Like A Prayer

(Excerpted from something I sent to my mailing list, you should subscribe)

The other day I was hanging out in a local coffee shop with Rips (my 5yo son for anyone who doesn’t know) when Madonna’s “Like a prayer” came on the sound system, he started dancing in his seat and said he really liked the song. I’ve been trying to take note of what music he reacts to and encourage it when I can. Since I bought him a record player for his birthday, I pinged my friend who has a record shop near by and told him I needed to get that record. He only had “Like a virgin” in stock, but tracked down “Like a prayer” for me in a few days. I bought “Like a virgin” too just for the hell of it. When I got home and gave them a listen I remembered one of the formative moments of my childhood that I’d long since forgotten. I suppose everyone has a point growing up when they realize their parents/family aren’t flawless, and maybe they are actively misleading them. Unintentionally Madonna tipped me off to that.

Mid 80’s, early MTV days. Madonna was everywhere. My very Catholic family was not impressed and took every opportunity to tell me how horrid she was. Unsolicited. She was a blasphemer. She was mocking *our* faith by calling herself Madonna and wearing a crucifix. She was probably a Satanist. Definitely a slut. A hussy. She was certainly trying to corrupt innocent minds. Etc. etc. As a kid, hearing this from authority figures I assumed it must be true. But it had a contrary impact on me, rather than scare me away which was the intended motivation, it made me curious. Who was this lady who would make such a public attack on a group of people. Why would she do that? What was her story?

Once I started digging into it a different story came out, of course it’s much easier to find now, but I learned then that she wasn’t using the name “Madonna” as a slam against Catholics, but rather that was her actual name given to her by her very Catholic parents – it’s on her birth certificate. And her music, her art, was influenced by the imagery she’d grown up around. Like almost every other artist I’d learned about. An anti-climatic end to a story that had been so built up. I have to say, it was a little disappointing. (Luckily I soon found Slayer) But that got me thinking – if nothing my family had told me about Madonna was actually true, what else had they told me wasn’t based entirely in fact? And why would they tell me something like that?

Either they were purposefully trying to deceive me, or more likely someone had told this to them and they’d just accepted it as truth. Or maybe no one told them and that was just their gut reaction having been conditioned to react certain ways to certain things and assumed they had it all figured out – also a very real possibility. Maybe they were so insecure about their own beliefs that they had to proactively attack anything that they felt challenged them in the slightest bit. All options – but regardless, none of those options were reassuring. All of them lead to the inevitable truth that I could no longer accept anything they told me as the truth. I guess that stuck with me more than I realized. Thanks Madonna.

Subconsciously I’ve incorporated that lesson into my own parenting efforts, when my son asks me a question I make sure to answer honestly or if I don’t know, I tell him that I don’t know. Sometimes we look up the answers together. When I talk to him about my opinions I make it clear that people have different opinions and feelings about things, that this is what I think but he’s welcome to think about it and decide what he wants to think. I know I’m setting myself up for him eventually making decisions I don’t agree with, but he’s his own person and that’s his right. And him having his own opinions is far more appealing to me than him someday coming to the conclusion that I’ve been lying to him.

Make some noise

Me, Myself, and this blog,Music — Sean Bonner @ 7:18 am

Last month my friend Adrian told me he had an idea, and wanted to know if I’d be interested in collaborating on a project with him. He’d been reading my 30 days of fiction stories listened to some of the synth noise I’ve been messing around with and thought there might be an interesting fusion between those and some footage he’d filmed recently. It sounded fun.

The trick of course is that Adrian lives in Tokyo and I live in LA, so we couldn’t just get together and make it, so instead we started sending bits and pieces back and forth to each other. He’d send me some video, I’d send him some audio, he’d tweak the video and send back, I’d record new audio and send it, etc. It actually worked out pretty well, and the resulting piece of video art is something I’m quite happy with.

You can read Adrian’s blog post about it or go directly to the video hosted on vimeo.

Somewhat related, I’ve been having a lot of fun making this crazy noise stuff recently and think I might do more of it, but it seemed weird enough that I thought it should have it’s own name. So I’m calling it KILLAKEE CAT and I got the domain killakee.cat to house it. It’s a nod to this fun story. You can also follow @killakeecat on twitter for updates on new things whenever there are some.

