Categories
Misc

Every city should have a public market like Rochester’s

There’s only one place in Rochester where people of all social classes mix. 

I went today with my folks. Ran into two friends I didn’t even know where in Rochester. Wine and olive tasting.

I also noticed, for the first time, this “Edible Wall”, set up by Rochester Teen Court. The premise is great: use gardening as a tool of rehabilitation. The actual product – well, there’s a whole lot of brown and not too much green there.

The public market is definitely a thing worth doing in Rochester.

Categories
Misc

Field Observation 1: Boulder Coffee

In my quest to meet people in Rochester, I’ve been to two different Boulder Coffee locations. One on Park Ave, the other near the Exchange/Ford street bridge.

Boulder has some claim to indie cred. The music is eclectic, and while not indie in genre (A death metal single caused a bit of a stir), it’s clearly not Top-40 drek.

The clientele seems a split of serious “I work here this is my office” type folks (of which I was one), and late-teens to mid-twenties students.

Surprisingly, they had single source Kenyan coffee for only $1.60. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it came from a pre-made tap, and wasn’t french-pressed on the spot, as I was accustomed to during my stay in Missouri.

Furniture was a good mix of faux-antique plush and “let’s get this done” chairs, desks, and stools.

The biggest disappointment, however, was how people in both locations tended to stay isolated and impersonal. They’re not rude, there’s just a large enough space that no one really interacts with each other.

I would go there again, but I’m still on the lookout for a great place that lets me get work done AND meet cool and interesting people.

Categories
Misc

Some things have changed around here

For example, back in 2007, you wouldn’t see a candidate for the Mayoral nomination mix it up with a local reporter on twitter.

That reporter, by the way, has a massive twitter following and her own popular blog.

I remember when the massive blog on the street was a quite different animal.

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Misc

At my little sister’s graduation. Yay shelly!

Categories
Misc

My favorite place in the entire world

Is in the boughs of this tree

Categories
Personal

Sunny days sweeping the clouds away: finding the real America

This day was my first physically working at the Wikimedia world headquarters. Getting here was quite an adventure.

Like all great journeys, the first step was getting out of bed. Like most days, it was pretty hard. Luckily, I had my friend Mary to drag me off to breakfast. That place, Gailey’s, could serve as a symbol of one of the charms of small-city Missouri living. It’s a former drugstore, and on weekends it spills over into Ophelias, the one wine bar downtown. You get a side of toast with pretty much anything, and if you can’t choose between your roughly seven options, the waitress is happy to surprise you.

There are two coffeeshops, one pizza place, a cupcakery, and maybe two dozen bars and restaurants downtown. Oh, and one surprisingly slick library. You can find all within five minutes walk of the intersection of the two main streets downtown. This intersection doesn’t even have a traffic light. Downtown Springfield is not that kind of place.

(Oddly enough, suburban Springfield is. There are tons of Walmarts, chain stores, strip joints, etc. They all just live in big box buildings on busy streets surrounding the sleepy and walkable downtown. Strange.)

When I entered the airport to leave Springfield, I went straight to check in my baggage and get a boarding pass. The airport is small, but laid out so that the baggage claim and checkin are all in one big room. It’s nice, but also means that finding the right place to go is somewhat confusing. I finally get in line, and who do I see right next but Elizabeth and Esther Exley?

Ever since I learned that “boss” comes from Dutch for “master”, I’ve been trying to avoid using the word. No man is my master. So let’s just say Zack Exley is the guy who brought me into Wikimedia, and who gives me strong suggestions about what I might do that would be helpful. His family is great.

I spent a wonderful day hanging out with Elizabeth and Esther (wife and child) in airplanes headed west. There’s something wonderful about the way a child interacts with the world. A raised platform is actually a stage to act out Little Red Riding Hood. Composing songs is easy singing “Hugs and Kisses \ <kiss kiss kiss> \ I love you” to your mother. An ocean-themed carpet means you can mime swimming instead of just plain walking.

