, that we CAN do better.

I’m just not sure how.


3
May 11

Experiencing History Through Twitter and Other Thoughts about the Death of bin Ladin

President and national security team receive updates about the bin Ladin mission.
Image source: White House on Flickr.

I’ve been very surprised about America’s reaction to the death of Osama bin Ladin.

If you had asked me two days ago what I thought people would do if Osama bin Ladin were killed tomorrow, I would have guessed that most Americans wouldn’t care much – that after 10 years of wars, which at this point in the US, mostly only military families and some politicians pay close attention to, and with any sense of unity we felt after 9/11 a faint memory in the bitter and nasty political climate of today, I would have guessed that the average Jane on the street would feel a momentary sense of “finally got him” and that would be the end of it.

I would have been very wrong.  I was really shocked by how emotional people felt. I was shocked by the gleeful and joyous feelings people felt. I didn’t feel joy, I felt.. ok, some faint vindication, triumph over evil and all of that, but mostly I felt terribly sad remembering the horror of what happened on that beautiful blue sky day in September and sadder still at all the death and war and destruction that followed it. Osama bin Ladin was certainly a mass murderer and a zealot and a terrorist – and his death means that he can no longer plan or proselytize or execute any more death and destruction, and for that I _am_ glad. But not joyous.

I also wondered today how much my perception was colored by the experience of learning about it and participating in the immediate reaction on Twitter – which was wildly fast paced and .. words truly fail me. At times it was hysterically funny, the first time you read the “long form death certificate” joke it was funny, by the 50th time not so much. At times it was uncomfortable, or at least I felt uncomfortable with the glee that so many seemed to feel.   And at times it was inspiring, to be part of such an amazingly multi-threaded conversation, with comments whizzing by in English, Spanish, Japanese, Arabic, and more, you had a sense that to experience historical events today is somehow different – with Twitter and Facebook and a cell phone in nearly every pocket, it’s not even that news travels fast, but that our reactions to it travel just as quickly.

Image hat tip @mixed_realities, image source @miguelrios (submitted by pleated-jeans).

From speculation to confirmation to reaction in minutes, and your immediate reaction tempered by the hundreds and thousands of others’ reactions erupting simultaneously. The ones cracking jokes, the ones shouting “GO USA!”, I literally saw calls for bin Ladin’s head on a spike on the #tcot hashtag (not surprising), calls to be reflective, reminders that bin Ladin was just one man and al Qaida is more than one man, remembrances of 9/11.. it was crazy! And some of it very discomfiting.

I was heartened to see others in my Twitter stream expressing discomfort with the celebratory tone, even as I felt conflicted about my own feelings. I wrote:

@annehaines I think part of the “celebration” aspect is that these wars have been SO long SO costly SO complex. A simple victory resonates.

@annehaines And US is divided by so many things, when we can feel unified about something, I think it amplifies the emotion.

After reading more about what happened and reading and listening to all of the voices on the net and in my networks, I think that maybe it’s too simplistic to say that Americans were celebrating the death of Osama bin Ladin. Certainly some were, and it really WAS and IS that simple for many, but in some part I think it was an outpouring of pent up emotions that maybe we didn’t even realize we were feeling.

By my view, the world really did change on September 11th, and it has been a long, brutal, depressing decade since. Whatever innocent naivete I still held at the wise old age of 25 began to crumble as those towers fell and the 10 years since have held many bitter lessons still. Wars that seem unending and against people and ideologies that are complex and don’t lend themselves to simple narratives about “defeating our enemies”. A decade of absolute fiscal corruption and robbery that would have made the robber barons blush. A political system that seems barely functional on the good days and completely ill equipped to address any of the real issues facing our nation. Catastrophes like Katrina from mother nature, and catastrophes of our own making, leaving people without homes and jobs and even those of us who still have both ever fearful that they could disappear tomorrow.

There hasn’t been a whole heck of a lot to celebrate since September 11th and I think the reaction to bin Ladin’s death was less about dancing on one man’s grave and more about the resonance of a simple, understandable victory against at least some small part of all of the tremendous uncertainty and evil in this world.

And I guess that’s ok, or at least it makes the emotion I saw and sometimes felt a little more understandable.

I think the important thing will be to see if in death, the symbol that bin Ladin became in our minds and in the media can become a symbolic closing of that sad chapter in our history. The Arab Spring certainly gives hope that radicalism will give way to revolution of the kind America’s forefathers would understand, and I hope against all hope that the end of these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will come soon.

As for the rest of it, this explosion of pent up emotion and the rush to cheer about SOMETHING after so long a drought of things to cheer about.. well, it’s partly our own doing we’re in this glum mess. Though the world is complex and we have an important role to play in it, I think we really need to spend some time cleaning up our own house and maybe then we’d have truly joyous reasons to celebrate.