Lauri Love Banned from Twitter

Lauri Love, the British hacktivist who the United Kingdom has agreed to send to the United States to face charges despite pleas from over 100 MPs that he not be extradited, was permanently banned from Twitter this week. His account was @LauriLoveX.

The reasons are unclear, as no specific charges were fully explained to Love. It is understood that the reasons are related to an “alleged violent threat.” He wrote a few hours ago, “Being an actual Nazi on twitter: fine and dandy. Advocating punching Nazis on twitter: permanently banned for violent threats. This is why we can’t have nice things… (Only told I will never get my account back for obscure probably made-up reasons after starting a dozen support threads.)”
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This Week’s Puzzler

The upcoming week offers a sad anniversary and a happy birthday, both of which will be commemorated in these virtual pages on the appropriate dates, but something has me perplexed today.

Yesterday, I received my copy of the English translation of Raif Badawi‘s book, “1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think,” a few days before official publication. First things first: I urge everyone to buy it, as proceeds from the title are slated to aid his wife, Ensaf Haidar, and his children; I will be writing about the book this week; and in the interest of full disclosure, my columns about Raif Badawi have appeared on the RaifBadawi.org website. Today is the 1172nd day Raif Badawi has spent in prison in his home country of Saudi Arabia. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1000 lashes for writing about liberalism. In the last year, hundreds of people have created a social media movement to attract and maintain attention on his case and Amnesty International reports that public involvement in his story has set records in that organization’s history. In a concert this summer in Canada, Bono spoke of the case from the stage while singing U2’s hit “Pride (In the Name of Love).”

Other than the fact that he should not be in prison for writing, none of the above is perplexing me today. This is:
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No Bullies. No Drama. Only Comedies on TV

The comments territory under any YouTube video is an unlighted playground with shards of glass for sliding boards and a ball-pit full of barbed wire. There is no “thumbs-down” or dislike button available on Facebook, for obvious reasons. Comments are certainly allowed, and often the prevailing rhetorical mode is insult and injury.

Twitter may as well be one big dislike button sometimes. Not in my experience so far, except for two or three times. Each one of these is etched in my co-dependent memory, however.

When I started publishing on WordPress a year an a half ago, I wondered: What will it be like to have my work exposed to a comments section?
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Daily Habits of Uninteresting Me

A writer and editor named Mason Currey started a blog almost a decade ago with the intent of compiling the habits and day-to-day minutiae of famous and successful individuals. The web site was titled Daily Routines and several years later he had compiled so many entries that a book was published, called “Daily Rituals.” It is a fun website and an interesting book, and they are both great to get lost in and waste time reading, which may not have been Currey’s intention.

That was probably a fun meeting, the one in which they decided to change the name from “routines” to “rituals.” Being that I have named approximately zero things that have become successful, I am not going to second-guess the decision. “Rituals” certainly does sound more interesting—and purchasable—than “routines,” because routines are something we are told we must get out of.
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Put a #Hashtag on It

Many writers will claim that they “write for themselves.” This is true enough, but attention, constructive criticism, and a few “attaboys” will make the days creep at a better than petty pace.

In this social media saturated age, in which both of my septuagenarian parents have Facebook accounts and people who state that they do not understand Twitter have a couple thousand followers on that service, drawing attention to one’s work without purchasing advertising time on the radio to scream for 30 continuous seconds seems difficult. For me, a naturally quiet sort, sharing the publication of a new piece naturally feels unnatural, like recording that 30-second Janovian advertisement. Screaming is so unseemly.

But here I am, addicted to my numbers, measuring my metrics each day. It is an inner battle between believing that what I write is worth being written (does having readers or a reader equal “worth”? No, of course not) and wanting people to discover this (un)certain idea for themselves.