San Francisco is different from what I thought it would be. Less Harvey Milk, more 1%. At least, the area in which my hotel is located. Still, it’s wonderful for exploring. Friday night dinner in (this country’s first!) Chinatown with “auntie Minnie and uncle Goldwyn” featured chicken leg soup and peking duck.

Saturday, I met up with my birthday-friend Ilana. July 26th for the win. Instead of breakfast, we bought carrots and strawberries and delicious breads. Instead of paying for cheese, we bartered some surplus strawberries (we had so many!) for a generous handful of samples from a charming young man. Lunch was a bus ride down to Japantown (yes, that’s a place) and a sushi bar where the plates floated on tiny boats.

Sunday meant a new friend and a journey to the Mission (where apparently all the hipsters live) for the best burrito. It meant eating and sharing even more strawberries. Nighttime was a Ponce-de-lean roam from Chinatown to Wells Fargo in search of an open restaurant. It ended with a turkish immigrant serving me babba ghanoush and lamb kebab at a restaurant owned by his Iranian immigration attorney.

Big cities, eh?

In many ways, the two cities San Fran and Springfield, SF and SF, couldn’t be more different. One is the international headquarters of a huge pentacoastal Christian movement. The other is the national symbol of lgbt everything. Downtown Springfield could fit into just one nook of this canyon of concrete and steel. Yet, they feel similar to my heart. Maybe it’s how both showcase a strong focus on community, albeit in different ways.

In San Francisco, community means bartering strawberries for snacks at the farmers market, and running into a former college professor just strolling through. In Springfield, community means the chef of my favorite restaurant will make me a special meal every time I walk in, and fellow patrons will ask me for advice on raising their children.

In San Francisco, I have walked down a side street and stumbled upon farmers markets, outdoor exhibits, and street festivals. In Springfield, I’ve walked down a street and stumbled upon a man letting you look through his telescope and see the moon. I’ve seen artists painting sidewalks, and yes, desperate men with sandwich boards trying to cajole me from sin.

That flight, loading my tablet with child-friendly games to amuse a precocious 3-years-and-11-months old child (she insists she’s not four yet), I had a thought. “Here I am, barreling through the air at hundreds of miles per hour, and even so it will take me hours to cover even a large fraction of the width of this country. How could it possibly all be the same thing, the same nation?”

And yet. I’ve whistled the theme to Sesame Street while strolling through both. And meant it.

“Come and play
Everything’s A-OK
Friendly neighbors there
That’s where we meet”

Categories
Misc

Scene from Missouri.

Categories
Misc

Right-Wing Human-Rights group in Israel

Right-Wing Human-Rights group in Israel

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Misc

By our powers combined

In January, our intrepid hero went on a quest to find wisdom. He travelled to NYC, DC, and back. In his travels, he was aided by many strong women and men, each a hero in their own right.

  • Yale Spector, the air mage, floated down from the glittering crystalline heights of the towers of code he was constructing to offer counsel about big plans.
  • Earth witch Kanglei Wang gave him a locket of the key to happiness:staying rooted and aware of the now and the new.
  • Ned Resnikoff, the wizard of water and lore, offered him hearth and home and revealed the truth: some of that (belief) which was solid, was slowly reverting back to the mists. 
  • The fiery Mikey Franklin engulfed our hero in the passion of true friendship and true hospitality. Our hero Ash Ketchum  was filled with renewed vigor: it was time to be a Pokemon Master re-engaged in the grand struggle to better people’s lives.

Yet, these powerful sorcerers could only help our hero cut and refine the gems of wisdom he found in DC, the heart of empire. Only one person could properly prepare our hero for that challenge: Elly Kalfus, wielder of the power of Heart. 

The wisdom he found in DC, inside the very heart of the empire, is a story for another day. 

Categories
Personal

Local man relocates to new locales

Springfield, MO — Sahar Massachi is undergoing a change of identity and home base. Having left the startup he co-founded, he moved to Rochester, NY to figure out his next steps. That process led to him joining the Wikimedia foundation and moving temporarily to Springfield, MO. The effect these changes have had on his psyche are yet undetermined and still ongoing.

