Once again we’ve all been
exhorted to blog.
I heeded the call this time partly because it’s been at least a year
since I got to make a little lo-fi site like this. In deciding where
to blog, the obvious choice for me was my old webshare on
tilde.club, an experiment in nostalgic computing
by Paul Ford (who
heeded the call during the
If I wanted to just make a website, though, I’d just make a website,
but I also haven’t been writing much recently, and that’s a shame.
Unfortunately, when you try to “get back into blogging” (I’ve had a
number of blogs, but they were usually ~thematic~ and ended when I
ran out of ideas or
changed careers), you’re naturally out of
practice so instead of something quietly interesting you inevitably go
big and write something long and self-indulgent which would be a
thinkpiece if published somewhere reputable.
I’m going to articulate a revisionist definition of “blog”.
that there are at least three different ways one can go about defining
a word. The first way is descriptive – going out and looking at how
people actually use a word and recording those uses. This is why
“literally” has two contrary meanings according to Merriam-Webster.
The second way is conceptual – trying to tease out the central
concept blog from the word “blog”. Probably this is what Paul Ford
was doing when he characterized blogging as
“amateur prose written quickly and with neither guiding stricture nor sober editing”.
The third way is what Haslanger calls analytical and I call
revisionist: here we take a somewhat vague word from common language
and sharpen it for a purpose. Haslanger proposes a revisionist
definition of “woman” wherein to be a woman is by definition to be
oppressed, because her purpose is to abolish gender.
My purpose is to encourage resistance to centralized,
corporate-controlled social networks. (lol)
Anil Dash has a
(published, ironically, on Medium) about the infrastructure that’s
been lost in the move towards centralized networks. He touches on one
problem with corporate centralization, namely “the mass surveillance
of user behaviors by both the giant companies as well as governmental
agencies”. Beyond surveillance there is also the loss of control over
one’s content: tweets, posts, and
can be deleted at the discretion of the owner, which is not actually
Of course Paul Ford could delete this blog if he wanted to, but I’m
pretty sure he won’t. If I wanted more control over my content,
though, I could install WordPress on a VM somewhere (like AWS) and
Of course Amazon could theoretically meddle with or delete my virtual
server on AWS, or close my account for whatever reason. Digital Ocean
and Linode are probably more trustworthy than Amazon, but that’s still
ceding some control over my content to a private company. So I should
probably set up a server in my closet and run the blog from there,
No, because that’s silly. And even then my domain could get shut
down, or my ISP could block traffic to the blog, or who knows what
The point here is that absolute control over one’s content isn’t
really possible; at some point you have to trust a third party.
(There’s a second point to be made: each step taken here to ensure
greater control over your content requires more technical skill. It’s
not fair or reasonable that anyone who just wants to blog freely
should administer their own servers. Even attempts to streamline the
process of, for example,
setting up a secure WordPress blog,
require familiarity with a UNIX-like command-line, SSH, the difference
between Linux distributions, and so on. So it’s hardly surprising
that most users prefer the proprietary, centralized networks that are
easy and sometimes even pleasant to use. Tragically, it remains
surprising to certain leaders in the Free Software movement, who view
“convenience” as an unnecessary luxury rather than a prerequisite for
So, taking the vague term “blog” with its history of decentralization,
and with the above considerations, our revisionary definition of “blog”
- A source of digital content which is and can reasonably be expected
to remain under control of its author(s).
What does this rule out? Any accounts on
Etc. On the contrary, while Amazon, Digital Ocean, et al. could
take control of your stuff, they probably won’t.
So we should blog more! And by “blog” I mean publish content to a
Blog as defined above, and by “should” I mean “SHOULD” as defined
in RFC 2119 and by “content” I
An interesting – and seemingly unwelcome – consequence of this
definition is that it’s not a blog if it includes hate speech on a
platform where hate speech is banned. Platforms should ban hate
speech, so why is our revisionist definition of “blog” incompatible
with such a ban?
The short answer is that just because I’m setting forth a definition
of “blog” with a political aim in mind, that doesn’t mean that
everything that’s a blog is good and everything not a blog is bad.
