Hello, Ello

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Since my last post was about taking a break for Social Networks, I figured this one should be about the newest Social Networking site.

There’s a scene in the Aaron Sorkin scripted The Social Network where Eduardo tells Mark they should sell advertising on Facebook. It goes like this:

EDUARDO It’s time to monetize the thing.

MARK What were their names?

EDUARDO Did you hear what I said?

MARK When?

EDUARDO I said it’s time to monetize the site.

MARK What does that mean?

EDUARDO It means it’s time for the website to generate revenue.

MARK No I know what the word means. I’m asking how do you want to do it?

EDUARDO Advertising.

MARK No.

EDUARDO We’ve got 4000 members.

MARK ‘Cause theFacebook is cool. If we start installing pop-ups for Mountain Dew it’s not gonna–

EDUARDO Well I wasn’t thinking Mountain Dew but at some point–and I’m talking as the business end of the company–the site–

MARK We don’t even know what it is yet. We don’t know what it is, we don’t know what it can be, we don’t know what it will be. We know that it’s cool, that is a priceless asset I’m not giving it up.

I don’t know if that ever actually happened, but if it did, at some point Mark decided to give it up. Now Facebook is little more than an online ad machine punctuated by links and statuses from the people Facebook has decided you most want to see. Worse, it’s been proven that the ads don’t even work and are a waste of money for companies. Facebook has become a necessary evil for keeping in touch with friends and family. Facebook is simply no longer cool.

Twitter has become the place where you can get news faster than the news on television and where you can follow celebrities amusing quips, but it lacks the personality that Facebook has. Your profile on Twitter simply isn’t very interesting.

Google+ has the problem that it’s trying to do too much and too much of what they’re trying to do seems like Facebook. There’s just not a very good reason to use G+ over Twitter.

I had the thought not that long ago that someone should make a dead simple social networking site that doesn’t have any filters, algorithms, or commercials and just puts up what we want to put up. Of course I don’t actually know how hard it is to do such a thing and luckily I don’t have to find  out because the folks at Ello have done I for me.

Ello’s homepage says, “We believe there is a better way. We believe in audacity. We believe in beauty, simplicity and transparency. We believe that the people who make things and the people who use them should be in partnership. “ Ello is both free of ads and free of manipulation and I’m really hoping they can stay true to this.

Ello is a social network that lets you post whatever you want whether it’s links, images, or status updates. There’s no character limit like Twitter. However, Ello does borrow Twitter’s ‘follow’ feature. This allows you to follow people without waiting for a friend request response. Unlike Twitter, it allows you a simple way to organize the people you follow into two simple categories: Friends and Noise. This makes it easy to put someone you’d rather not constantly see but whom you may want to check up on from time to time into the ‘Noise’ section without them knowing anything beyond the fact that you’re following them on Ello.

Ello is still in the Beta phase. So it’s invite only. Once you’re in, you’re given some invitations to give out, but they are limited. There are still a few bugs they’re working out. Earlier today it wouldn’t let me post and the search feature to find other members seems to only sporadically work.

(Note: As of this writing they’ve frozen invitations to Ello as they’ve reached capacity right now. They expect to unfreeze the invitations soon.)

These sort of things are expected in a Beta and the simple concept and design make up for it.

Unfortunately, social networks are only as good as the population of the network. I recently got my invite and gave out the initial set of invites I had. I intend to post original content there and use the social network whenever I can as I believe we need a viable successor to Facebook. The more people who do the same, the more likely Ello can thrive.

I hope you’ll have the chance and interest to join me. If you do, you can find me at http://Ello.co/jackcameron.

- Jack Cameron

Man Takes Break From Social Media Plunged Into Productivity

SocialMediaI’m a big fan of social media. The ability to instantly share and discuss information with friends, relatives, and strangers is incredibly attractive to me. It’s also a time suck that has almost addictive like properties for me. There are projects I want to complete that are taking far longer than they should.

There are many reasons for this but one of them is because I’m busy on Facebook arguing about the validity of the state of Palestine with a former coworker who once insisted I wash the dishes at the restaurant because the acid he was on made it seem like they were melting. It occurred to me that there might be better uses of my time.

