Housekeeping and transitions

So, I just announced the big news. I’m transitioning out of a formal staff relationship with Integrity Institute in favor of chilling and relaxing as a member.

And, with that, I’ve updated my now page and my then page and my projects page to be actually up-to-date!

Plus I have a ton of stuff I haven’t posted about yet. Did you know I wrote the introduction to a book!? More on that soon.

So, just for recordkeeping, here are some updates.

My big announcement:

Dear friends, members, and colleagues,

I’m writing with some important personal news. After founding and running Integrity Institute since the depths of the pandemic, I’m moving on to both pursue important projects, and also take a deep breath and relax after the nonstop grind of startup life. I’ve achieved the goal every founder should have: this organization can continue to thrive if I choose to step away. I’m excited and even eager to do so, but as you can imagine, this is bittersweet.

Over three years ago, I started calling up people I trusted to pitch them a crazy idea: we should make a think tank powered by integrity workers. Amazingly enough, they liked the idea and wanted to make it with me. Starting with a small team of about a dozen committed volunteers, we’ve attracted new members, funding, attention, and impact. We’ve secured access to, and influence with, people writing public policy around the world, people doing advocacy work, people making decisions in platform companies, academics, and more. We’ve been wildly successful.

Integrity Institute members have helped shape multiple pieces of EU policy, briefed tons of policymakers in legislative, judicial, executive, and independent agency roles, and are in deep conversation with policymakers and advocates around the world. Companies like Pinterest are changing not just their policies, but their design decisions thanks in part to us. Since we’ve started, we’ve seen an explosion of output, visibility, coordination, and confidence from integrity workers. We’ve seen policymakers become much more educated about how it all works. We’ve built a key institution in the space. And we’ve done it together: members, staff, fellows, founding fellows, partners, donors, community leaders. This has been a true team effort.

Throughout this, we’ve also grown. More members, more staff, and more ability to fully become what we set out to be at the beginning. Among them: be a champion for integrity workers, protect people around the world, build a stage for members to stand on, and be the sort of place that I dearly wished existed for me back in the day.

I’m proud that we’ve held consistently to a strategic identity — we’re not advocates; we are scientists. We’re not partisans for anything other than our members, our oath, and our shared diagnosis of how to fix the internet.

It’s been three years of nonstop work, and it’s time for me to go in my own direction. Right now, the most important thing I feel personally called to do is help support US democracy and elections in a way that must be outside Integrity Institute’s methods and positioning.

So! It’s time for me to sit back and enjoy this remarkable community we’ve built – as a member. I’ll also be catching up on my writing, enjoying the ability to meet my neighbors and friends in person, exploring advances in technology I’ve missed these last few years (turns out AI is a thing now!), and being more present offscreen. Plus, of course, meaningfully participating in the US 2024 election cycle.

It’s been fun, and it’s been an honor. I’ll still be around on the Slack, both enjoying the remarkable benefits of II membership and cheering on the staff as they work toward our shared mission.

Please don’t be a stranger. My email is And you can find me on my website ( and nascent substack (growth and what comes next), as well as all the sundry social media sites we seem to be on as a matter of course. (My most-used remains Facebook, with Bluesky a clear runner-up). I’d love to stay in touch, and wherever possible be of service to you.

Yours, and forever a champion of our shared integrity Hippocratic oath,

Sahar Massachi

Executive Director and Founder

My new now page

I’ve just announced that I’m leaving Integrity Institute. It’s a big deal! I feel great. To quote myself: “I’ve achieved the goal every founder should have: this organization can continue to thrive if I choose to step away”. So I did! :–)

I’m walking more. Exploring the Brooklyn Botanic garden. Making friends.

Soon I’m going to fly to SF, then Philly, to see old friends.

I’m getting more in touch with being a jew in america and what that is like. Wearing my kippah more often.

The election is coming. I am going to work on it in a way that feels urgent and important and in ways that only I can help. But also, I’m torn because I want to relax. Can I learn to set boundaries and work a job in a “normal” way? By which I mean — letting it be important, but not overwhelm all my other commitments? Being able to sign off at 5pm each day?