How to save twitter aka #deardickc

Articles,Networks, Theory, and the Web — Sean Bonner @ 8:14 pm

I’ve been ranting about this on twitter for days, or years if you think about it, but thought it was time to collect some of these thoughts in one place. I purposely didn’t include punctuation in the title of this piece because it could just as easily be “How to save twitter!” as it could be “How to save twitter?” – in fact it might be both.

If you are reading this you likely know about @dickc, CEO of twitter, sending an internal note accepting that twitter is horrible at dealing with abuse and taking ownership of that problem. This of course is a problem that the rest of the world has known about, and has been discussing, for quite some time.

I’m not a twitter employee, investor or anything, so why do I even care? Because I love twitter, or at least I loved it, but it’s been bumming me out a lot recently.

As one of the first 140 people to sign up for twitter, I’ve seen almost every change the site has gone through first hand. Some of those changes were natural evolutions and just made sense – for example getting rid of the “All” feed which showed you every tweet by every user on twitter at once – eventually there were too many people posting too often for this to be useful at all. Similarly the addition of the “Replies” feed where you could see tweets by people talking directly to you rather than having to scroll through the feed comprised of lists of your friends or the aforementioned “All” feed to see if anyone had mentioned you. These were natural evolutions based on how people were using the site. The addition of “replies” changed everything, and overnight a jumbled string of comments turned into conversations you could follow. This little change has irreversibly changed how people communicate online. It’s impossible to downplay the importance of that.

The benefit of enabling conversations came with the side effect of bubbling up comments, or “replies” from people whom the recipient might not already be acquainted. This was a positive thing because it allowed anyone in the world to talk to anyone else, but it was also a negative because it allowed anyone in the world to talk to anyone else. The positive was more immediately apparent than the negative, but it wasn’t long before the negative was impossible to ignore. This was the start of a problem that was never effectively dealt with.

This is a lot of history but I’m getting to a point here so stick with me.

“Verified” accounts were introduced after St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa sued twitter after someone else set up an account in his name, the suit claiming twitter enabled this impersonation. Twitter denied responsibility sticking to their hands off “platform not publisher” approach to dealing with such complaints, but created “verified” accounts as a future solution – so that the public could tell the difference between real and parody accounts. At face value this seems like a viable solution. But it came with problems of it’s own (like new users assuming anyone not verified is fake), the largest however is twitter never publicly disclosed a set of standards or process for people to get their accounts verified. Worse, they quickly turned “Verified accounts” into a marketing product. Celebrities and high profile people who would give this new user class(* I’ll get to this in a minute) validity and value started popping up as twitter hand picked who to give these accounts too. Blue checkmarks became a hot commodity and it wasn’t long before business partners, read that as paying advertisers, ended up with verified accounts as well. As of this moment there are 121,215 verified accounts  (of 288 million users) and a quick scan of that list shows lots of brands, and lots of people associated with those brands, not a lot of people at high risk for impersonation. I clicked 6 or 7 of the most recent names on that list at random and not one of them had over 1000 followers. Meanwhile a guy who was on the original team that built twitter, the guy who started #hashtags and people with tens of thousands of followers aren’t. Hell even current twitter employees who are followed by the CEO aren’t verified.

I think we can all agree “verified” has nothing to do with how high someone’s profile is, or if twitter is assured the person is who they claim to be. Just sayin’.

It’s pretty obvious that twitter has felt that brands and businesses are their primary customer for quite some time. Which might be true, but only because they’ve never offered a way for people to be customers as well. Giving people access to their ad platform which is 100% designed for businesses doesn’t really count. The mistake here is assuming that their primary customers were their primary users. Or even should be. Individual people far out number the brands on twitter, and this is a loyal resource that twitter has been taking for granted. So it’s no surprise that when all efforts are spent to attract brands, people get left behind. Brands don’t harass each other, when all focus is on how to make brands happy, is it any surprise ordinary people fell through the cracks?