Springfield residents are mostly as-of-yet unconcerned and befuddled by this newcomer to their midst. “Sahara? Zoharee?” a bemused, bespectacled, bearded man was overheard muttering in a local cafe, only to have Massachi patiently repeat his refrain: “It’s like Sarah, except you switch the ‘R’ and the ‘H'”. So far he’s been seen huddled with Christian pastors, entrepreneurs, and indigenous hipsters. We’ve even spotted him with that rare species: “Missouri Jew“. What is he planning? No one seems to know.

Massachi is here, so he says, to learn and work with area enigma Zack Exley. When we asked him what that work entailed, we were treated to some undecipherable verbiage about “graphs” and “big data” and “millions of dollars”. Further enquiries resulted in the stubborn refrain of “more soon. Gotta figure out this Dutch problem first”. Clearly, he’s up to something.

Pressed about his feelings about the town that is his new temporary home, Massachi said the following:

Well, I’ve been here a bit more than two weeks. So I don’t know. People here say that Springfield is like a small town that happens to have a lot of people in it. Which I sort of see. And that’s really cool! I miss living on a campus and downtown is sort of that feeling. Except so far I don’t know most people I pass on the sidewalk. Maybe soon, though.

The people here are really interesting. I’ve met Christian Anarchists, Evangelicals, and just plain people who loooove Jesus. Trying to get to know them and see what their life is like. I’ve also met a bunch of people who don’t identify as Christian, but have had to live in this bible-belty culture. And their reaction to it is interesting too. I’m trying this new thing where I just ask everyone I meet questions. It’s cool. And random people I meet end up knowing each other, which could be cool or scary. I’m not sure yet. And I really enjoy the fact that there’s a place in town where you can play 80’s arcade games all night for a flat $5. Not because I go there often – I’m just glad something that quirky can exist. Oh man, I’m rambling, aren’t I?

This is all off the record, right?

In fact, it wasn’t.

More on this story as it develops.

Categories
Misc

The curious consensus of Jews on Abortion

The curious consensus of Jews on Abortion

Categories
Misc

The Aaron I knew

I didn’t know Aaron too well in person – I don’t want to pretend we were best buddies or anything. Still, he knew my name enough to connect it to my face, and we moved in more than one of the same circles. I looked up to him.

I’ve known about Aaron for a long time. How could I not? I was there when he rewrote Reddit, over six years ago. I was a fan of Lawrence Lessig – Lessig was a fan (and mentor) of Aaron.

We first actually met through the PCCC – a new grassroots organizing outfit he co-founded with two others. I heard about the PCCC through my blogging life, but I decided I wanted to join up because Aaron was a co-founder. I was on the team when there were just 5 of us. I finally met Aaron at a retreat the PCCC held at the end of May. He didn’t say much at first (the night before when we were just hanging out). I mostly talked to his friend, Quinn Norton. She was full of interesting tales (the history of coffee! Breaking into buildings in San Francisco!) and just a really cool gal.

So exciting! I hung out with him, my friend Yale (who is a tech person similarly awed by Aaron), and Aaron’s brother Ben Swartz, who also went to Brandeis.

From time to time I would run into him at conferences. We’d exchange a few words. I asked him to be on the advisory board of my startup – he said first I had to “show him something impressive”. I never got the chance to do that.

But I think I knew Aaron best through his writing. It’s how so many of us can feel a close connection to him. His blogging wasn’t self-indulgent and vain. It was red-hot but cooly-considered thought. It was brilliant tempered with empathy and wisdom.

I bet I’ll refer to his writing for years to come.

Aaron was pretty much who I aspired to be. Tech-savvy but not bound by that culture. Progressive but not captured by the professional left. A fellow-traveler to many. A generous spirit. Always trying to figure out exactly how the world worked, then sharing what he found.

I’ll miss him so much.

Categories
Misc

Aaron

Dear Diary,

Aaron Swartz is dead but the world continues in its banality. Instagram photos on my feed. People pimping their articles. Don’t they know that Aaron is dead?

What the hell.

