Top Secret Durham Neighborhood Listserv Map

This post is about my top secret project that I’ve been working on for a few weekends.  It was partly inspired by an eight year-old girl who went missing about a block from my house on January 7th.  It was also inspired by my friend Gwen McCarter’s blog post about boldness that she published two days prior:

If there’s one sure thing about boldness, it’s that no one will know you’re a bold thinker if you aren’t a bold actor, too.  To illustrate the point, we need only think about noise.  Chatter.  A veritable din.  We live in a society where more people are free to voice their opinions than ever, and everyone with Internet access also has a soapbox within reach.  In many ways, this democratization via technology is empowering.  And as Malcolm Gladwell wrote last October, it’s not our imagination that social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and various blogging platforms are “making it easier for the powerless to collaborate.”

But Gladwell also warns against mistaking online activity for real-world action.  The digital setting is often confusing because boldness online can feel both satisfying and effortlessly productive.  If we want use the example of activism, social movements that grow online can amass a follower base of millions.  All the same, the palpable impact of those virtual efforts can be an entirely different story.  Gladwell happens to cite the Save Darfur Coalition’s Facebook page as one place where participation is high but commitment and investment are relatively low (he puts group membership at nearly 1.3 million and the average donation at 9 cents).  But the same could be said of a number of other initiatives — social media-based or otherwise —  that don’t or can’t place enough emphasis on backing their bold online campaigns up with tangible follow-through.

So, for most everyone, it wouldn’t hurt to spend a little more time in action.  At the same time, a single bold act cannot be your end game; it needs to be well conceived as part of a larger strategy, supported by other, more sustained initiatives.

As for the missing girl, I got the following message from an adjacent neighborhood listserv I happened to be a member of:

Hi, Neighbors.  A woman who lives down the street just came to our door asking if we saw a little girl get off the bus stop near our house (corner of Shawnee and Lynch).  Unfortunately, we didn’t see anything, but I told her I would send out an e-mail to the listserve to see if anyone else had information or had seen her (or anything suspicious that may be related) throughout the neighborhood this afternoon/evening.  They are looking for a little girl who is 8 years old.  She is African American and was last seen wearing black pants, a black shirt with purple underneath and has 2 ponytails.  She said if anyone saw anything they should call the police.

Now despite being about 50 yards away from the neighborhood’s northern border, the author of this email didn’t know to send her message to Duke Park, (although to her credit, she did make sure the police were involved).  Ideally, when something happens one road over, both listservs should be communicative with each other due to significant membership overlap.  Obviously, not everyone is a member of more than one listserv, despite proximity.  In many instances, this is OK since other members are gregarious and cross-post between adjacent hoods and Partners Against Crime (PAC) lists when appropriate.

The little girl was found at a neighbor’s house about 50 minutes after the original post.  Like magic, two distinct ad hoc search parties sprang into action and someone found the girl at a neighbor’s house.

This was a huge success story, but had the child gone missing along any other neighborhood border, I wouldn’t have known who to contact.  So, that day, out of frustration, I started working on a map which is meant to facilitate communication between adjacent listservs in emergency and crime-related scenarios.

Currently it features 35 neighborhoods with active listservs and 14 neighborhoods that don’t have listservs (but should).  Each border was meticulously hand-drawn, yet they’re probably wholly inaccurate.

So click the image above to be taken to the map.  If you’re not a member of your neighborhood’s listserv, you should join it.  Today.  The relevant links are embedded within each neighborhood’s shape.  If your neighborhood doesn’t yet have a listserv, why not follow Gwen’s advice?  Be bold.  Take action.  Create one.

And shoot me an email when you do, so I can update my our map.

*Update – The map now includes 57 outlines of active neighborhood listservs. The color of these outlines also correlate with which police district they are associated with.

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January 26, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Reading. 7 comments.

The History of American Political Opinion

Seems like a good time to post this.

From the video’s creator:

Using county-level data, I spatially and temporally interpolated presidential vote returns for the two major party candidates in each election from 1920-2008. The result illuminates the sometimes gradual, sometimes rapid change in the geographic basis of presidential partisanship.

[via Morgan Clendaniel @ GOOD]

January 14, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Video. Leave a comment.

Douglas Coupland’s Predictions for the Coming Decade

I read this a couple of months ago, but only now, in these early days of the new decade*, does it feel right to stamp out the ubiquitous optimism with some good doubt.

Douglas Coupland, a Canadian curmudgeon, lists 45 predictions for the coming decade. Here are the ones that strike me as particularly probable:

2) The future isn’t going to feel futuristic

It’s simply going to feel weird and out-of-control-ish, the way it does now, because too many things are changing too quickly. The reason the future feels odd is because of its unpredictability. If the future didn’t feel weirdly unexpected, then something would be wrong.

