Month: May 2014

Twitter: the good, the bad, and the ugly

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Although I signed up for a Twitter account in 2011, it was only a few weeks back that I resolved to tweet. In part I had been feeling out of the stream of life and thought I needed to participate somehow in what has become such an important part of our global culture—and, to my surprise, not only among young people.

As counter-intuitive as it may sound, I also had some sense that “tweeting” would help me become a better writer in the same way that composing a three-line, seventeen-syllable haiku might. In fact, writing something compelling and marrowy in 140 characters on a topic that would be of interest to (theoretically) hundreds or thousands of others is no small task. Nor can one underestimate the inherent potency of the hashtag and its capacity to inform and enlarge the impact of any given tweet.

Now that I am “following” some 150 people or entities (mostly other writers and news sources, with Lena Dunham thrown in the mix), I have been made very dizzy by the sheer quantity of information—much of it otherwise inaccessible—literally at my fingertips. The Twitterverse, it seems, is a place where you can learn about the news almost before it happens.

There is quite a lot of dreck to poke around in, though, which means one has to be attentive, thoughtful, discriminating, smart—and triply so. Plus, with so much material to investigate, it becomes difficult to know where to put one’s attention so as not to scatter energy. Or so as not to become buried and bobbling in material that flows down like lava and carries with it bits of the sacred along with the profane. I have also discovered that, as in life, barkers and hucksters abound: My first five “followers” were thinly disguised porn sites looking to see if I wanted to have a good time.

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Life is a frolic

The dancing satyr

For the past few weeks I have been visited occasionally by what I can only describe as a half-heavenly image of a flying-haired, bushy-eyebrowed satyr — were he to be crossed with Nigel Hawthorne’s mad King George in a diaphanous nightdress.

Sensual in substance and form, the apparition involves a meadow romp in which he and I are holding hands and dancing round and round in a clockwise circle. Knees high. Laughter spilling. So ineffably a thing of the spirit, I dare not write too much about it for fear it will not wish to return. Still, I can see that it is a signpost pointing me in the direction of my earthly future, one in which I throw off the notion that life is a vale of tears and I am its wailing wall.

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Punch Cell-y

Punch Buggy

“I know,” I said to my daughter. “Let’s play a game like ‘Punch Buggy’ — only with cell phones.” We were driving back from a very enjoyable night out together, and it occurred to me that we could nightcap our fun with a variation on a car game we had played when she was a child.

Remember playing it when you were on a long drive and bored out of your wits? You’d call out “punch buggy” whenever you spied a Volkswagen Beetle on the road, shout out its color, and punch the arm of the one next to you — even if that someone happened to be a toddler? In those days, it would have been difficult to find one unbruised arm in your circle.

Fast forward a quarter century for an update to the game: Each time you see someone walking across the street or on the sidewalk without a cell phone in hand, scream out “Punch Cell-y” and slug the person next to you two times in the most tender part of the upper limb. If that person is visibly carrying, but not staring down at, a phone, you can thwack a car buddy once and feel pleased that yours was a partial win.

One thing we decided, though, was that spotting cell phoneless people in a group wouldn’t count; presumably these pedestrians would be engaged with each other — at least when they weren’t looking both ways before entering a cross walk. I haven’t decided if calling out the phone color should entitle one to an extra punch.

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Why we need editors

How one errant “e” can turn a desperate, undocumented immigrant into a dangerous criminal:

Fastest

little boy on bike with training wheels

Lately, I have been spending a good amount of time rounding the dirt track located up the street from where I live. It can be a lively place—especially on the weekends—as runners with cell phones, dogs, power walkers with cell phones, football players, football fans, malingerers, soccer players, soccer fans, cigar smokers, pee wee teams, mothers, tennis players, body builders, opera singers, and others converge.

This morning, I found myself walking behind a small, helmeted boy, four years old at most, who was riding a red bicycle with lopsided training wheels. His distracted father, at first walking slowly alongside his son, soon began to jog out in front, at which point the boy turned around to look at me. As he did so, the bike began to veer off the track and onto the uncut grass that bordered it.

“Oops! Oops!” I couldn’t help but call out.

Upon hearing this, the young father stopped, turned around, and trotted back to his child. As I caught up, I could hear the man say, “And, you were so fast.”

“Why?” the boy wanted to know.

How cute, I thought, as only a smug adult would think. Then, I began to ponder the question more deeply and was struck not by its seeming innocence but by its seeming genius. I came to understand that it wasn’t one of those “but why daddy/why mommy” questions every exasperated parent of a toddler receives. Rather, I think this child genuinely, and without any self-consciousness, wished to understand something about what it actually means—and why it even matters—to be fast.

Why?” the father replied, apparently as disarmed by the question as I was. “Well, because you want to be fast.” And, in this one, nearly innocuous, moment, which could have been no more portentous than the one that came before or after it, the father told his son what kind of man he was expected to become.

Later, I saw the boy careening around a corner. “Look, Daddy!” he screamed. “Look how fast I am!”

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Children in the crossfire

Anti-Slavery Day March To ParliamentIn his chilling piece in Vox about the April 14th abduction of more than 275 Nigerian school girls, Zach Beauchamp argues that Boko Haram’s recent threat to sell the kidnapped children into slavery “is not a one-off event.” Rather, he says, “[i]t’s part of a vast web of human trafficking and slavery in West Africa — one that neither local governments nor the international community have been able to shut down.”

According to Walk Free Foundation, an anti-slavery group in Australia, “30 million people are living as forced laborers, forced prostitutes, child soldiers, child brides in forced marriages and, in all ways that matter, as pieces of property, chattel in the servitude of absolute ownership.” With some 700,000 of its people enslaved, Nigeria now boasts the largest such population in West Africa — and the fourth largest in the world, says Beauchamp.

While the rest of the world has been focused on the missing Malaysian plane, anguished relatives have been looking frantically for their missing little girls and have had relatively little support in the process.  “It’s hard to imagine a more compelling, dramatic, heartbreaking story,” writes Frida Ghitis, a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. “If it had happened anywhere else,” she suggests, it “would be the world’s biggest story.”

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