Sarah and I are preparing a trip to a bed and breakfast (and shakespeare) we loved last year, and seeing if friends might want to last-minute go with us.

I’m looking for a new DnD group to play with.

I’m playing kickball. Still rock climbing. I miss biking.


I invite you to join me in these:

First, I’m matchmaking my friends to jobs, housing, and each other. You can sign up for the newsletter here. Please do.

Second, I’m new to Brooklyn / Crown Heights and looking for community. Friendships, but also groups of friends that hang out together.

Third, I’m thinking in public rather more. I’m writing more, and being interviewed by podcasts. Ask me to be a guest on your podcast or publication.

Every day, I try to walk in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, go bouldering, or hang in Prospect Park.

I’m also delighted to enjoy these:

I miss tabletop roleplaying games. In the past, I ran a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with a few friends, focusing (to the extent that can mean anything in this context) on factions, revolution, and betrayal. Now, I’m looking for a new group.

Sarah and I rock climb all the time. Our favorite place is the Cliffs at Gowanus. Wanna join us?

I have a backlog of dozens of books that I’ve bought, excitedly, but have yet to read. It’s time.


Oh hey I got married

So, in case you missed it, I got married in late July / early August of 2023. I haven’t actually written too much about it publicly, just the bit I wrote here in Yenta.

I haven’t written about the honeymoon at all. It was delightful. Here are the topline ideas about the honeymoon:

  • We chose something easy and quiet to balance out the social and crowded week-long wedding festivity.
  • We stayed exclusively in old-fashioned bed-and-breakfasts
  • First, we went to the village of Gananoque, in Canada. It’s right by the Thousand Islands.
  • This has symbolic resonance because we had both been there on a road trip the day before we kissed for the first time.
  • We went kayaking, walked around town, and played a ton of Frosthaven.
  • Then we went to Stratford. It’s the home of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and the subject of a loving parody in Slings and Arrows. Years before we were dating, Sarah suggested I watch the show (it’s fantastic, an office comedy about people who work in a theatre, with the drama to match). It was my secret. “I have a crush on Sarah, let me remind myself by watching this niche TV show only she seems to knows about”.
  • The Shakespeare at Stratford was amazing. We even realized, by accident, that Paul Gross, the frontman of Slings and Arrows, was performing as King Lear. Wow!
  • Plus our BnB hostess was fantastic.
  • Plus lots of Frosthaven.
  • And lots of listening to Shakespeare as we drove a car for hours at a time to get to all these places.
  • It was delightful. Now you know!

And now, I wrote a longish retrospective that was framed as a set of tips for wedding planning. My wedding (and how to plan a great one).

It’s all on my long-dormant substack.

There’s a lot there, but here are just the topline tips:

  1. Food trucks! They solve so many problems.
  2. Understand this: the point of a wedding is to bring your people together and get them to understand why you should be married.
  3. Your wedding can be a week-long party where you show off your home.
  4. Community housing can be a key part of the experience.
  5. We got married outside, at a nature center
  6. We invested in great music
  7. Swords! (Invest in people getting to know each other, part 1)
  8. Secret Missions! (investing in introductions, part 2)
  9. The point of getting married is to help the world understand the relationship that you already have.
  10. Emailed (or texted) invitations are fine.
  11. Have a simple, relaxing, honeymoon
  12. Dress amazing, not formal
  13. Wedding rings don’t need to be stressful boring expensive and useless
  14. Redirect parent energy
  15. Get married in the early afternoon
  16. Replace vows with stories
  17. Children are great! Extra friends are great!
  18. Paradoxically: treat +1s with care
  19. Speeches are actually good — but space them out
  20. Have a special moment with everyone with this one weird trick.
  21. Don’t sweat the details. Many times, we told people, “if someone asks us what color napkins we want, then we are doing something horribly wrong”.

(Bonus: listen to tradition. Have your wedding on a Sunday.)

And what we learned:

  1. Plan earlier, and there’s no need to get overwhelmed.
  2. Use a CRM. Avoid WithJoy.
  3. You need a day-of captain
  4. You need an escape route
  5. Remember to schedule time and energy for thank you notes

Read the whole thing here (with photos!)