5) You’ll spend a lot of your time feeling like a dog leashed to a pole outside the grocery store – separation anxiety will become your permanent state

8) Try to live near a subway entrance

In a world of crazy-expensive oil, it’s the only real estate that will hold its value, if not increase.

10) In the same way you can never go backward to a slower computer, you can never go backward to a lessened state of connectedness

24) It is going to become much easier to explain why you are the way you are

Much of what we now consider “personality” will be explained away as structural and chemical functions of the brain.

38) Knowing everything will become dull

It all started out so graciously: At a dinner for six, a question arises about, say, that Japanese movie you saw in 1997 (Tampopo), or whether or not Joey Bishop is still alive (no). And before long, you know the answer to everything.

And here are some that don’t seem likely at all:

7) Retail will start to resemble Mexican drugstores

In Mexico, if one wishes to buy a toothbrush, one goes to a drugstore where one of every item for sale is on display inside a glass display case that circles the store. One selects the toothbrush and one of an obvious surplus of staff runs to the back to fetch the toothbrush. It’s not very efficient, but it does offer otherwise unemployed people something to do during the day.

11) Old people won’t be quite so clueless

No more “the Google,” because they’ll be just that little bit younger.

13) Enjoy lettuce while you still can

And anything else that arrives in your life from a truck, for that matter. For vegetables, get used to whatever it is they served in railway hotels in the 1890s. Jams. Preserves. Pickled everything.

14) Something smarter than us is going to emerge

Thank you, algorithms and cloud computing.

20) North America can easily fragment quickly as did the Eastern Bloc in 1989

Quebec will decide to quietly and quite pleasantly leave Canada. California contemplates splitting into two states, fiscal and non-fiscal. Cuba becomes a Club Med with weapons. The Hate States will form a coalition.

32) Musical appreciation will shed all age barriers

Draw your own conclusions after reading the full list at the Globe and Mail.

[Article via the Browser. Image via Maet32’s photobucket]

* The 21st century began on January 1st, 2001. Therefore, the first decade of the 21st century ended a few days ago. We can argue about this if you want, but that exercise would be wholly redundant.

January 6, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. 2 comments.

Christopher Hitchens on How to Make a Proper Cup of Tea

[image via The Thinking Blue]

I envy Hitchens’ writing style. He takes confident chances with the language and they work.

Now that “the holidays”—at their new-style Ramadan length, with the addition of Hanukkah plus the spur and lash of commerce—are safely over, I can bear to confront the moment at their very beginning when my heart took its first dip.

It was Dec. 8, and Yoko Ono had written a tribute to mark the 30th anniversary of the murder of her husband. In her New York Times op-ed, she recalled how the two of them would sometimes make tea together. He used to correct her method of doing so, saying, “Yoko, Yoko, you’re supposed to first put the tea bags in, and then the hot water.” (This she represented as his Englishness speaking, in two senses, though I am sure he would actually have varied the word order and said “put the tea bags in first.”) This was fine, indeed excellent, and I was nodding appreciatively, but then the blow fell. One evening, he told her that an aunt had corrected him. The water should indeed precede the bags. “So all this time, we were doing it wrong?” she inquired. “Yeah,” replied our hero, becoming in that moment a turncoat to more than a century of sturdy Liverpool tradition.

Take notice Soulja Boy, because this is what swagger actually looks like.

[Christopher Hitchens @ Slate via the Browser]

January 4, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. 2 comments.

Jimi Trout’s Top 10 Yarn Tastings of 2010

Submitted by: Coraghessan A. Cat

1. STITCHES South Knitting Expo Yarn Tasting
Atlanta, Georgia; www.knittinguniverse.com/stitches/south/
Easily the highlight of the 2010 yarn tasting season.  This year’s 50g
skeins were divine, featuring subtle hints of nepeta and lemon.
Breathtaking.

2. The National Needlehearts Association Yarn Tasting
Zanesville, Ohio; www.TNNA.org
Outstanding selection of double-knits; impeccably crafted, remarkably
complex, simply stunning.

3. Interweave Yarn Tasting
Loveland, Colorado; www.interweavestore.com/
The hippest yarn tasting of the year, every bit as good as your
friends said it was.

4. Lion Brand Yarn Company Yarn Tasting
New York, New York; www.lionbrand.com/
Dazzling array of medium-bodied skeins, presented in typical regal fashion.

5. Red Heart Yarns Yarn Tasting
Charlotte, North Carolina; www.redheart.com/
Red Heart Yarns = Red Hot Flavors, particularly in the 25g class.

6. Knit ‘N Style Magazine Yarn Tasting
Stanhope, New Jersey; www.knitnstyle.com/
Charming venue, crowd-pleasing yarns, always a good time.