I’ve ranted for years about my problems with this system and won’t go back over all those here, suffice to say “verified” implied confirmation of identity when it fact it should have been something like “twitter gold” or “premium.” The manufactured exclusivity made it valuable, but detracted from it’s value. If you know what I mean.

This is actually where I think they made the biggest mistake, and where they can correct it all pretty much overnight.

I mentioned earlier that verified accounts are a user class. This isn’t transparent. To the general public a verified account looks just like any other account with the addition of a blue checkmark. But behind the scenes verified accounts have access to additional tools and filters which are designed specifically to improve the experience. Not the least of which is the ability to ignore everything but other verified accounts. As you can imagine there is very little verified on verified harassment.

So here’s the roadmap:

1. Give up the exclusivity of “verified” and create a transparent process for anyone to prove they are who they say they are and get verified. This isn’t a “real name” policy, it’s a “I’m a real person attached to this account” policy. Essentially letting “verified” be what it was initially promised to be – a way for people to know if the account is actually run by who it says it is.

2. Step 1 in play gives anyone access to these enhanced filters if they want them. Web and mobile should have mirrored features. Right now anyone using the web interface can filter replies to only see messages from people they follow, but they don’t have this option in mobile. Giving everyone all filters on all platforms makes harassment infinitely easier to manage, block and ignore.

3. To compensate for lost revenue from brands by removing the exclusivity of “verified” twitter should introduce paid accounts. Maybe this is tied to the verification process, but web users are far more comfortable with paying for accounts in 2015 than they were in 2006 when twitter launched. We happily pay for accounts all over the web these days so the oft repeated argument that people won’t pay for accounts rings hollow. If verification cost $5 a month, or $20 a year I can’t imagine enough people wouldn’t jump on it to more than cover the difference. In fact, I’d bet this route is way more profitable.

Now this doesn’t solve everything, but it takes some massive steps in the right direction.  I put up Dear Dick C (dot com)  in hopes to bring some attention to this, it worked (sort of) when I tried it with Marissa, so I thought I’d give it a shot again.

Comics

Recommendations, or not — Sean Bonner @ 12:27 am

I was heavy into comic books as a kid, in fact it’s possible that comics are the patient zero for my collector tendencies as even at a very early age I remember learning about 1st printings and researching resale values and storage best practices. I saved up for quite a while to get a 1st printing of G.I.Joe #1 which was a prized possession until I lost my entire comic collection in a bad roommate/move situation in the mid-90’s. I hadn’t really been “keeping up” on comics and so losing a few boxes of things I’d just been storing for 10+ years wasn’t that much of a disappointment to me at the time and I looked at it as a bit of clean break. In 2014 I gave back into the pull because a few of my friends write comics and I was starting to feel bad about not having read their stuff (because I knew I’d like it) and I felt like I was missing out on some important cultural discussions. I’ve also always wanted to make a comic book myself and only recently realized that the person writing and drawing it didn’t have to be the same so my lack of artistic ability couldn’t stand in the way. That said, oddly, just wanting it to happen didn’t make it so, and I didn’t know where or how to begin, so thought reading them again was as good a place to start as any.

Turns out there’s some fantastic books on shelves right now and I thought I’d talk about a few that I’ve been really enjoying incase anyone was also curious and wanting to check things out but not knowing where to begin. I should note this is by no means comprehensive, it’s just what I’ve happened to stumble across and enjoyed. If you know of something I might like, given this list, please let me know.

Hawkeye – I blame my current comic problem entirely on Matt Fraction and his work on Hawkeye. I kept hearing people talking about this and decided to see what all the fuss was about and fell in love immediately with everything about this story and these characters. Anyone who knows me in person and has even mentioned a passing interest in comics has heard me rave about this. If you don’t already know this is largely the story of the least known member of The Avengers, the one without super powers, and what he does in his off hours – when he’s not being an Avenger. It’s brilliant.

Sex Criminals – I consider myself lucky that I got into Hawkeye just before Sex Criminals came out, so I was on the Fraction wagon and excited to see where it was headed. This is the story of two ordinary people who realize they can stop time when they have orgasms and decide to rob banks to raise money to save a used bookstore. But turns out that isn’t so simple.