Aaron and I (and others) once hung out at Brandeis. We were watching the news reports of a petition delivery he did in Boston in support of something to do with appointing a Senator after Ted Kennedy died. Four or five of us, in a cramped dorm room at the Brandeis castle.

Aaron was also one of my bosses at the PCCC, though I only got to see him a few times in that capacity. He was obviously, well, everyone uses the world brilliant because it’s true. We’d have a discussion that was going in all different directions, and time and time again Aaron would ask a simple, insightful question that got right to the heart of the matter. It was a joy to work with him.

Aaron had reason to visit Brandeis – his brother Ben studied there as well. I’ll never forget that he was at my commencement for my MA (he was at commencement for Ben’s Bachelors’). About ten people ahead of me alphabetically didn’t up for their degrees, so I ended up hamming to the crowd and making several false starts on stage, etc. He sent me a tweet: “Very colorful. Congratulations.”

The rest I know about Aaron, I know from his public life. His wonderful blog posts. His instapaper shares. The projects he was working on. All that gave you a wonderful, oddly intimate look at the “public” Aaron. The Aaron I briefly met in person – he lived up to his legend. So sad he’s gone.

Categories
Left

One Reason Occupy Mattered

Occupy Wall Street forced everyone in the professional left to take a moment and think: “Where do I belong?”

For me, the answer went something like this:

“For a long time, I thought that issue policy / electoral politics / advocacy was the key to making progressive change. But the 2008 election didn’t stop domestic spying, it didn’t make a dent in poverty, and it only enhanced the power of the power elite.  (I guess we’re calling them the 1% now. That’s cool.) Obama said he’d make Net Neutrality happen, then he put incompetents or fools in charge of the FCC. This isn’t working. The 2010 election wiped out 4 years of my emotional, physical, and financial investment in all sorts of candidates.

For a long time I’ve known that of course radicals are right about how awful the world situation is. Ever since I learned that the FBI murdered Fred Hampton (without a warrant! As if a warrant would make that okay). But I thought that their tactics for making change were silly and doomed to failure. But the professional left could simply not have created Occupy Wall Street. Maybe radicals have had some smart things to say about strategy and tactics after all.

I belong in the streets! Shit is fucked up and bullshit. Reforms are nice. Reforms make real improvements in people’s lives. Small reforms aren’t the final goal. The police really are brutal. The state really does break the law to suppress dissent. The game really is rigged, and the French Revolution meant something, goddamn it. I can use the tactics of center-left incrementalism because they work. But let’s not confuse tactics for strategy, or goals. The goal is always human freedom.”

Or something like that. Does that make sense?

Categories
Left

The Progressive Blogosphere is dead. This was inevitable.

When it comes to politics, I grew up in the progressive blogosphere. (See high school, college (mirror)).

That’s my background, and a large part of my identification. But the blogosphere is dead. Sure, some of the same outlets are around. They’ve even got paid staff and everything. Many bloggers are still blogging. And don’t get me wrong, I read a couple of them even more frequently than I did in the “good old days”.

But it all feels … I dunno. Stale? The moment has passed. And turns out that it was a moment. Or a movement, but it’s all over now and we can’t tell the difference anyways.

A few vignettes:

  • When Occupy Wall Street really took off, I was at a conference in D.C. The attendees congratulated themselves on Occupy. They assumed that “we” were ones behind it all. Well, not us exactly, since we were at the conference. But surely “our people” were. Of course. We’re the left, after all. If something happens one of us must’ve been behind it.
  • Look at the changing composition of Netroots Nation attendees. First, they were readers, writers, and commenters. Then, bloggers and journalists mostly. Then, bloggers, journalists, and online organizers. Now? It’s a reunion. With “New Media” directors of various center-left organizations hanging out throughout.
  • The “progressive wonkosphere” has turned into “Matthew Yglesias presents the amazing Ezra Klein empire.” Plus the worthy academics at Crooked Timber. All whom I read every day, but they’re not part of a movement anymore.
  • The last breakout star of the blogosphere was Nate Silver in 2008.
  • When Change.org or MoveOn or Salsa changes its model, what happens? There’s a lot of talk, but the discussion is on private email lists. Our technology has regressed.
  • Open Left is dead now. Chris has moved to the hot new online tactic du jour – online organizing. Matt’s story can’t be categorized by a sentence. The best of the best of blogging wasn’t good enough for them.
  • The hot new left writing is centered around magazines.
  • Mike Lux still writes smart, great stuff. His writing is aimed at an audience of fellow organizers, not an audience of bored officeworkers appalled by the House Republican bullshit of the day. But it’s published in the chaotic swirl of the Huffington Post.

Here’s why it was doomed from the start:

In the old days, opposing or replacing Bush Republicansism was The Most Important Thing. So corporate lawyers and lefties banded together to do that. They attacked Team Red using whatever ideological weapons were at hand, and papered over their difference in part by defining themselves through their tools and their enemies.

The failure of street protests against the Iraq War taught them that electoral politics was the true path to change. And if the Democrats were pretty awful, too, the failure of Team Blue was cowardice, which after all is much more excusable than malice.

Think about it. The ideas and critiques coming out of that era were contradictory at times: “We have a problem with neoconservatives running the government.” “The American empire has always been awful” “The Pentagon’s budget is too big and wasteful – so much money is being lost to corruption and waste.” “The Pentagon is awful – so much money is being spent on toppling democracies and propping up dictatorships.” “Our political system is dysfunctional and corrupted by corporate power. Our problems are systemic and entrenched. If 5% more of America votes a particular way, those problem will be fixed.”

Everything was awful. But roughly half the political elite were, broadly speaking, good guys. Looking back, the incoherence is kind of staggering.

Speaking for myself – at the time, I had only been politically conscious in the Bush era. Electing a bunch of Democrats – well, that seemed about as difficult and likely as root and branch reform to the institutions of the State. So why not blur the two in my mind?

When the “good guys” started having the power to do bad things: cue the crackup.

Turns out that the bloggers didn’t all agree, after all. For some, actions that got denunciations of dictatorship and demands for impeachment 4 years ago now brought … not indifference. Just a sort of shifty-eyed acknowledgement that “yes, it’s all bad. But our priorities right now are different.”

I’ll never forgive Obama for lying to us about his plans for FISA and the government power to wiretap. Seems like most people have already forgotten.

Now look at Online Organizing, that other great innovation that was going to save us, the other half of the Netroots Coin. A different but related story is happening there. We let our tools define us, so our conferences became more like trade shows and our friendships became business relationships.

To be sure:
I want to be really clear about this. I love the Netroots and I think there are amazing people doing great stuff. I just don’t think those great people are doing great stuff in the context of the Netroots. The Progressive Blogosphere was like college: awesome time, great friendships, but we’re done. Sure, we can hang out with old friends, and they might be working on similar stuff as they were back then. But naked bonfires in the woods just wouldn’t be the same, the former student president is working for Goldman Sachs, and one of your close friends secretly hated labor unions the whole time.

What we have now and why it matters:

When I bring this up with people, often I get a variation of “Yes, we grew up and professionalized. We’re still friends with a shared background and formative experiences, but we’ve figured out how to get shit done better now”. I believe true, but it’s also not the whole story.

The netroots meant blogging, then also email blasts/petitions/”MoveOn-style online organizing”. They worked really well together. One convinced, the other brought opportunities for action. The withering away of one means that the other has to do too much of the work.

Do you know why the MoveOns of the world didn’t do any pushes around housing justice? A large proportion of their membership have conservative views on “those people” “buying houses they can’t afford”. MoveOn is a great organization with a strong ethos of internal democracy. They can’t force their members to do anything. And blast email isn’t the best way to make a nuanced, convincing argument.

I’m very happy that there’s a new media magazine ecosystem to the left of where the old blogosphere was. Some people (myself) moved there. But a lot moved right, to the MSNBC’s and Huffington Posts of the World. Suddenly those institutions aren’t mocked by liberals — they’re counted *as* liberal. It’s sad. But when you had that shotgun marriage of “shit’s fucked up and bullshit” with “and if a few more Americans are convinced, our new rulers will fix everything”, what did you expect?