Initially I stopped arguing with people on pages that weren’t mine. I resisted the urge to tell people they are wrong on the Internet. I reminded myself that not only are there far too many people out there with ill-informed and stupid opinions, but that telling them they are wrong is a fairly thankless and endless job that rarely results in anyone’s mind being changed.

However, I would still engage with those who were wrong on my page. If I posted something and you disagreed with it, I would argue the point both because I believed I was right and because I was interested in any information someone else might have that might prove me wrong.

It turned out that even with this restriction, I was spending far too much time paying attention to Facebook and Twitter. This was time I should be spending doing pretty much anything else.

Social media isn’t pointless and it does have its uses, but what had happened was this: I was letting my social media activity dictate my online activity rather than the other way around.

And so I’ve given myself a self-imposed break from social media. I’m not going to pay attention to most other people’s posts and I’m not going to post anything except links to my work outside of social media.

I’ll go back to posting regularly in September but the plan at this point is to limit those posts if for no other reason than everything I write on Facebook belongs to Facebook.

In the meantime, this will give me time when I’m online to update this site, TacomaStories.com, and others. I just became a contributor over at FivePointReview.com. The rest of my creative time will be devoted to getting my long awaited crime novel ready for publication.

- Jack Cameron

The Pitchfork And The Brick

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A while back I watched a video of David Simon from the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. (How cool is it that such a thing exists?) David Simon is the creator of The Wire. He also created Treme. He makes it his business to study urban and economic development in order to write compelling dramas about them. So when he talks about income inequality and where he thinks it’s headed, I listen. He got to a point in the hour long talk where he’s thinking about where things are going and he says this:

“We’re either going to do that in some practical way when things get bad enough or we’re going to keep going the way we’re going, at which point there’s going to be enough people standing on the outside of this mess that somebody’s going to pick up a brick, because you know when people get to the end there’s always the brick. I hope we go for the first option but I’m losing faith.”

This week I found an open letter by billionaire Nick Hanauer called “The Pitchforks Are Coming…For Us Plutocrats”. It’s a scathing letter explaining in detail why the middle class must be rebuilt by paying workers more money. In words that eerily echo David Simon’s he says:

“If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.”
These are smart men who know what they’re talking about and I don’t see a lot of compelling arguments going that refute their claims. More to the point, if you’re looking for it, I can see evidence of this war happening already.

Anyone who is paying attention can see that we have an increasingly militarized police force. Recently a Massachusetts SWAT team when asked for records of their activities claimed to be a corporation or a private mercenary force. This isn’t a promising sign when you have SWAT teams in other parts of the country injuring 2-year-olds.

When people aren’t getting injured or killed by the police, they’re getting arrested and imprisoned. In America we have 5% of the population and yet we have 25% of the world’s prisoners. We are incarcerating humans at a rate never before seen in human history. We are then taking those prisoners and forcing them to work for little to no pay often to increase the profits of private companies running state prisons. This is the legal slave trade of America. And you’ll find no millionaires among their ranks. Most prisoners aren’t white. Most of them are poor. All of them will have a difficult time finding a job if and when they are released increasing the likelihood that they will resort to crime resulting in more prison time.

Of course this isn’t the only problem. These days we have an increasingly large group of people who feel it is necessary to arm themselves with guns. Many of these people are anti-government. Many are poor. And thanks to gun laws so lax that even Mexican gangsters come to our country to get guns because it’s easier many of them are exactly the sort of people who shouldn’t have guns. Despite an annual death count that is nearly equal with car accidents, instead of increasing gun control laws, we have made guns even easier to get and easier to fire legally.

The combination of open carry laws and stand your ground laws make it possible for two people to openly carry guns, feel fearful of the other one and shoot each other without any law being broken. This isn’t the Wild West. It’s worse.

So we have unparalleled income inequality. We have unparalleled militarized police. We have unparalleled imprisonment. We have unparalleled private citizen armament. What we have is a class war being waged and it’s only just beginning.

If I were a billionaire, I’d probably do everything to erase my public existence, buy a fortified yacht, and hide out in the South Pacific until it’s all over.

Unfortunately, I’m a few billion dollars short of being a billionaire. Like most of you I’m living paycheck to paycheck at a pay rate closer to minimum wage than it is to the average CEO’s. I think it’s safe to say that the war is here and it’s going to get A LOT worse before it gets better. I’m talking Mad Fucking Max worse.