7. Craft Yarn Council Yarn Tasting
Gastonia, North Carolina; www.craftyarncouncil.com/
Highlighted by a lively panel discussion on Fair Trade fibers.

8. Naturally Caron Yarn Tasting
Washington, North Carolina; www.naturallycaron.com/
Solid, if unspectacular, entry into the yarn-tasting circuit.

9. Crochet Today Magazine Yarn Tasting
New York, New York; www.crochettoday.com/
A mild disappointment given the amount of hype, but still worth the
price of admission.

10. Vogue Knitting Yarn Tasting
New York, New York; www.vogueknitting.com/
Unfortunately not the yarn-tasting trendsetters they used to be;
slightly more fun than a nap.

Jimi runs (ran?) Trout Mask Replica.  Miss you Troutie.

December 23, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Crowdsourcing. 1 comment.

Liz Selbst’s Top 10 Pieces of Unsolicited Advice She Wanted to Give in 2010 but Bit Her Tongue Instead

10. if you’ve spent more than an hour on the internet researching symptoms, it’s time to stop reading and make a doctor’s appointment.

9. you can use your smartphone’s accelerometer to collect data on your sleep cycles. check out “smart alarm clock” for android or “sleep cycle” for iphone.

8. if you want to break a bad habit, head to http://www.stickk.com. give them your credit card number and pick an “anti-charity” that will receive your donation if you don’t stick to your goal for 30 days.

7. it is much easier to dress appropriately for the weather than to complain all day about the sun/rain/wind/snow/cold/sand/etc.

6. a communication failure is almost always a two-way street.

5. spice up a powerpoint presentation by using the ‘b’ or ‘w’ keys to black out/white out the screen. surprisingly effective at snapping the audience back to attention.

4. refusing to admit you’ve made a mistake is usually worse than whatever the mistake was.

3. if you want to find out how something works, try to make it yourself. if you get too cocky, take apart something complicated and try to put it back together.

2. remove unnecessary information from your email signature.

1. think broadly and resist social self-sorting. befriend people who are different from you, talk about current events with those whose political views you do not share, and explain your research to people who work in different fields.

December 20, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Crowdsourcing. 3 comments.

The Cringe at the Heart of Christmas

[image via TV by the Numbers]

Giles Fraser from the Guardian blasts it.

Christmas can be a bad time for those of us with an allergy to all that Jesus-is-my-friend theology. As the angels sing, the eternal mystery pulsing through all things becomes a human being. Yes, this is orthodox Christianity. But what too many Christians take from this is theological permission to get terribly chummy with the divine. As God turns into Jesus, mystery can be replaced by sentiment, eternity forced to the scale of the domestic imagination. God becomes my best buddy. It’s the cringe at the heart of Christmas. […]

Evangelical Christianity, with all its emphasis on Jesus as friend, risks domesticating the divine, pulling God too much within the dimensions of the human perspective. With this sort of Jesus at hand, God becomes just too easy.Yes, of course, one can read the incarnation very differently. I would argue that the idea of God as a baby is one of the most disruptive theological suggestions ever made. After all, isn’t God supposed to be omnipotent? Here, Jesus is a supreme form of denial – a denial of God as power. And this powerlessness can be as much intellectual as anything else. To be a Christian is not to have the answers. Sometimes it’s just about living the questions.

Word.

[Giles Fraser @ the Guardian via the Browser]

[Animated GIF via If We Don’t, Remember Me]

December 14, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. 1 comment.

Platypus Comic

[via Happle Tea]

I was going to have an all high-brow week, but there’s not enough time for all that.

I have laundry to fold and puppies to scold.

[via Fumes]

December 8, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Comics. Leave a comment.

Who Cares About Kanye West?

[image via the Bygone Bereau]

Passion of the Weiss is my favorite rap blog.  Last month their host of contributors held a roundtable discussion on Kanye West’s new album.  The idol worship you’ll find at Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and PopMatters is absent here.  Let’s get into it.

Floodwatch:

Kanye West and his music perfectly encapsulate everything that is fundamentally wrong with pop music and pop culture right now. It’s the reason why I occasionally gnash my teeth in my sleep, why I refuse to watch television anymore, and why my gaze never strays from my shopping cart when I’m standing in the checkout line at the market. It’s unwarranted and self-made celebrity; it’s endless, narcissistic self-isolation on a Facebook page. Its bloated, glitzy splendor is the equivalent of a gated subdivision full of vacant McMansions. It’s everything I’m trying to eliminate from my life in 2010: unnecessary noise and excess.

Jeff Weiss

For my wooden nickel, the best rap music is usually menacing and minimal. This has neither, but it succeeds because Kanye is the only person with enough vision to pull it off. As much as I enjoy this record, I’m loathe to consider the impact it will have on the next generation. […]

If this is the album that American culture deserves, it’s not what we should aspire to– no matter how tongue-in-cheek or self-aware our jokes are.