In fact, most blogs are bad.
I don’t really know why all of a sudden I’m so cut up about
not being real.
(Yes, in this context a spambot algorithm is real while a person
isn’t.) When I first read Dan Sinker’s
“Eulogy for a horse”
I thought it was a bit over-dramatic, but then I started talking about
the whole affair with other people and their grief seeped into me or
something and now I’m actually pretty upset about a spambot account on
Twitter turning out to be something other than a spambot.
Of course there are plenty of people who don’t care; either they claim
to have known it wasn’t real since 2011 (granted,
the evidence was there) or just don’t think it’s a big deal.
It’s not a big deal, really. A great twitter account turned out to be
fake, and our faith in others
shook a little.
But it’s still a shame.
What’s wrong with finding two men in a horse suit
I went back to
Dan Sinker’s piece and this struck me as important (as important as
any piece of commentary on something that’s not a big deal can be):
Why is it that everything wonderful ends up turning to shit and why
can’t unicorns be real and fuck absolutely everything I hate it all.
OK, maybe that last one wasn’t a question.
But still. If this is art, art is about context. And I don’t know
that I have enough context to know entirely how to feel.
Because I feel shitty.
And I feel confused about feeling shitty.
Buzzfeed being attached to this—even tangentially—I think plays
deeply into that feeling, because that site is first-and-foremost
about manipulating the science of clicks and likes, and if this is
all @Horse was, then god help us all. But also “Performance art”
feels like a cop-out, and the actual performance today—based on
descriptions—reinforces that. You can’t just put a placard on a
wall and call it art. I mean, I went to art school and so I know
that you can, but you’d better back that up with the mother of all
context. I don’t have that context yet, so I guess I’m skeptical,
and I don’t want to be.
@jitka’s right that the publicity from this will benefit
BuzzFeed, a company that’s
increasingly throwing in its lot with the radical
right, what I’m sad about right now is that the New Yorker’s
announcement this morning took away the context that made
@Horse_ebooks special. Most of @Horse_ebooks’
most popular tweets are still funny, but the composition
wasn’t any better than a lot of funny Twitter accounts, and a lot
worse than some. What made @Horse_ebooks tweets so wonderful was the
belief that a crummy algorithm designed to churn out text in order
to evade Twitter’s spam filters could create such pretty nonsense.
And we lost that belief.
Which is why, even though @Horse_ebooks
"got funnier" in September of 2011,
earlier tweets from when it was still a real spambot
suddenly seem preferable, actually better, because they’re real.
I had a little spat with Noozhawk publisher
over a piece I wrote for Santa Barbara Bullshit,
poking fun at local columnist Paul Burri.
Macfadyen said I was just making “personal
attacks” and told me to come back when I was willing to “write about
Fine. Let’s be serious for a few minutes.
Background: there are some terrible people in Santa Barbara
The issue I brought up with Macfadyen on Twitter was Paul Burri’s
that Santa Barbara require homeless individuals to perform manual
labor before forcing them to leave the city:
First, confiscate their beloved shopping carts and return them to
their rightful owners—the supermarkets. Then assign them to
roadkill or freeway cleanup, beach patrol of dog litter or hazardous
waste sorting. Feed them lunches of baloney sandwiches on stale
white bread, like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona
does, accompanied with nutritious broccoli, celery and spinach
When their time is served, provide them with mandatory one-way
transportation to Oxnard.
The fact that Burri apparently idolizes one of the
most openly racist public figures in the United States should be enough to show that he’s not someone worth listening
to, but his own pathetic, hateful, and unconstitutional proposal
clearly has no place in civilized discourse concerning the welfare of
the homeless population of our city.
Unfortunately, Bill Macfadyen thinks otherwise. Paul Burri has
his own column on Noozhawk.
Considering the state of news media in Santa Barbara, however, this is
less surprising than it should be. Most opinion pieces track the
mindset of the privileged, and are correspondingly racist, sexist, and
classist. The racism is less open than it used to be, taking now the
form of support for gang injunctions and
targeted at the most invisible members of society. The sexism is mostly
class-based hatred directed at the homeless remains not only condoned but encouraged.
