Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way

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Random Thoughts: Facebook Is a Utility

I listened to Ezra Klein’s podcast in which he interviewed Mark Zuckerberg yesterday. And there were a couple of things that troubled me. First, I was concerned to hear how quickly Mark Zuckerberg dismissed Ezra’s concerns around one of Zuckerberg’s, and therefor Facebooks’s, assumptions. The assumption is that a more connected and interacting world will result in a better world. Second, he brushed aside any suggestion that his current business model is incompatible with his stated goal of improving peoples lives based on the assumption just referenced.

What I heard was unexamined assumptions. Those are incredibly dangerous. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions the map itself is set out with unexamined assumptions.

Thanksgiving. Unless you have grown into having the exact same values as your whole family, this word should tell you that closer isn’t always better. While there are many aspects of this holiday I enjoy, it’s also a mine field of choosing between living your authentic self and avoiding unnecessary conflict.

There’s always at least one person who cannot gracefully handle conflict. Maybe your aunt is the lady who decided she would rather be right than be in relationships, rarely a choice that’s made consciously, rather one that springs from insecurity. And there’s always at least one person with fringe political believes who won’t respond kindly to any criticism of them. With these folk, the distance is precisely why you can manage Thanksgiving with them.

And that distance? It’s exactly what disappeared when Uncle Bob friended you on Facebook and started sharing link from freedom.eagle.com.ru twenty times a day during the last election. Now, you’ve got him 365 days of the year. Only now, his funny toasts and football commentary that you actually enjoy at Thanksgiving is drowned out in his political rage.
Some of the reasons we compartmentalize our lives are relationship sustaining rather than inhibiting.

I haven’t even touched the fact that psychologists are starting to put out research suggesting that time spent socializing though our phones doesn’t yield the same positive physiological results as face to face interaction. Nor have I touched on the FOMO effect that makes people less happy when they spend an excessive amount of time on social media. This gets around to the second worrying thing in that interview.

Facebook’s business model has been brought under more scrutiny since the Cambridge Analytica issue. Facebook makes money by selling us its users and our mountain of information and our attention. They have clear incentives to addict us to living in their app. Zuckerberg dismissed this as a real concern based on his assertion, which is that connected is better.

I don’t necessarily think Zuckerberg has mal-intent. But I am very troubled by the gaps in his thinking. He’s holding a stunning about of global power, and that interview demonstrated to me that he’s not intellectually rigorous enough to wield it. I think it’s time to consider regulating social media as a utility. I don’t know that the government will have any good ideas on what to do next either, but I don’t feel comfortable allowing shareholders and Zuckerberg to continue to hold all of the control.


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100 Books While 40: OUT OF AFRICA

Author: Isak Dinesen
Published: 1937

When I try to imagine interacting with a foreigner who acts and speaks in a way that lays bare their assumed ownership of my homeland and my unending indentured servitude to them I simply cannot. This is so far from my lived reality that I simply cannot put myself in that space. And that is my privilege.

This book is soaked in colonialism and entitlement. The entire continent of Africa, including all of its people is just a thing for the consumption of wealthy, affected Europeans looking to tell their peers of their exotic adventures. All the genuinely affectionate and beautiful prose dedicated to the beauty of the country and its people is soured because I cannot forget for even a moment how the continent’s present has been shaped by its past exploitation.

I’m sure my awareness was driven by my recent listening to Seeing White, a series on the Scene on Radio podcast. I cannot recommend this podcast enough, but be prepared to feel unsettled. At it’s core, that podcast made me confront what the real legacy of whiteness is. And in short it’s exploitation, theft, and power. And the only reason we can pretend that’s not the case is because we wrote history and cast ourselves in the hero role.

I am struck now by how desperate we, and by we I mean white people, are to hold on to that hero role. White men are clinging to their armories even in the face of their children dying because it furthers their hero fantasies. What an incredible thing. We love our stories more than our kids.

I was so relieved when I reached the last page of this book. You don’t need to read this book. The same delusions in the book are still acting on us today.

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Hawaii Is Beautiful Day 5

We visited Kona Joe’s coffee farm in the morning and snorkeled in the afternoon. Kona is the dry side of the big island, and we were treated to warm sunshine and cool breezes the whole day. The pictures in this post are from the coffee plantation because I am still feeling overwhelmed by the videos and pictures we have off the Go Pro that we used while snorkeling.