It could be that David Simon and Nick Hanauer and I are all wrong about this and it’s going to be fine. I accept that and I don’t have any questions about it.

What I don’t know is what should we do if we’re right? What do the people in the rapidly shrinking middle who don’t want to throw bricks or raise pitchforks do to prepare for war? How do we increase our chances of survival? Arming ourselves and stalking up on food doesn’t seem like a good choice because you don’t know how much food or ammunition you’re going to need and the best gun in the world doesn’t make you bulletproof. Is it as simple as drastic relocation? Should those of us who see this thing coming just get out of the country and try to find a safe place? (Though what place is safe from what seems to be a global class war?) These are questions I genuinely don’t know the answers to and I’m curious what others think about all of this.

I know it sounds a bit paranoid and most of us think that something else will happen before the pitchforks and bricks, but it’s a situation where we should start thinking about contingency plans before it’s too late.

I’m interested in what you think. Go ahead and comment below if you have anything you’d like to contribute to the conversation.

-       Jack Cameron

Being Wrong On The Internet

duty_calls
People are wrong on the Internet. People will say things that are factually inaccurate and easily proven false. They will say things that any 5-year-old who hasn’t been hit in the head with a baseball can tell you are untrue. They will tell you that vaccines cause autism. They will tell you that more guns make people safer and that the last mass shooting was a hoax. They will tell you that everyone on the West Coast will get cancer within five years thanks to Fukushima. They will tell you there’s a secret root that cures all cancer. They will tell you about Obamacare killing thousands. They will bury you with absolute bullshit that if you heard anyone saying in a city park, you would just assume that person is a crazy person.

And yet, if you’re like me, when these people say these wrong things on the Internet, rather than ignoring their prattle like you would if a crazy person were ranting in a park, you feel compelled to correct them. You feel the need to make sure that if someone less intelligent than you were to stumble upon such a post, they would at the very least see your comment showing that the original post is absolute crap. Because what if an innocent and naïve person were to read the original post and think that it’s true? What if your comment is the only chance to stop some other person from sharing this obviously asinine crap? If not you, who will speak truth to stupid?

It’s been one of my pastimes over the last few years. One might even call it an addiction. I find a cause I’m interested in and I care about. I find people who disagree with my stance and I battle it out online with them. Whenever possible, I try to use links and facts and statistics to back up what I’m saying and try to insist that they do the same.

I’ll tell people that I like talking to people I disagree with because it’s the only way I learn. I’ll tell people how at one point I was a anti-choice, pro-death penalty, gun rights, Christian Quaker, and how through talking with people I disagreed with, I am now none of those things. And while that is true, it’s not why I do it.

I am not going to learn anything from someone who thinks 9/11 was an inside job. And there isn’t going to be a theologian alive who is going to convince me that God exists. There aren’t facts out there that will convince me that killing someone is the best way to show as a society that killing is wrong. Many of the things I see as true are things I’ve thought about and studied so much that in many ways I’m simply frustrated with those who see things otherwise. More to the point, I just want them to pay attention to the facts and see where that leads because I think if they do that, they’ll find themselves in a similar area.

I haven’t been doing it to learn. I’ve been doing it because it’s fun. And while I’m all for having fun, there are better ways to have fun than at someone else’s expense. Taking out my frustration and anger on people who have opinions not backed up by anything more than their feelings on the matter while enjoyable isn’t really what I want to be about. I’d rather take that time and simply make a compelling argument here on my website than get into a thread war on Facebook that inevitably ends with someone I might otherwise think is an okay person all pissed off at me because I’ve ridiculed them for having the audacity to post something stupid.

My point here is simple. I have things I need to do and things I want to do that all take priority over telling someone they are wrong on the Internet. So instead, I’m going to treat you like the crazy person in the park and simply walk away. Facebook friends who post too many bullshit stories will find themselves no longer part of my Facebook friends. Websites that post click bait will be ignored. Commenters so incredibly stupid that it’s strange they’re capable of literacy will be likewise ignored. In short, to all you climate change denying, 9/11 conspiracy, gun nut, anti-vaccers out there, I have better things to do with my life than to tell you that you are wrong on the Internet.
– Jack Cameron

An Open Letter To American Gun Owners

gunsAmerican Gun Owners,

Let me start off by saying that I know the vast majority of you are responsible law abiding citizens who are trained in the use of your weapons and would likely never shoot another human being without other lives being in imminent danger. You’re also likely not someone who is brandishing your weapons around supermarkets, department stores, and restaurants trying just to antagonize anti-gun people. Your gun likely sits in a gun case somewhere until you feel like going out to the range to target shoot or perhaps when you go hunting. Despite what many liberals might believe, most of you are entirely rational, educated individuals who are well aware of the power and responsibility inherent in owning a gun. You need not convince me of this as I already know it to be true.