Aaron Matthews

The album is simultaneously layered and shallow. […]

But Kanye excels at excess. He makes the sprawling personal and compulsively listenable. He’s pulled the strange trick of becoming more relatable as he’s gotten more infamous. […]

Yeezy reupholstered my brain.

Doc Zeus

I’m pushing my entire stack of chips onto black at the roulette table and going to call this the finest album of his career. I’m going all in. No joke. I love this record.

Cleaning up the floor after spitting my most venomous bile on it (you happy now, Jeff?), I still find the record to be uniformly excellent.

Disco Vietnam

Kanye West is a space cadet. I can’t relate to him. It’s unfortunate because my ability to relate to him was the very reason I’d first supported him. I found his passion endearing. I admired his self-assuredness; he seemed to know how to balance it with a sense of humor. […]

To hail it as perfection is beyond foolish, reckless. When the stakes are this high the critical community has a responsibility to be more judicious with its praise. Yes, this album is important; it’s also indulgent, exhausting, ponderous, all the things we tear less fashionable albums to shreds for being. […]

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy believes itself to be perfect; it’s shallow at best and at worst contrived. […]

This album is a triumph in every conceivable way but the one that matters most: is it an effective piece of art?

Sach O

So it’s officially Kanyemania out there today. Pitchfork gave the album a 10.0, Slate’s got it as album of the year and the mainstream press seems officially content to anoint Kanye as the superstar demigod he wants to be perceived as […]

I’d been avoiding getting caught up in the hype surrounding this thing in the goal to listen to it as a whole and to see how I feel about it as a complete album. Since dude thinks he’s a world-class artist making some genius shit, I figured I’d rate him to his desired standards: harshly and mercilessly based on the full record as he conceived it.

To be honest, I was ready to tear into My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but despite it’s masturbatory song-lengths, overcooked sense of self-importance and the fact that it’s made by a man who’s evolved into one of the most annoying celebrities of all time (of all time!)…This is a great album.

Douglas Martin

It’s almost like on this album, Kanye actually has enough money to cater to every impulse, and it’s not always pretty.

Though it ranks in the lower-half of Kanye’s catalog, one thing I can say about this record is that it’s the complete opposite of formulaic, which is downright heroic for a pop star. Although I agree that ambitious failures should not be placed higher in value than modest successes, I think both are commendable.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, even in its flaws, shows that Kanye really cares. Every note– all two-billion of them– seem carefully considered, and you can almost hear Kanye in the background of one of those choir breakdowns saying, “This would sound DOPE if I put a didgeridoo right here!” Pop music is supposed to be formulaic, disposable. Pop stars aren’t supposed to put this music thought, this much effort, into a pop album. Or maybe it’s not and they are, and it takes a record as ambitious as this one to show everyone what pop music could be like if everybody just tried harder.

Abe Beam

This album will age.

December 7, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. Leave a comment.

Freddie de Boer’s Digital Book Club

[image via geetika perpetually confused]

Freddie used to run one of my favorite blogs.  He had passion, ideas, intellectual honesty, and the ability to articulate his case like no one else.  And then, one day, he shut it down.

[…] ultimately it comes down to simply this: I am incapable of writing on the Internet without becoming an asshole.  This fact has asserted itself to me again and again.  And while I believe the blogosphere is a narrow-minded and vulgar space, there is no excuse for my own vulgarity, my own lack of compassion, my own failure.  I have tried reform; I have tried rededication; I have tried genre and tonal shifts.  Sooner or later I revert to my hands, this keyboard, and my anger.

He probably needed to walk away even though I didn’t want him to.  Still, I was elated when, last week, a new post from L’Hôte indicated that Freddie was back and he had a new project:  a book club focusing on discussing Umberto Eco’s the Name of the Rose.  I know next to nothing about Eco, this book, or the time period it’s set in.  Oh well.  Reading starts tomorrow.

It’s my intention, if any are interested, to engage with readers of this remarkable book.  I am not qualified to be a guide, but perhaps a companion is sufficient.  My hope is to begin the book club on December 7th and proceed through the novel in about two months.  As the date approaches, I’ll post with my ideas for the structural makeup and logistics of this book club.  It’s my hope that everything I write exists in a context with a community of commenters, of whatever size.

So get to a library, a used book store, or dust off your dad’s old copy like I did.  This is a great time to read, as Freddie can tell you.

Winter is a season for reading, for turning inwards, into interior warmth.  I mean this in the simplest sense and less speakable ones as well.  It’s cold out, in winter, and to curl up with a book in the light of a fire in your own hearth is wonderful

More details can be found at the book club’s discussion hub.

December 6, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. 3 comments.

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