Lastly — I’ve been thinking about it, and I’d like to go to more weddings. Please invite me! I am a great guest. Fun dancer, gregarious, make friends with your friends. You won’t regret it.

Brandeis Left Personal

The other Sahars

(This is a sequel, in part, to Some thoughts about today. It’s also the transcription of a facebook post I made that seems to have struck a chord ).

Let’s start with a story about the other Sahar.

Only one person texted me on Saturday day. Another that evening. Maybe 2-4 did on Sunday. More later. As people texted me, they would often ask about my family. I’d say, in mordant humor(?) that “I have a large family, last time I checked”. Or “They’re alive so far”. That’s not true any more.

Last night, my mom called and told me I lost a relative. Not someone too close. Someone that I didn’t know existed. My grandfather’s sister’s granddaughter. She was 20. Her name was also Sahar.

I have a large family, or at least I did last time I checked. There are whatsapp groups. My cousin spent some time posting about a friend they lost track of, a friend who was at the rave, looking for news, asking us to ask around. They stopped looking. Her name was also Sahar.

How am I doing? How am I doing? How am I holding up? How is my family?

The questions pile on and on. I play little games with myself and answer each question differently. Sometimes I emphasize my sorrow. Other times my rage. Other times I joke around. I never have time to ask the question to myself for real.

In one feed, I see notices of death after death. Reshares of funerals, of photos of happy-looking people with heart-breaking captions bemoaning their demise. In another feed, I see people I respect applauding argle-bargle that amounts to self-flagellation and victim-blaming from jews who should know better.

I see so, so much, bad reasoning by analogy. By people who should know better!

So many terrible ideas by bloodthirsty americans.
So many terrible ideas by americans so eager to talk about their 9/11 that they completely miss the details about ours. (For example — Israelis are not rallying around the flag, or at least the prime minister. The government is discredited.) Stop making us the puppets in your trauma or morality play.

Here are more stories.

I’m in the Boston suburbs right now, ready to join a flood of Brandeis alumni for the college’s 75 year anniversary party. Or will it be a flood? People are worried sick. Thousands of (not just, but many, mostly?) jews packed into one of the crown jewels of jewish institutions, on Hamas’ day of rage? Will we be targets? Maybe people won’t show up. Maybe the staff won’t show up. Maybe a gunman will show up.

My people are SCARED right now. Including (especially?) in New York, at Brandeis, in the US.

I was beside myself on Simchat Torah. I couldn’t think, couldn’t hold a conversation. I was drained. But I dragged my body outdoors because on Simchat Torah, the jews celebrate the torah. Even when no one feels like celebrating.

I’ll tell the full story later. I have told it to a few people. It was quite a night. But I’ll tell you this now — one of the most levelheaded people I know, in going over the story, said: “maybe you shouldn’t have gone outdoors for that religious celebration. Maybe you should not have worn your kippa. Maybe they should have done it indoors. Maybe it wasn’t safe”

I see a story about people in Australia chanting “gas the jews” in a big rally. I see photos of smaller, similar chants in the UK.

I see video of the organizer of a rally in NYC cheering on killing jewish “hipsters” and the people applaud. I see tweets angrily defending the rally.

A cousin of mine sleeps with a knife under his pillow. He knows it is useless. It is now his security blanket.

I started wearing a kippa now. I wear it to show myself I’m not afraid, or to master my fear. People at the cafe ask me “how are you today?”. I say “terrible, of course”. They’re surprised and don’t understand.

A cousin of mine spent the day barricading his dad’s apartment.

My cousin’s husbands are called up to the reserves.

I read more headlines. “Sydney government apologizes for pro-Palestine protest that had ‘gas the Jews’ chants”

I see heartwarming stories of israeli arabs opening their homes to refugees from the kibbutzim. I see them giving blood. I have so much hope that they can be more fully accepted by the rest of the nation, and vice versa. If that happens, then the country of Israel can be saved.

I’m on a listserv for people who in lefty nonprofits. On Sunday and Monday, the overwhelming majority of posts are about “palestine solidarity”. No one posts about jewish solidarity.