Now having said that, let me also state that I don’t expect that this letter is going to change your mind about guns in the slightest. When it comes to the seemingly endless and toothless gun debate here in America, most of us have chosen our sides, dug in our heels, and will not be changing our minds anytime soon. I get that. I’ll even acknowledge that such a description likely fits me as well. We all have our reasons and our pet studies that will help back up what we already believe about guns, gun violence, and what can or should be done about it.

I’m aware that no amount of sources, studies, evidence, or data is going to result in a sudden shift in viewpoint. I’m equally aware that what I’m going to ask will likely fall on deaf ears. So before I get to that point, let me ask one quick and easy favor. For the duration of this letter, let’s step out of our fox holes for a few moments. I will not attack you with anything and you will allow if only for a moment the idea that just maybe we could do this. Can we make that deal just for the length of this post?

Every year a gun is used to kill 30,000 Americans. 20,000 of these are suicides. 10,000 are homicides. If rates continue as they are, more people will be killed yearly using guns than will be killed in automobile accidents. And despite what many in the gun lobby have told us, liberals and Obama are doing absolutely nothing to take your guns away. If nothing else, you can rest secure in the iron-clad fact that Obama is not coming for your guns.

Okay. Now let me ask you this. What if there was a way to make 100% sure that your gun was never used for a homicide or a suicide? Sure, you may have your gun locked up. You may have various methods of security to keep your gun from being used to harm other law abiding citizens, but each of these can be circumvented. Locks can be broken. Guns can be stolen or lost. It’s one of those things we think will never happen to us until it does. So I ask you to open your mind. I ask you to let in one incredibly simple idea.

The one sure-fire way to make sure that no one ever uses your guns to kill anyone else and every law abiding citizen is safe from any harm your guns might do is to simply get rid of your guns.

I know you’re already immediately dismissing this concept. I know that in some cases it’s a part of who you are. In other cases, you simply can’t imagine a circumstance in which your gun might be used to harm others. You’re probably right about that.

However, if you’re able to, I’d like you to imagine a scenario in which you’re wrong. Imagine that someone with ill intent did get their hands on your gun. Imagine they used it to take their own life. Or imagine they used it to kill someone. Imagine how that might make you feel and imagine how different it might be if you simply didn’t have the gun in the first place. Are you not afraid of that feeling and if not, why not? Isn’t that just as big of a fear as you might have of someone breaking into your house while you’re unarmed? It should be. It’s much more likely that a gun will be used to shoot the person holding it or used in a homicide than it is to be used to defend against a home invasion.

Home invasions are incredibly rare despite how popular such instances are on the news. And defending yourself from a home invasion with a gun is rarer still. Our government has drones and missiles. If they chose to be oppressive, your guns would not stop them. Most of the situations in which you might need a gun are incredibly unlikely. Truth be told, it’s also unlikely that your gun will ever be used for anything beyond target shooting. But why leave even a small chance that it could be?

You can bring your gun in to any local police station. You do not need it. Getting rid of it may save lives. It may even save the lives of the people in your home or yourself. You want to make sure your gun never takes an innocent person’s life under any circumstances? Join us and be good without guns.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I realize that you’re not likely going to get rid of your guns. But I do appreciate your willingness to imagine it with me for a while.

-          Jack Cameron

#GoodWithoutGuns

Be Safe I Love You By Cara Hoffman – A Review

besafeiloveyouA while back I reviewed Cara Hoffman’s first novel, ‘So Much Pretty’. The raw intimacy that Hoffman achieved in that novel was so memorable that I kept my eye out for her next work. Her new novel, ‘Be Safe, I Love You’ shows that Cara Hoffman continues to be one of the most original voices writing novels today.