In the Peter Cook-Dudley Moore film, “Bedazzled,” poor Stanley Moon (Moore) wants the affection of Margaret (Eleanor Bron). The Devil, George Spigott (Peter Cook), offers him seven wishes to win her. In one, Stanley is a gold-lamé-costumed rock star whose new hit song “Love Me!” drives all the young women, including Margaret, wild. The lyrics, and Moore’s performance, are little more than him yelling “Love Me!” The very next act, Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations, wins them all over to the Devil, George, when he speak-sings his contempt for their affections. (“I’m self-contained. Leave me alone,” goes the new hit, and his dry loathing for them makes the women in the audience desire him all the more.) Stanley gets run over in the crowd rushing to the Devil at the end of his song.

 

I want to be like George Spigott, the Devil, and declare my lack of outer needs like affection (so banal) and love (so, ugh, human), so that all life-forms on planet Earth will run over each other to cover me in kisses, but really, I am like Stanley. The mere thought of wanting to be like the Devil makes me that much more like Stanley, too.

There are tools to get attention in the cacophony of voices making themselves heard in our social-media-saturated world. (I used to teach freshman college English, and any time that I write something like “In the world” or “In our such-and-such world,” I always hear the nonsense phrase that I saw again and again at the beginning of my students’ papers: “In our world of today.”) But if I hit “publicize,” a fine WordPress tool made available to those of us who use it, and my post goes to Facebook, there it sits as a reminder to people who already know about this website right here. My personal friends. If it gets publicized to Twitter, it gets lost in the dozens of posts per second that whiz past any number of readers.

The hashtag tool seems to be one item that helps the world of noise organize itself. And it has helped me direct some attention toward some columns. And it has not helped me at all, also. Like all imperfect things, it is imperfect. And that is perfect, because it is something else to learn about, experiment with, and use.

And what does a hashtag do? When one posts something on the different media platforms, a label with this punctuation mark: #, is what is called hashtagged. It helps the post get clumped together with anything else so labelled, so that people who might be interested in what it is about might find it. The title of this piece, “Put a #Hashtag On It,” will automatically be clumped together with anything else containing “#hashtag” in the title or description. (How many of those might there be today? We will see.) For the last week or so, the hashtagged phrase, “#ICantBreathe” (minus the quotation marks) has been getting a lot of attention, for good and obvious reasons. It is a shorthand way of saying, “Here is a good article about this topic or concern” or “I am showing solidarity with this concern.”

Here is a good article about this: “Now Trending: Hashtags.”

But it is an imperfect tool. Yesterday was Tom Waits’ birthday and I tweeted two tribute tweets. Both had #TomWaits in the statement. One Tweet was shared and re-shared, by people I have never before encountered on Twitter, hundreds of times according to Twitter (the first one below), and the other? Well, it was not.

What was the difference between the two? I have no idea.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 7 asks, “What’s the most important (or interesting, or unexpected) thing about blogging you know today that you didn’t know a month ago?”

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Daily Prompt: Unasked Questions

“AMA” no longer stands for the “American Medical Association” or “Ameliorating My Attitude.” (Never heard of that one? Neither have I. It doesn’t exist.) In our Twitterverse and Redditworld, AMA is now the acronym for “Ask Me Anything.”

And we can. Even Pope Francis (yes, THAT pope) has a Twitter account, @Pontifex, as does the Dalai Lama, other religious figures, and every politician. Or at least their offices have Twitter accounts. Here is a recent papal Tweet:

The sentiment may be true enough, but what stands out is that the pope gets a lot more retweets than I do. This is irking, as I have been on Twitter (@MarkSAldrich) for far longer.

For the last few years, public figures from the president to famous actors have scheduled AMA sessions on Reddit, on Facebook, and on Twitter, the start of which is usually announced with a photo of the famous person holding a handwritten sign stating “Ask Me Anything” and the day’s date. The “holding a sign” part often makes the famous person look a bit like a hostage. Like poor Bill Gates (well, those three words do not often appear in that particular sequence!) here:

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In the old days of any time before now, if one wanted to ask a famous person a question, one had two available methods: A. Study and work very hard and become famous oneself and learn to befriend other famous people, one of whom is the person you always wanted to ask something, anything. Sidle up to that famous person and say something like, “You know, I have always wanted to ask you something. In fact, I worked and studied very hard to become famous myself and I became famous and I became friends with you just so I could ask you something. And now I do not remember what it was. What an amazing short story this would make! More caviar?” B. Write them a letter, purchase a stamp, place the letter in an envelope and the stamp outside the envelope, mail it and hope to receive a reply.

