I’m an Old Brooklyn Social Media Ambassador

Thursday, 28 April 2016

I met with some neighbors at the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation tonight to learn about their #whatsyouroldbrooklyn social media campaign. I signed up to be one of their local social media ambassadors, was selected, and have now been oriented.

Having spent 4 years (mostly thankless) promoting Tremont out of goodwill via Tremonter (I have no idea what the hell it is now, or who owns the domain), I’m glad to be out of the driver’s seat and happy to help out doing — quite frankly — exactly what I’d be doing anyway. I also have more powerful tools in my pocket than were available from 2004 – 2008.

I’ve only lived in Old Brooklyn since August 2015, but I like it here. It’s too big to become $450k condos surrounding a street of $40-​per-​plate restaurants like Tremont — and if there are factions fighting over what “Old Brooklyn” means or should be, I am completely oblivious to them. People keep their yards tidy, shop local, and chat with each other. I don’t feel like this neighborhood is trying to be a destination. I feel, rather, as if it wants to be the place you come home to.

What I value in a neighborhood has changed, especially now that I’m a dad. There’s a lot of authenticity in this part of Cleveland, and a lot of history, and I look forward to helping people discover it. For the next 6 months, I’ll be doing so via Twitter (& Periscope), Instagram, Google+, and to a lesser extent, Facebook and Snapchat (sciurus). There might even be a little Poetry 4 Free action as well. And, of course, posting here on my weblog.

Feeling kind of nostalgic. Should be good.

When Your Son Invents A Panopticon

Friday, 22 April 2016

My son asked me to teach him how to code today. Why? Because he wants to hack his MacBook into a robot that will automatically keep a public tally of every person’s good and bad actions. It will plug into a big box that has a list of all the actions a person might do so we can see if a person is good or not.

I generalized the ethics of the requirements he gave me, and I think I talked him out of it.

My son’s school uses an app called ClassDojo to micromanage student behavior. I get multiple updates daily on how my kid is doing. Each student gets points added for good behavioral choices and points removed for poor ones. At first I thought this was cool, but now I think it is terrible.

  1. It makes children think it is just fine for someone to monitor their every action.
  2. It makes children think it is just fine for their every action to be assigned a positive or negative value.
  3. It makes children think it is just fine for others to be able to see a list of the merits and demerits they’ve received.
  4. It encourages confirmation bias.
  5. It treats subjectivity as objective data.

I started to micromanage him and ask him about his demerits. I want him to succeed — so I want to help. To error-​correct. I’d praise for merits too, but the time spent on praise was not equitable. No one needs to micromanage a second-​grader. Elementary school children shouldn’t think that it’s okay for their every error or success to be recorded and distributed. They’re young, but they’re not too young to feel resentment to a system that seems arbitrary and unfair.

And then, decide to retaliate by inventing their own panopticon.

Yelling at Clouds

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

I’ve been “Old Man Yells at Cloud” a bit more than usual lately.

That was my reaction to seeing a photo of a $30 plate of ribs, coleslaw, pickles & bread at Michael Symon’s new restaurant, Mabel’s BBQ. It was the thin slice of white bread in particular that drove me to such heroic lengths. My beef is, I think, legitimate. Foods that have been traditionally valued for their simplicity, tradition, & nostalgia have been hijacked by haute cuisine and paraded around in garish costume.

I feel like the experience of a cultural, regional, or ethnic cuisine is enhanced by enjoyment of it in context. I’m an anthropologist; I want the cultural experience of getting amazing, nothing-​fancy ribs from a guy cooking them in a converted steel drum at an abandoned gas station on East 131st Street. I want to buy poutine in sub-​zero temps from a food truck in Kingston, ON that has been parking in the same spot and serving the same lunch to the same group of people for years. I want black-​peppered grits, either plain or cooked in potlikker. I want to go into a restaurant in Little Arabia or Ukrainian Village or Asia Town where English is a second or third language and take my chances.

I’ve identified two things about this that drive me crazy, and a pretty solid reason why I’m being unfair, which I’ll get to in a minute.

  1. Branding/​Marketing. The successful haute cuisine is so aggressively marketed and granularly branded that the experience becomes less about the food and more about the exclusivity of it. Everything is sold as if it is archetypal — postmodernist edibles.
  2. Safety. The successful restauranteur these days seems to be a white guy who appropriates a non-​white cultural cuisine and adjudicates its presentation in such a way that the surroundings feel safe and comfortable to other white folks. That’s not an adventure to me.

When I say haute cuisine, I’m talking about a kitchen that mansplains food. “You plebeians, here’s how you should be making your poor-​folk food.”

I took a course called Crucial Conversations a few weeks ago, and one of the things we learned is when to identify situations where you’re telling yourself a story because you lack enough information to really know what’s going on. So I tried to come up with an alternative story to why someone might do things to foods that I love that I find completely unconscionable. The easiest empathic path I was able to come up with is thinking of a restauranteur as an artist. The stuff they are doing to food is their art. I can at least understand that motive, even if I think there’s a metric butt-​ton of privilege in the implementation. An artist would, can, and sometimes should ignore cultural context if they are remixing another art. This allows a food artist to ignore the fact that Wonder Bread is napkins and gravy-​sop for poor Southern folks and create an artisanal hand-​ground, preservative and HFCS-​free white bread to go with the $30 lamb BBQ. The thing being valued is the exclusivity and remix, not the authenticity. Damien Hirst as chef.

I can at least understand that, even if I think it’s dumb.

Most folks I know don’t think of me as particularly conservative, but on the whole I tend to value the vernacular — craft over art, things that remain rather than things reinvented. Maybe I’m a misanthropologist.

Tangentially, I read an article today about co-​sleeping and whether it’s good or bad. This is such a silly argument to me — like arguing whether circumcision is good or bad. (If it wasn’t meant to be there, it wouldn’t be). It wasn’t that long ago that women were completely knocked out when they went into labor and “medical professionals” took delivery on from there because that was considered better than natural childbirth. It wasn’t that long ago that formula was considered a better option than natural nursing. Currently, people in Western countries think it is better to leave a newborn infant alone, in a quiet room, for most of the day or night and to keep track of them via an electronic monitor than keep them close for comfort. Forget the fact that primates have been:

  1. having natural birth for millions of years
  2. nursing their offspring for millions of years
  3. not letting newborn offspring out of their sight for millions of years

By all means, keep the infant in a dark, quiet, separate room, completely cut off from warmth, comfort, and stabilizing influence of their parents. I’d cry too.

Yeah, definitely a misanthropologist.