Here’s a thing I already knew but had confirmed. Kona coffee is a little to light bodied for me. It was fun to have a French press with freshly roasted coffee and look over the gorgeous vista, but the view was the real treat.

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Hawaii Is Beautiful Day 4

On the big island, we were fortunate enough to go on a bike tour of Volcanoes National Park. It was the only part of the islands we visited where we got to see plants native to the islands that weren’t brought by the earliest settlers. Invasive plants cover most of the islands, so seeing the native forest was haunting and magical. Plus, we saw lava spurting out of one of the volcanos, and it’s not every day that you get to see earth being born.

This day was so great, that the whole trip would have been worth it for me on its own.

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In case you want to get a better look at any of the shots in the slide show here they are below.

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Hawaii Is Beautiful Day 3

Parts of Jurassic Park were filed here. This is also the home of grass-fed happy bovines. The bunker from Lost is in here, that they said was enhanced significantly with CGI. I didn’t watch the show, so I cannot comment. The sights at this ranch are breath-taking. Enjoy!

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Hawaii Is Beautiful Day 2: Buddhists To The Rescue

After the grinding tour guide and the emotional gulag that was Pearl Harbor, we recuperated at a Buddhist temple. The peace on the grounds of the temple is impossible to write about. It felt like a soothing balm to my fractured emotions.

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Hawaii Is Beautiful Day 2 and Ambivalent Feels About Pearl Harbor

I learned two critical things about myself as an adult on this day. First, my introvert energy can be drained completely on a tour bus, and my emotional capacity to visit war memorials is quite limited. Formidable challenges shouldn’t be allowed on vacation.

There are all these laws around distracted driving. No cell phones. No drinking. The thinking here is that driving takes up most of our mental bandwidth if done well and safely. Which partially explains why our driver who was doubling as our tour guide had a terrible case of verbal diarrhea.

The volume of his voice was just shy of being painful, a volume that was probably too low for some of the low-mobility, geriatric patrons. Although I am skilled at tuning ambient noise out, the volume forced my attention to his every word. And his words were few and often repeated.

He wanted us to know how quickly the land on Oahu has developed by pointing out each and every parcel of land that used to be sugar cane. This block? Sugar cane. Five minutes later, sugar cane. By lunch I could personally chart out every square mile of Oahu. Sugar cane.

He told us a maudlin story of a young married couple and what they can and cannot afford. By his 12th time telling the story, we all knew the couple would be moving back in with their parents. He told us the average home price in Waikiki 54 times.

By the time I got off the bus at Pearl Harbor, Jeannine and I were at introvert energy level zero. Neither of us had visited a war memorial since high school. We didn’t yet know that this wasn’t a great state to be in to confront the emotional gauntlet that was Pearl Harbor.

As a kid, I wasn’t critical of the way in which our government has used military power. I didn’t yet know The Gulf of Tonkin was a lie. I didn’t yet know the origins of The Spanish American War was a lie. I hadn’t yet watched the drumbeat to invade Iraq get reinforced by all of our media, including the “fake news” sectors. I didn’t yet understand the way in which capitalist desires drove the need to enforce “freedom” on nations that were resisting our exploitation.

This awakening? It makes the pride dripping off our war memorials taste bitter. And although I was aware of the change in my perception, I failed to think about how that might affect my experience at Pearl Harbor.

We walked by war planes, and we boarded destroyers. When I look at millions of dollars in technology that serves only one purpose, killing people, I am not awestruck with our power. I see a profound breakdown in humanity.

I want to be clear, I recognize the attack at Pearl Harbor was unprovoked. And the men and women who died that day didn’t deserve the end they met. I also recognize of the wars we’ve been party to WWII was objectively necessary. I also recognize that men and women who serve make sacrifices for the rest of us.

However, the honor and reverence that we confer upon our troops is often used to shield our foreign policy from criticism. And this is a big fucking problem. The same men who were in a state of blissful adoration on the site of the Arizona will call anyone suggesting we remove troops from Afghanistan traitors. And if you would ask these men what exactly we are trying to achieve in Afghanistan, they couldn’t answer the question. This blithe ignorance is a problem. We dress up that failure to think in the robes of patriotism.

These were the thoughts and feelings Jeannine and I wrestled with when we took these pictures. I thought about the ~1000 men who died there. I also thought about the ~200K who died Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I thought about the ~132K who died in the fire bombing of Dresden. I thought about the 132K civilians who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. I thought about the ~60K US soldiers and ~2 million Vietnamese civilians who died.

There are no victories here. Only loss.