‘Be Safe, I Love You’ tells the story of a soldier returning to the small hometown of Watertown, New York after being in Iraq. Unfortunately the soldier brought some of the war back as well. This is not a new story. In fact, we’ve seen it many times. Two things set this story apart from others. One is that Cara Hoffman has a gift for creating characters that don’t feel invented. The other is that the protagonist of this particular war story is a woman.

This combination results in a novel that at times feels more like a war memoir than a novel. Lauren Clay is one of the most fully realized characters I’ve ever read. By the end of the novel you feel like you know her.

Lauren joined the military because her family had shattered and she needed to provide for her family. Her mother had abandoned the family and her father was left a husk of a man, leaving Lauren to take care of her preteen brother. The relationship she has with her little brother is similar to that of survivors of a catastrophe. It’s clear as the story goes unfolds that Lauren’s war started long before she ever put on a uniform.

It takes some time for the reader and those around Lauren to realize the extent of Lauren’s damage. There is a lit-fuse quality to the entire book. We feel as though it could all go tragically wrong in an instant. Poignantly this is exactly the same feeling Lauren herself has despite being thousands of miles from a war zone.

As I said, the story of the scarred veteran returning home is not new. And even with the welcomed addition of the soldier being female, many of the tropes of the soldier home from war remain. This is one of the points of the novel. The soldiers may change by the wounds never really do.

What sets this apart from your standard war novel isn’t that Lauren Clay is a woman. It’s Cara Hoffman’s effortlessly intimate writing. There’s an immediate closeness to the people and events in ‘Be Safe I Love You’ that isn’t common in these kinds of books. Hoffman’s characters have quiet moments that feel more authentic than the non-stop action or drama you might get from other novels.

Be Safe I Love You manages to be exactly what you want in a second novel. It’s nothing like the first but every bit as powerful and enjoyable to read. I look forward to her third novel.

-          Jack Cameron

Mistakes And Mass Shootings

policelineWhenever there is a mass shooting, there is always talk of gun control. This is a mistake. While mass shootings are certainly dramatic and terrible, they account for a very small amount of the 30,000 people who lose their lives to gunfire every year in America.

Truthfully, background checks, limited magazines, training, registration, and other common sense preventative gun control measures are unlikely to stop most mass shootings. This leads many gun rights enthusiasts to conclude that because gun control is unlikely to stop mass shootings we should not enact any gun control measures. This also is a mistake.

Of the 30,000 gun deaths every year, 20,000 of them are self-inflicted. In other words if you are killed by a gun, you’re twice as likely to be the person who also pulled the trigger. This is an area where gun control measures have an opportunity to help immensely. A suicidal person is less likely to kill themselves with a gun if they are required to go through an extensive background check and then a training course before they can even purchase a firearm. Studies show that lack of access to firearms results in lower suicide rates. 

Gun control will not stop all gun deaths or gun suicides much like owning a fire extinguisher isn’t going to stop all fires from burning down your home. Another common mistake about gun control is that many people think if it won’t stop ALL gun deaths then we shouldn’t do it at all. This is, of course, absurd.

Another mistake we often see after a mass shooting is the outcry that we should not be putting any focus whatsoever on guns and instead we should only focus on the pitiful state of our mental health care programs. We should most definitely put a focus and money and resources towards fixing the lack of mental health care in this country. But it’s a bit simplistic and outright stupid to think that we only have the ability to focus on one dangerous factor when it comes to mass shootings. We can acknowledge that our mental healthcare system needs work and then look at what other factors may have contributed to these tragedies.

This leads to another common mistake. While it’s correct to say that every single aspect of a person’s life leads them to take the actions they choose, it’s incorrect to assume that if those actions are horrific, then every single aspect that influenced those actions must be equally horrific. Correlation does not necessarily equal direct causation. Millions of people watch violent movies, play violent video games, read books on picking up girls, and listen to music with morally repugnant lyrics without committing any violent actions whatsoever. One cannot condemn something simply because a murderer may have encountered it. Of course, it’s a simple matter to use this same argument regarding guns. And again, this is why I say it’s a mistake to think gun control is going to stop mass shooters.

Whenever something horrible happens, we want to know why and we want to know how to stop it from happening again. Sometimes there are no simple answers. Sometimes there are obvious answers that turn out to be absolutely wrong. It’s important to keep an open mind and be willing to change it when presented with new evidence. Failure to do that is the biggest mistake of all.

Jack Cameron