Alex + Ada – This is a classic love story between two people who society can’t accept being together. Except one of them is a self aware robot. Near future and foreseeable, I look forward to new issues of this more than anything else.

Southern Bastards – I blame growing up in Florida on enjoying this, I feel like I know many of the characters personally and that’s not a good thing.

Trees – One of Warren’s new ones and one I’m very much enjoying. Aliens came to earth and didn’t give a crap about humanity existing at all, so this story is about the people who live in this post-indifferent-invasion world and how they cope with their insignificance.

Bitch Planet – This is brand new and the story is still being set, but basically it’s about an off-world correctional facility where women are sent for any number of reasons and (maybe?) the rebellion that takes place there. Excellent characters so far and super engaging.

Superior Foes of Spiderman – I’ve really enjoyed this series about the bad guys who didn’t quite cut it.

Zero, Satellite Sam, Supreme Blue Rose, The Wicked & The Devine are series’ that I know I’ll like as I’ve read a few issues of, but for one reason or another I just haven’t sat down to read through the stack of back issues I have piled up.

People have told me I’ll like Casanova, Saga, Captain Marvel, Phonogram & Suburban Glamour and I’ve picked up some single issues or collections of them but haven’t had a chance to really get into them yet. But I will soon, I promise.

self confidence and collaborations

Articles,Me, Myself, and this blog,Music — Sean Bonner @ 1:41 pm

I’m not exactly sure when but at some point in my life I started ranking collaborations higher than anything I could do on my own. Of course, I should note, there is value in both. But there was a solid section of my life when I knew that no one wanted to work on anything with me so if I wanted to do it my only choice was to do it myself. And I did. And I was happy with the results. Perhaps due in part to some of those results, people I looked up to started getting in touch, or maybe having some experience under my belt I wasn’t nervous about reaching out to them. Anyway, I’d talk to some of these people and on occasion one of us might propose working on a project together. I was always flattered. Seriously, anyone I’ve ever worked with in my life has been a dream come true for me. At first anyway, but that’s a different story. I’d only ever consider going in on something with someone I already respected, so that someone I respected was down for a collab with me felt great.

I’ve been lucky to work with or build things with a great number of people I think are serious badasses. And I’m incredibly proud of the outcomes of the vast majority of those collaborations. I wouldn’t undo them for anything. Even the ones that didn’t work out exactly as I’d hoped – all still awesome. But somewhere along the way I started second guessing anything that I didn’t have a collaborator to validate. I don’t think this was a conscious shift, at first it was just if a had the choice between doing something on my own or with someone else I’d opt for the joint endeavor because two heads are better than one right? And then as that went on it turned into a feeling that I needed some outside perspective or expertise to shape whatever my contribution was. And eventually that maybe they were the one with the value and I was just lucky to have the opportunity work with them, but without them my piece wasn’t all that interesting. I don’t think any of those are especially productive positions to take, but you know, hindsight and all.

It’s only after years of a slow shift and later a conscious decision to recognize it that I realized how many ideas, projects or things I put off because a collaboration hadn’t materialized. The slightest hint of interest from someone else justified an idea to me, and lack of interest nullified it. It’s like I stopped trusting my own internal gauge of what was worth doing. Similarly, if someone else thought an idea was cool but was unable to work on it with me I made myself believe I couldn’t do it on my own. That I needed that other person to help my ideal materialize. Of course none of that is true and these are just the things doubt fills your head with. The slide into that negative space is so gradual that it’s hard to recognize, so just realizing this is happening is a huge step. Having identified the culprit it’s easy to cast them out.

If I think I have a good idea, it doesn’t become less of a good idea just because I don’t have someone to collaborate with. If I do, great, but if I don’t, no biggie. This is probably a similar feeling to being in a relationship for a long time and when it ends, feeling uncertain about your own choices and quickly looking for someone else to shack up with so you don’t have to face all that on your own. Or choosing to be single for a while and seeing who you really are. So in a way, creatively, I’m trying to embrace being single for a bit. What does that mean? Probably means I’ll be producing and putting out a bunch of garbage that you all will have to sort through. But it also means I might make some things I’m happy with. I think about my friend Jonathan’s theory here – make lots of stuff and some of it will suck but some of it will be great and it’s worth it for the great stuff.