Somewhere, my mother has a scrapbook filled with autographed photos of Hollywood celebrities of the 1950s; in some rare cases the movie star hand-wrote a note of thanks. I do not believe she “asked them anything” personal, so she did not receive any news making replies. (Luckily, she did not have this mailman working in her neighborhood: “Brooklyn Postal Worker Arrested for Not Delivering a Decade’s Worth of Mail.“)

Part of the appeal to the contemporary social media “ask me anything” sessions, and to the fact that many famous actors and writers and some famous politicians personally work on their Twitter/Facebook accounts and reply to us everyday sorts, is to be impertinent to them. Call it the “BaBaBooey Effect.” This is the opposite to the “Access Is Everything” attitude which we sometimes see in the press, the “‘Meet the Press’ Effect,” in which reporters whose employment depends on continued access to important people do not ask difficult, impertinent, questions, questions that might make the important person cut off future access. People who are not reporters might shout a verbal graffito (“Bababooey”) and make some noise, become a part of the story. They are easily ignored, but so are the Sunday morning talk shows, on which news is rarely found or broken.

Instead, news is more often broken when a reporter who knows that he or she will lose access to a famous news maker if they in fact ask them anything, goes ahead and asks that one question. Or when, as with shows like “60 Minutes,” the show reports on some shady business whose practices are worth exposing by sending a national reporter who will not face backballing in his or her own neighborhood because he or she exposed a neighbor’s shady business practices, like a local reporter would.

Early in my brief local newspaper reporting career, I actually heard this from the sidewalk below my second-floor apartment: “We can’t talk here. I see the light on in that hack’s room.” That felt like a huge compliment coming as it did from someone I was publicly writing about. “I’m a hack! I’ve made it.” Then I thought, “How does he know where I live?”

It was a criminal matter I was writing about, after all. But given one question to ask one person, I might go back in time to that night and yell out my window, “How do you know where I live?”

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 26 tells us, “You’ve been given the opportunity to send one message to one person you wouldn’t normally have access to (for example: the President. Kim Kardashian. A coffee grower in Ethiopia). Who’s the person you choose, and what’s the message?”

Daily Prompt: Ice Water in My Veins

Each one of us is a part of an interest group. This does not mean each of us must carry out the duties of being an official representative of said interest group, but, for example, I might be the only Jewish person you know. As such, I try to be a good guy and hope that this represents.

(I have been that one before, actually—when I lived in the Midwest—and had some fun with it. Not that there are not Jewish people in Iowa, but one couple that I got to know had not met one or claimed to have not. Which makes me a member of another special interest group: I may be the only Jewish person you know who was the first Jewish person someone met!)

I am male, middle aged, half-Jewish, half-Baptist, an alcoholic in recovery, tall, thin, and I have a disease that is disabling me. It might be Friedreich’s ataxia or it might be and probably is spinal muscular atrophy, type 4. Do any of these things merit me tapping on your shoulder and requesting attention from your charitable impulses? Or your attention at all?

The WordPress Daily Prompt for August 20 asks, “The internet has recently been swept up by the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Is there a cause—social, political, cultural, or other—you passionately believe in? Tell us how you got involved—or why you don’t get involved.” The Daily Post helpfully provided a link to the ALS web page, but I also linked to an article explaining the “ice bucket challenge.”

antiALS

I have seen this meme almost as frequently as I have seen videos of people dumping water on their heads. It is an old photo and is often repurposed to make fun of Americans.

This will be remembered as the summer of the “ice bucket challenge,” and after a few weeks of popularity, the backlash has begun. The plethora of videos of people, famous and not, giving a 15-second speech about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known in the US as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” and then dumping a bucket of ice cubes and water on themselves “for charity” has led to memes attacking the popularity of the challenge, accusations of “slacktivism,” and some generalized online booing. When we look back at the ice bucket charity awareness campaign, in our heads we will hear someone say, “2014” and “I wonder whatever happened with that? Did they cure … what was it about again?”