It often seems that the sole purpose of the Santa Barbara View in
particular, taglined with the NIMBY-ism
“Keep Santa Barbara Santa Barbara”,
is to stoke anger at the marginalized and powerless among us. They
devote a rather alarming amount of space to
discussion of “solutions” to the homeless “problem” and, after a recent
incident at the local skate
park, ran a poll titled
“Is it time to close Skater’s Point in Santa Barbara?”. As of the
evening of 10 July, almost two-thirds of respondents expressed their
desire that the city bulldoze
$830,000 dollars of construction
because of some water balloons.
Bill Macfadyen did not look upon these privileged tears with the
contempt they deserve. Instead he sided with the bulldozer crowd,
suggesting that the city
“just dump sand in the damn thing.”
So there’s a fair amount of convergence between Noozhawk and the
Santa Barbara View (and Edhat commenters) when it comes to
vilifying the oppressed. But while the View is more openly hostile
to the young and homeless, they’ve never given a platform for someone
to suggest that a local government not only arrest and detain people
without charges, but compel them to perform manual labor before
forcibly removing them from their place of current residence.
So I called Macfadyen out on Twitter.
But so what? People have a right to their opinions, don’t they?
(I made a typo in that tweet: Paul Burri’s Twitter name is
Silly me! I had no idea!
Now, whatever Macfadyen says about
free speech and whatever it says in
Noozhawk’s disclaimer that opinions expressed are not
necessarily shared by the organization, there are surely things that
the website would not publish. I would be very surprised if, for
a piece comparing supporters of Trayvon Martin to the KKK, which appeared in Taki’s Magazine, would be
accepted by the Noozhawk editors. It would not be allowed because,
even if the publisher and editors of Noozhawk explicitly stated that
they disagreed with a piece in the strongest terms, their printing it
would send the message that it’s a valid opinion to have. It would
legitimize the idea that black people are the real racists, even if
there is no actual endorsement. The Noozhawk editors, I think,
understand this. (The editors of Taki’s probably do too, but
they’re even more racist than Joe Arpaio.)
The fact that there almost certainly are limits to what Noozhawk
will publish is why I was so troubled by Paul Burri’s column. Its
being posted signals that Noozhawk thinks that the rightness of
rounding up undesirable citizens into work gangs is something that
reasonable people can disagree about.
It’s not. It’s not a position that should be rationally discussed
anywhere. The only appropriate attitude to take toward Paul Burri’s
Noozhawk column is scorn. And that’s why I won’t be accepting
offer to write a rebuttal. Some things aren’t up for
But we can still laugh at them
“Oh! shocking!” cried Miss Bingley. “I never heard any thing so
abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?”
*“Nothing so easy, if you have but the inclination,” said Elizabeth.
“We can all plague and punish one another. Teaze him—laugh at
him.—Intimate as you are, you must know how it is to be done.”*
Mr. Darcy might not leave himself open for ridicule, but Mr. Burri
does, and I have tried, successfully or not,
to take advantage of that. What Macfadyen calls
“personal attacks” are attempts by me to represent Paul Burri for what
he is—an ignorant old man who looks up to other ignorant old men and
who should not be listened to. No matter how much of his views
concerning the homeless is the result of thoughtlessness as opposed to
actual malice, they are dangerous when treated as legitimate by
supposedly respectable news outlets. They normalize the idea that
homeless individuals are parasites who do not deserve the same rights
that others enjoy.
Paul Burri should not be listened to, and his opinions should not
be respected. By giving him a platform, Noozhawk is actively
undermining support for the welfare of other people and contributing
to the narrative that those who find themselves without a home aren’t
quite as valuable as the rest of us.
So instead of talking with them, I’m laughing at Paul Burri and other
members of our community who aren’t willing to acknowledge the
homeless as equals. By making them look ridiculous, their potentially
deadly opinions might carry less weight with those who read what I
write at SBBS. And maybe,
eventually, we’ll stop caring about what they think altogether.