1000 words on religion

Articles,Philosophy — Sean Bonner @ 10:22 pm

[this post is also available on Medium & Tumblr for ease of sharing]

Yesterday I watched this video of Pastor Eric Dammann of New Jersey’s Bible Baptist Church recount his interaction with a kid named Ben. Go ahead and watch it, it’s short:

It’s disgusting for a whole all-you-can-eat-buffet of reasons but let’s go ahead and address a few of them. The most obvious is that he’s talking about punching a child. But not just talking about it, bragging. He underlines that he “crumpled” the kid. This full grown man, unprovoked, punched a child in the chest and crumpled him. And he’s proud of this. But just before that happens he mentions that this kid Ben was really bright which “didn’t help things” and “made him dangerous”. Reading between the lines anyone can assume Ben was a smart kid who perhaps didn’t take this guys word as law and asked some questions that the good pastor found annoying to have to answer, or not answer as the case my be. Dangerous because he didn’t just submit? Pastor Dammann then essentially lays out that through the use of physical violence he made a child succumb to his religious beliefs. Beliefs we can only assume Ben didn’t buy into prior to this altercation.

To recap: Smart people are dangerous, violence is the solution. This is the message here.

This video has sparked enough outrage that Bible Baptist Church posted a self serving, half ass, revisionist apology on their website which implores the community, and by extension the world, to be as understanding and forgiving as Ben who has already made peace with the pastor for his actions years ago. One has to wonder if this forgiveness came under threat of more violence. Forgive me or else! Of course this story is not making headlines the world over because unfortunately this kind of thing isn’t news. Religious people have been using violence to suppress dissenters for a very long time, and this week has some horrifically ugly examples. 12 people killed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and another 5 in Paris because the magazine printed cartoons unflattering to the Prophet Muhammad. In Nigeria the militant Islamist movement Boko Haram has killed close to 2000 including strapping a bomb to a 10 year old girl and sending her into a market where the bomb was detonated remotely. And yes, killing people is different from punching them, but the motivations are the same. You haven’t blindly accepted this mythology that I believe is real so I’m going to hurt you.

This has been happening as long as religion has existed and no faith is free from blame.

Coincidentally this is exactly the motivation behind the creation of something else happening in the US this week: National Religious Freedom Day. Did you know there was a religious freedom day? Created in 1992 and based on Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom which dates back to 1777. This is important because it clearly states a legal and natural freedom of and from all religions. Here’s a snip:

“…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

If you think sounds familiar you are right, as it was the primary influence for the First Amendment of the US which assures freedom of religion and speech to all people. Here’s that:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Speech and religion are intricately related as we’re seeing in every news report coming out of Paris. People were killed because of what they said about someone else’s religion. And this sparked massive freedom of speech rallies attended by millions – the biggest such rallies in France since liberation from the Nazis. The people are obviously in support of free speech and politicians from the world over rushed to Paris to stand side by side with these people. Of course, many of politicians are barely paying lip service to the ideals represented, and it took mere hours for this to be apparent as a French comedian was arrested for making a joke on Facebook (plus 54 other cases opened for people expressing opinions) and for Turkey to ban the newest issue of Charlie Hebdo.

But that’s over there and here we’ve just got pastors punching kids, so big deal, right? Well with a 92% Christian Congress and a Supreme Court ruling that businesses can discriminate based on of religion we’re already seeing where someone’s religious beliefs could prevent people from receiving health care because of their sexual orientation. This isn’t far away hypothetical thought experiments, this is actually happening right now. Religious massacres are low hanging fruit – easy to condemn, but I feel just as strongly that kids shouldn’t fear or risk being punched by an adult for not sharing the same imaginary friends. And it’s important to recognize that there is some structure, and some basis for the idea that we should all be allowed to decide what we do or don’t believe in, and shouldn’t fear institutional backlash from those decisions.

That’s the world I want to live in, that’s the world I’m trying to shape.

Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others

Philosophy — Sean Bonner @ 5:31 pm

Growing up in a fairly religious family the notion that you should always consider other people before yourself was pretty well hammered into me. Of course we all know what most religious people say and what they do are two very different things but that’s a topic for another time. But regardless, as a kid I always had the adults in my life repeating this to me. This manifested itself in different ways in different situations. I remember from a very early age sitting on an airplane listening to the safety instructions and thinking it was rude and selfish that the flight attendants were suggesting that people should put on their oxygen masks before helping anyone else. I’d listen and ask myself what kind of terrible people would help themselves before helping others. 

 

It took me years to understand the importance of this disconnect. It’s shockingly obvious: You can’t help others if you are dead – then you both die. Putting on your oxygen mask first ensures you live and can then help other people.

 

Abstract that back a bit, two people, two problems. One person tries to fix the other persons problem and it’s a very real possibility that both people will still have problems. End result, two people, two problems. But if one person fixes their problem right away, then tries to help the other person with their problem at worst you’ll have one person with no problems and one person with one problem, and at best two people with no problems.

 

At some point I realized this wisdom extends far beyond the tarmac, and well into normal everyday life. You shouldn’t try to fix other people’s problems before fixing your own. And beyond problems into happiness, you can’t expect to make other people happy if you aren’t happy yourself. (Secretly miserable comedians excluded apparently). I don’t think the importance of this can be underestimated and for something that is so obvious – put your oxygen mask on first – not a lot of people follow the logic elsewhere.

 

How often in a disagreement, business or personal, where two parties want different things is compromise proposed as the solution? That’s not actually a solution, it might be an agreement, but at the end of the process neither party gets what they want. It’s not “we’re both kind of happy” it’s “at least the other guy isn’t happy either.” A better solution is to work with people who want the same outcome as you. To spend time with people who are happy because you are happy, not people who want you to be unhappy. Even if on the short term that seems reasonable, big picture – it’s not. Think about it. Long term nothing good can come from investing in people who don’t value your happiness. 

 

This isn’t just a lesson about who to spend time with, but also about the importance of knowing what actually makes you happy. If you don’t know what you want, then you can’t make it a priority. You can’t find people with similar goals. You can’t be happy to begin with. So, if you don’t know, figure it out. It’s important. Put on your own oxygen mask first.

It’s a new year, what will you do with it?

Me, Myself, and this blog — Sean Bonner @ 1:01 pm

While I’m far too jaded to put any stake in new years resolutions I do find value in reassessing life and direction and trajectory from time to time and the new year is an easy marker to remember to do that once and a while. Looking back over the last 12 months I think I too often let the little critical voices inside my head shape my actions. If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while you know I wrestle with this and sometimes I’m awesome at ignore them and other times I give them more weight than I should. It’s a creep and easily addressed once I realize it and while I might not see it day to day, looking at months at a time makes it more obvious. And just like how turning on a light gets rid of the darkness, taking notice of the inner critics often shuts them up. It make them easier to ignore at least, for a while anyway. That’s why these occasional assessments are good.

 

For me, the inner critics aren’t of the “you suck!” flavor that others sometime fight with. Mine are more subtle and a constant “no one will care about this, why bother?” I also overthink reactions and if I can convince myself that a single person might read whatever I’ve written and might take it the wrong way and might react negatively then before I realize it changed course. I self censor. And that’s bad for my head. I’ve talked a lot about how writing is my therapy. I work though whatever is rattling around in my brain by writing it and have come to some amazing revelations this way. So when I don’t write, when I don’t hash this stuff out, it piles up. And that sucks. And it spills into other parts of my life. I tell myself not to send that email because the person probably won’t reply. I tell myself not to take that photo because it’ll probably be lame. I tell myself not to put whatever it is out there into the world because no one will care. So I’m identifying that right now and casting it out.

 

Right now I’m giving myself permission, and encouragement to push forward. I’m renewing my license to do it. What will I do with that license?

  • Take the shot
  • Hit publish
  • Don’t worry about potential critics
  • Say yes
  • Just fucking do it

I know this approach might result in making some things that are less than awesome, and might result in making some things that get me in trouble. But I also know that making things trumps not making things. And trouble from making things trumps no trouble from not making things.

 

So that’s where I’m at today. Thanks for being there with me.

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