I find myself sharing stories of universalism (Sesame Street saying no child should live in fear, stories of arab-jewish or muslim-jewish reconciliation), because I like them, and cannot disagree with them. But I also wish I could just simply say “I stand with Israel”. “Biden’s speech was great”. And be particular and stand with my people rather than anodyne. But at the same time, I’m scared to do so. Maybe scared to be seen as bloodthirsty? Scared to lose friends? Scared to offend?

I want to care for all people, but I also want to care for my people. I can point to a lot of shit I don’t like. And I can point to some things I do like. Bu many things I do like, I don’t point to at all. Because I’m scared, and confused, and worried about being wrong. And that makes me sad.

It’s easy to write something eloquent and heartfelt and ultimately flattering to the reader and writer. It’s so damn easy, folks. Take the reader on an emotional journey. Share your frustration and pain and vulnerability. Then guide them towards a conclusion that they like: pablum. They get the thrill of authenticity but the self-satisfaction of superior morality and a sense of having complex ethics.

It’s hard to write something heartfelt, true, and challenging. Especially for me.

In the fall of 2016 I argued a bit with someone I liked respected online. I told them I wasn’t a fan of Hillary Clinton for reasons going back to the late 80s. I realized that they unfriended me. I sent them a message thinking they were joking. I realized I was wrong. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered. It’s so hard for me to disagree with friends now.

In the summer of 2009, I was doing two things: my internship, and watching the “green wave”, abortive uprising in Iran. I was so caught up in it. I saw people tweeting. I was so excited. I thought this was it. And, after a week or two, I realized: if my parent’s hadn’t fled Iran, if they had stayed (and weren’t killed during the revolution) — then I’d be out in the streets in that uprising. I’d say, do, and post recklessly true things that would feel great in the moment. And then I’d be caught by the regime and tortured in Evin prison. I felt it with crystal clarity. I’ve never felt as Iranian before or since. I often think about that other Sahar, the one in the universe where my family couldn’t get away.

It’s hard to for me say recklessly true things online. Things I might want to take back later. Things that aren’t shaped by anxious balancing of all the different audiences they might have. Real or imagined or real-but-in-my-head.

My people are suffering. My people are americans, but my people are also Israel. I will always be on that team.

I might (often! Feels like always!) be critical of the strategy, or even goals that the dominant faction of team israel is going for. I might think they’re disastrous. I might think they’re short sighted. I might think that the current people speaking for our team are cretins, moral midgets, or worryingly proto-fascist. I might think they’re traitors to the cause. But I believe in the cause. I believe in the cause so much that I think we have an obligation to succeed, and do it well.

The cause is both jewish flourishing, and Israeli success. For all its citizens.

What does it all mean? How do I land this plane? How do I end this unexpected essay? What, in the end, has changed for me?

Maybe it’s this: less anguish, more anger. Less crouching, more stating. Less worry that I might be wrong, more confident saying what I suspect to be true. I’d rather say a thing and change my mind later, than never say something at all. I’d rather argue with an acquaintance and maybe lose them, than never have them know me in the first place.

(And, just as I finish writing this, I see that the corrupt incompetent prime minister is giving 1.1 people 24 hours to flee their homes. In case I haven’t made it clear — he doesn’t represent me, he belongs in jail, and nothing I wrote above should be read as supporting anything he, in particular, does or orders.

And yet: why did I feel like I had to write that? Is that basic moral decency? Or that an internalized self-defensive crouch? Do I actually oppose this specific thing? Or is it easy to just oppose anything the government does to score moral points, while being able to sigh in relief if it works?

I know I self-doubt too much. Am I self-doubting so much that I’m self-flagellating for possible internal motivations that I don’t actually have? Am I just a weathervane floating with the wind? Does this entire parenthetical undermine the entire essay? What do I believe? Who am I?)


Some thoughts about today

It’s really weird to see posting on facebook like today is a normal day.

Today has been a sad and terrible day. It’s unclear exactly what’s going on, and I’m sure as time passes we’ll better understand, but here’s my best understanding of what is going on:

  • I woke up today to news of a huge attack by presumably Hamas into Israel. This attack included some killing and capturing of soldiers, but mostly attacking civilians.
  • This wasn’t your “normal” terrorist attack. More like an invasion. Tons of footage of people in pickup trucks in Israeli villages and towns just shooting people. Stories of people being pulled out of cars with their throats cut. Elderly women being gunned down waiting for the bus. Men going from house to house, looking for jews, and killing anyone they found inside.
  • In a surreal twist, seems like a burning man style event was raided, lots of people dead.
  • I can’t be sure but I’m seeing lots of suggestions of mass rape as well.
  • Reports of many people being kidnapped and taken as hostages to the gaza strip. Their family can use “find my iphone” or the android equivalent to see their phones bobbing around in gaza city.

Since my relatives live in Israel, and I was born there and still feel strongly about it, this feels extremely personal to me. There’s a tendency to think that anything that happens far-enough away is kind of .. not real. Or only real enough to be useful as a talking point. This morning, I viscerally did not feel that way. People I know could be killed, raped, kidnapped. I think every one of my friends and relatives in Israel knows someone who died in the last 24 hours, or is mysteriously missing.

I called one cousin. He asked me how I was feeling. I said something like this: There’s a strange thing about the French Revolution. The terror would invariably intensify during times when the french army was doing badly. It would wane during “good times”. This feels counterintuitive on its face. You might imagine that only in relative safety would people feel like they had the space to go after their internal enemies. Nope! I am feeling that same sort of rage: catastrophe happened, I can’t really focus on it, let’s see which of my so-called friends are actually my enemies. Or, at best, deluded. That’s my gut reaction — because at least that’s something I can control, something I can do: taking a look around me and watching others’ reaction.

We talked about the family. Seems like everyone is okay, but also desperately posting on whatsapp (and other places) trying to find out about their missing friends. “No one is missing the historical resonance”, he says.

“What resonance?”
“The jews are hiding in their basement as armed men go door to door looking inside for jews to kill” (Only this time, they take selfies after)

It’s not going to go well.

I’m of course furious. And, like I said before, lots of blame energy flying around. The so-called friends who celebrate killing of children as “decolonial praxis”. The terrible, ruinous, current government of Israel. The people who made the choices that led us here.

I’ve unfollowed a fair number of people on twitter, rather than explode.

I’m seeing photos of terrorists taking selfies of themselves, a corpse, and the house the corpse used to belong to. I’m seeing people frantically looking for their loved ones. I’m seeing blithe blindness or glibness about the above. And I’m seeing lots of people posting away as if today was a normal day.

In a few hours I’m supposed to go to dance around the Torah in perhaps the happiest day of the jewish year. Unclear how that’ll happen.

A friend of mine, a really smart, committed one, asked about the context of what’s going on. I was surprised to hear that he didn’t know about the political developments in Israel the last few months. The gigantic political battles. The foreshadowing.

I think tomorrow is a good time to start talking about it. Spoiler alert: no one in this story is covered in glory.

By the afternoon I perceived a shift in myself and in the news I was reading. The visceral sense of violence, the fear, the uncertainty had started to fade away. People went back to old mental habits: less focus on what just happened, more maneuvering about who to blame for the future. It started to feel, both reading others and internally, a bit more like the cinema again.

I have friends with many opinions connected to Israel. They run the gamut. Most don’t agree with me — or each other. Most have opinions — few could tell you basic details about the country or people they supposedly care much about. I see so much reasoning by analogy. It’s not a place to score points, it’s real people in a truly messed up situation.

I’ve thought about it a bit, and here’s the line I’m drawing in the sand. Today is a sad day. A terrible day. Murdering innocent people is wrong, no matter who you are. You can tack on any political analysis you like to it, blame anyone you want. Call it blowback, call it inevitable, whatever. That’s fine. But if you’re cheering, excited, happy, or proud today — that’s where you’ve made a terrible moral error, and I lose my respect and affection for you.

Talia Lavin, of all people, put it best: “praying for a swift merciful and just end to this war that spares as many innocent people as possible”

Misc Personal

Stallman Was Right: Ello, Facebook, and Freedom.

It’s ello time. And now that we’re in day 2 of ello-mania, some smart articles are popping up.

My buddy Cayden has the so-far canonical synthesis of everything written so far, and he’s definitely on the right track in his analysis of ello:

 With Ello positioned as the anti-Facebook, a door closes. Our imaginations are bound to the platform choices we’ve been presented with. We are locked into a politics of scarcity that is very unfamiliar to me on the internet. As I was remarking to a friend yesterday, the thing I’ve always loved about the internet was its anarchistic abundance, its sense of possibility. The thing that disturbs me the most deeply about positioning Ello versus Facebook is the way that abundance is foreclosed on.

This is all, obviously, striking a chord with me. And the whole facebook-exodus-in-a-teapot (I doubt many think this will lead to a real break on anyone’s part) raises the question: “Why not go back to the good old days of actual blogging?”

I sketched out a few ideas in my comment on the site, which I’m reproducing here:

Cayden, I think you’re on the right track on a lot of what you say. I especially like how you tied together the critique on funding (which should get a LOT more attention!), design, and privacy all together.

Your closing thought is also strong — wish you had taken a few more extra steps though! I wonder where you would have ended up.

As I said over at Max’s, this whole set of facts is further confirmation of an evergreen saying: “Stallman was right”.

As organizers, we are trained to think about power. When talking about the economy, when talking about interpersonal relationships, reading the news (“who benefits from this coming to light *now*?”), even when talking about literature or pop culture. That’s the mark of a good organizer — being able to see deeper. Yet when it comes to the ever-increasing part of our lives that is mediated through screens and processors, all too often we are faced with people’s tendency to shut down that part of their brain.

We know what the good solution to facebook would be — owning our own data. Writing comments directly on a blog post instead of on the facebook share linking to it. Placing our lives and content on servers and programs (wordpress, media goblin, rails, jekyll, etc) that we control. Shrinking the sphere of social media to sharing links to value instead of hosting value itself.

At least, that’s part of the solution. And something we can actually do now, without assuming a legion of technical help.

We do have the tools to break free. At least partially. Here’s hoping that Future Me spends more time over here, blogging in the independent democracy of Sahar’s Server, rather than over there, in the Facebook Fiefdom.


What do you say to a man about to lose everything?

(A letter I wrote on September 16, 2013)

And I mean everything.

I said goodbye to a dying man tonight, Anna.

His body – bony. Raspy. Mottled. Hunched.

His voice – surprisingly strong.

His eyes – oh his eyes.

His eyes were so scared, Anna. They were the eyes of a young man about to be forced to storm in a trench in Verdun. The eyes of a sick man in a hospital bed, with no machinery around to even check his pulse.

They looked up. Up because we loomed over his tiny frame on his low hospital bed. Up because that’s where your eyes go when you plead.

Anna this guy was dying and his wife wasn’t even there. Dad’s at her apartment/dorm right now trying to get her to stay with him until he dies.

And he’s going to die tonight. The doctors have stopped doing anything proactive, really.

We stood in this awkward half-circle around his bed and each said hello (but really goodbye). I went first. Then Shelly asked if she could hug him and cried. Then Talie gave him a hug. So I got on the hug train.

I was trying to smile. I think if I were going to die I’d like cheerful energy around me, instead of sadness everywhere. Right?

We went outside. Washed thoroughly. Those hospital sinks are nice. Warm-water luxuries. Then I said out loud “I wish I said I love you too”.

Dad said I could go back but he didn’t seem to enthusiastic about it. “Don’t worry. He knows” Shelly chimes in “it doesn’t matter. He won’t even remember.”

“I want to live a life without regrets”. I said. So I walked back in and told him. Shelly and Talie came in with me too. It was nice. Much less stilted. Then Dad had some alone time with him.

Dad finally fessed up to Joe that he is dying. Did he have any final wishes? No. Okay. Crying.

We left the hospital then and in my heard I just heard the phrase over and over again. That lyrics from the Mountain Goats’ Woke up New: “The world in its cold way started coming alive.”

What a cruel joke.


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”


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.


My little sister is cooler than your little sister

She’s creating a video blog on youtube.

Check out this song she wrote.