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a rare disease. There are almost 7000 rare diseases, so approximately 30 million Americans, or 1 in 10, suffer from, cope with, accept, or fight against (sometimes all of these in a matter of an hour) a rare disease. A rare disease, as a concept, is not such a rare thing. If you know 10 people, you know a person with one. Multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s are also common rare diseases, a phrase I wish did not exist. And then there are the many, many forms of cancer, a disease that one can not wish—or work—hard enough to make it become rare.

It is not precisely known who started the ice bucket challenge or when, only that it started very recently, in 2014, and it was not about one particular health issue awareness charity. An early version, in New Zealand, was about cancer. (Because it is winter in New Zealand right now, the web site has a warning about doing the challenge outdoors.) A couple people in the United States adapted it to raise funds for ALS research and awareness. It took off from there.

Most of us are not medical researchers but most of us have known or do know someone with a illness or condition. Whether it is cancer, heart disease, or a rare disease, chronic or life-altering illness touches many of us and thus many of us know the powerless feeling that comes upon hearing such a diagnosis. We want to do something about it but we are not doctors. It is frustrating. I have seen the look in my mother’s eyes when talking about my disability. She hates the idea that I have something that she can do nothing about, like cook some chicken soup.

So we raise money for the charities that have been established to support the researchers who might possibly find the cure for the disease that affects your family member or friend. Almost every disease has a support community and researchers devoting time to study—at minimum—palliative care, or to even find cures. And that is where any controversy lies: How do I know that the dollar I donated is going towards a cure instead of merely buying lunch for the people who answer the phones and take the donations? The answer is, you don’t. As long as a charity makes its expenses public, I know that some of my donation may be buying lunch. I hope they are eating healthy. But I also know that some of my donation may be paying for the science-y stuff like test tubes, beakers, and a cure.

As with anything that has become popular suddenly, like a dance craze or a catch phrase, sometimes some part gets overlooked. Is everyone who is posting a video of themselves getting wet and icy explaining how to donate to the charity? Is every video participant in fact donating to the charity that they are raising awareness for? Some are not. Some have misinterpreted the whole thing as, “Get wet to not donate and challenge others to get wet, too.” That is “slacktivism,” but even slacktivism serves a public awareness purpose. There is no such thing as the social media police, even if I wish there was, so some people are simply showing off that they do not know what they are doing. The internet is good for that. The dollar that they do not spend on the charity they are not raising funds for is not a dollar that is making people sicker. They are merely getting wet.

ALS is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spine. These cells deteriorate and die and stop sending messages to muscles anywhere and eventually everywhere in the body. The muscles atrophy and paralysis follows. It can strike at any age, and it can kill quickly.

Here is where my personal special interest group membership comes into play: The motor neurons in my spinal cord are deteriorating and dying and messages are no longer being sent or received in the muscles in my legs, which are slowly atrophying. I have a form of spinal muscle atrophy called “adult onset” or Type 4, and there are many links between SMA and ALS. They are siblings in the motor neuron disease family.

sma awarenessThe majority of SMA patients are infants and children, so the majority of SMA patients are voiceless. (Here is a great blog written by a passionate activist with SMA: “Living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy.”) SMA is the number one genetic killer of infants. Few of us are adults. Those of us who are adults owe it to the children born with this disease to help find a cure. Any progress made in finding a cure for SMA will most likely be applicable to also finding a cure for ALS, and vice versa. They are that close in their origin and symptoms.

So if and when someone on Facebook or Twitter challenges you to dump a bucket of ice water on your head for charity, and believe me, they will, take up the challenge, mention ALS and SMA in the same breath, include the websites you want to benefit (ALS and SMA), and dump the water. And then donate to one or to both. Don’t be a slacktivist. Chris Mosher, below, used the challenge to bring attention to both diseases: