Feb 27, 2018

An Independent Income Scheme, Russian Influence and Net Neutrality

A while ago somehow my computer found out my age. And I started seeing these bait-click ads on the side of websites I was looking at, “What to know when you’re 24!” “How to manage your money at 24!!” “Ways to save at 24!” “Relationship advice for 24 yr-olds!” They suddenly knew my age and that my love life was stagnant.
And I was seeing these at a particularly low point in my… earnings. I kept telling myself, “Oh, they think they’re gonna get me with this one, don’t they.” And “Don’t click on it, Parisa, don’t click on it, IT’S A SCAM.”
But then one day, the Facebook Newsfeed was only showing me things I couldn’t care less about, which actively depressed me, instead of all the stuff from the people I care about, which it always seems to try to hide from me. And one of those penny hoarder bait-click ads popped up on the side and I was just like “f*ck it,” and I clicked on it.  “24 ways to make more money at 24!”
I feel like the easy and fast progression of these events is indicative of Russian influence on Facebook.
The place it took me to made my computer hyperventilate but I figured as long as I was already there, and ready for pop-ups, I might as well read this fluffed-up list.
A lot of the things were really basic, like “get a job, have more than one bank account,” but then I ran across this one, “set up an independent income scheme,” and I was instantly captured by that idea.
I carefully read the paragraph under that headline four or five times before I noticed that they really weren’t telling you how to set up an independent income scheme, they were just saying, “yo, this is a super good idea, dude, def get on it, man, get started now!” Which I was pretty disgruntled by. I mean, what the f*ck is an independent income scheme and how the hell do I get in on one!? It sounds awesome and only mildly illegal. That is exactly up my alley. 
It just sounds too great, an independent income scheme. That sounds like money that you would have to do very little work for, that would somehow appear, independently.
I am all about that. Even if, I still don’t exactly know what it is.
I’m not even convinced that whoever wrote the bait-click-fluff piece even knew what it was, since there was no definitive description, example or explanation in that paragraph I read over and over again. It was just like, “an independent income scheme is a great way to independently pad your income!”
The word that really catches my interest here is “scheme”…. I like that word. I like that word a lot. I especially like it in phrases like pyramid scheme, and profit sharing scheme. Ponzi scheme. Color scheme.
In my eyes, the word scheme can do no wrong. It can only be beneficial to you, otherwise it would be called something else, like plan or system. That’s when you know you’ve got the short end of the stick. When, instead of using nefarious sounding words, they use words that make it seem a lot less active and more of a communal, friendly effort, because that’s how they trick you into participating in their scheme. Or system. You didn’t come up with that idea, and it doesn’t really benefit you, but as long as it’s called “a system,” then it’s fine, you’ll participate in it and won’t really notice anything wrong. It’s only when it’s called a scheme that people’s ears perk up and they’re like, “Uh, wait, who exactly is this benefitting?”

A real-world, real-American example I can think of that relates to this is the tax plan President Trump has… “thought” of.  There’s a lot of literature circling about how this tax plan is for everyone and is going to be a great thing! I think if we switched the word “plan” with the word “scheme,” everyone would be a lot more suspicious of this tax reform.  President Trump recently called it a great gift to the middle class, and yes, it’s a great gift. Just like the Trojan Horse was a great gift to Troy…a city that was then sacked by the invading Greeks hiding inside.
            You’re probably wondering, how does this relate to net neutrality?
            The answer is simple and yet strangely complicated. If you are out to make hordes of money for yourself and think that certain people, people who aren’t you, deserve to be at the bottom, to be ranked below other human beings, you probably won’t agree with me, but I believe the internet is a resource for everyone, like water or air. In many other countries and in some places in this country, internet and Wi-Fi is purchased by towns, for the whole town and free to connect to if you reside in the city limits. That’s because internet access is considered one of those tools that modern life cannot function without. Like literacy. All around the world there are programs like these, called wireless community networks or wireless community projects, working to make the internet accessible and controlled by the people who are using it, not a company that’s only purpose is to make money.
            Without laws protecting net neutrality, there’s nothing to stop providers from blocking certain websites or charging for higher-quality service or content. It also means that the federal government will no longer regulate high-speed internet delivery like they do utilities such as phone service.  Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and given that position by Pres. Trump, claimed that striking down net neutrality would eventually benefit consumers (somehow), but mostly talked about how limiting these government regulations have been to telecom providers’ business.
Yes, it is limiting when a major company, one of only about five across a country with a population of 323.1 million, can’t take advantage of people the way it really wants to. Never mind that many of those people already have no choice about who their providers are because of the natural monopoly companies hold when there simply is no other company available in the area.
How could telecom conglomerates expand beyond a monopoly, if that is what they already have?  Without the F.C.C. to oversee the behavior of these companies, it will be easier for them to charge people more money for less service. They would be able to come up with tiers of service so that only consumers with the ability to pay would be able to use the fastest internet. Or maybe only consumers in the higher tiers would be able to stream, visit certain websites, or upload efficiently. This would inherently control the content of the internet.
In 2012 at the London summer Olympics, the man who invented the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, stood up and typed out “This is for everyone.”   It’s ironic, since now we have given the ability to decide just who that “everyone” is directly to the companies that already control access. This essentially also gives control over internet content to big money, conglomerates and other powers that are invisible to us as consumers. Without net neutrality, there is no way to guarantee our safety online and the protection of our online civil liberties. There’s no way to protect free speech, if there’s no defense against censorship at the most basic level.

The Russians have already gotten to Facebook, the 2016 election, and our president. Internet neutrality is the modern manifestation of the spirit of our constitution. Let’s protect our freedom from the Russians. And by Russians, I mean Vladimir Putin, purportedly a great friend of Donald Trump.
It’s unfortunate that Donald Trump is not a friend of the American people.

Here Donald Trump claims that he would have rushed in to save the students and teachers of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School from the gunman with an assault weapon even if he was unarmed. Donald Trump, who dodged the draft in 1968 because his feet hurt.

Some more links you might enjoy:
The Constitution. Our Constitution. Which our president is strangely unfamiliar with.

We need net-neutrality, if only to hold companies accountable for fostering online environments where fake news and propaganda flourish in a hidden mode of production. 

Feb 14, 2018

Anti-Hump Day

One Wednesday morning, I was rushing to the elevator on the first floor of the building I work in and I passed a woman holding a bunch of balloons. Once I got into the elevator I realized that despite my rushing she wasn’t that far behind me, so I just held the door for her. There were two guys, both looked in their twenties, already in the elevator with me, each holding one of those to-go holder-trays for multiple coffees. We’re waiting for the woman with balloons and one of the guys says loudly in a suddenly excited voice, "Oh look, she knows it’s my birthday!"
The other guy’s head whips around and he promptly goes, "Dude, its not your birthday."
And the first guy, ignoring him and I now notice, shooting looks at me, says, "How did she know?!"
And the other guy just frowns at him until birthday boy looks back at him out of the corner of his eye. Then they both look at me, like for a reaction or something, I don’t know.  I don't really have one, I’m too busy documenting their oddness in my mind. I suddenly realized I remembered one of them, the one who had exclaimed it was his birthday, because once I crashed into him on the second-floor landing of the stairwell when I was running (and falling) down the stairs. I remembered him because he seemed entirely too pleased about me crashing into him.
Anyway, the woman finally makes it to the elevator and steps in, and I press 10 for her, 2 for them and 3 for me. There’s a short silence, then the guy who I once crashed into, who claimed it was his birthday, and who had continued shooting looks at me, says "Happy Hump Day!" to us. Or just me, since he was staring into my eyes, intensely, when he said it.
            I sense a moment of confusion from the other two people in the elevator, but I don’t respond to the questioning glances because I’m too busy staring back at this guy who seems intent on celebrating something.
In the middle of this impromptu staring contest it occurred to me that, had I been any other girl, this might actually be mildly disturbing.
Then his friend goes, "Happy Hump day!" with forced cheer, still sort of frowning at his buddy, attempting to break the atmosphere or something. I felt bad for that friend. I think he knew how odd his buddy was being and felt an obligation to be a buffer between him and us, and at the same time, a wingman.
The woman with the balloons then says, “Happy Hump day,” in a sort of mildly forced, not very enthusiastic way. She was like, "Heh, oh yeah, heh, I guess it's Wednesday, right? Happy... hump day."
Then everyone turned to me expectantly.
I said nothing.
I looked back at them and silently refused to take part in this ritual. I watched the cringe develop in two pairs of eyes and let the silence stretch, leisurely. Like a cat. I love awkward silences. I feed off them like a dementor. Balloon woman and the wingman soon resort to staring at the elevator doors, but for some reason, birthday boy starts openly grinning at me.
In hindsight now, I think, was I supposed to know him? There was something vaguely familiar about him, but only in the general recognition of… creepiness.
And then the doors open at the second floor. I return birthday boy’s steady gaze as he leaves the elevator, then pauses, still looking at me, until the doors start to close. When he finally turns around, the balloon woman starts to murmur to me, "I guess it's hump day," with a sort of shrug and exhalation (of relief, now that the source of tension has stepped out of the elevator), but then we hear the wingman hiss at birthday boy, “What is wrong with y—“ before the doors close fully. Both of us look sharply at the doors, then look back at each other.
I wait a prolonged moment to make sure the doors are well and truly closed and weren’t about to pop open again so birthday boy could hear my voice.
Then I finally say, conversationally, "I actually find the phrase ‘hump day’ rather disturbing."
She bursts out laughing. She goes, "Oh my gad, right?!"
I say, "It's a horrible way to describe Wednesday."
She’s still laughing as I go on contemplatively, "No woman describes Wednesday as 'hump day' – I think it's a guy thing."
Then she says, "You know, I have never heard a woman say it, it's always a man!"
Then I snorted, "Yes, because it's a pretty disturbing notion. Like, what kind of an image is Hump Day? One that makes me cringe."
I got off the elevator then, but I didn’t stop thinking about Hump Day. Oh no.
And I have decided that I am against Hump Day.

Well, let’s think about it. What is Groundhog Day? It’s the day, somewhere, a groundhog kind of wakes and then goes back to sleep. Mother’s Day is the day we celebrate our mothers. April Fool’s Day? We try to make fools of everyone around us. May Day, despite the way it sounds, is not a day filled with panic and calls for help, but the first day of May, and can be quite pleasant and filled with flowers. Valentine’s Day is when we give other people valentines and chocolate, and expect some in return.
Then we come to Hump Day. What do we do on Hump Day? Following the established pattern, we hump.
But I don’t like that. I don’t want to hump on Wednesdays, I don’t feel like it then. And yes, ok? When I first heard “Hump Day,” I was completely thrown and I had to have some manly man explain it to me a couple times. He didn’t make any sense. I think what he was not saying and didn’t really understand is that the phrase “hump day” is supposed to superficially and momentarily raise the spirits of men-who-have-wasted-their-lives-in-an-office-building-because-their-one-purpose-in-life-is-to-make-money through the use of a word that can mean more than one thing. I doubt those men even enjoy any humping on Hump Day, they’re probably too tired by the time they’re released from the office, so they just derive some sort of pleasure from throwing around double entendres with females. Anyone who thinks the work week is like a hill, has obviously never climbed a real hill. What do you do when you get to the top of a hill? You rest, take a break. What can you not do on Wednesday? Take a break and rest. You’re right in the middle of the work week, you’ve still got two days to get through. You can’t start your weekend early, that’s not how time works. Wednesday is when it hits you that you’ve only got two more days left of business hours to file documents or set up an appointment to get your wisdom teeth out or go to the post office.  You have to keep on going and get ready for Thursday. Another whole day, almost exactly like Wednesday, which was remarkably like Tuesday, except you no longer have most of the week ahead of you to accomplish the things you need to accomplish before the world becomes a little less available for the weekend and all those important numbers you have to call go straight to voicemail.

Then, while pondering Hump Day, something new came to me: why Throwback Thursday?
That one doesn’t really make sense to me either. I would rather hump on Thursday, then I could just hump my way into Friday, where we fry everything.  Then, we spend Saturday 'sat' on the couch, watching Lord of the Rings, extended editions – because they are about six hours long and you can literally do anything else during them. They are not distracting, those movies won’t stop you from taking care of an important phone call, doing some math, cooking, embarking on an art project or rearranging your furniture. Then on Sunday, that is when we throwback, when we contemplate what has been and languish in that sunny feeling of nostalgia. That sunny feeling pervades everything, even horrible memories. At the end of contemplating how miserable you were a couple years ago, ultimately the phrase, “good times,” shoots through your head before you move on. It’s like a form a brainwashing, to convince you to keep on going and resist the urge to have a mental breakdown on Monday.
“Hump day” is a crass phrase. It belongs in the place in people’s brains where they keep the other crass and unimaginative phrases that they do not say out loud, like adding “and shit” when you get tired of describing something, or “rule of thumb” which actually refers to an archaic law stating that a man may beat his wife with a stick no thicker than the width of his thumb. Another one is “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Who the hell wants to skin cats?

I have absolutely no idea how so many people have been convinced that “Hump Day” is referring to the weekdays as a hill, or that it translates from “you’ve gotten over the hump.” I’m sure that’s not why certain individuals say it. The last time ‘hump’ was used so often in daily conversation was in the Black Eyed Peas song* that goes, “I'ma get get get get you drunk/Get you love drunk off my hump/My hump my hump my hump my hump my hump/My hump my hump my hump, my lovely lady lumps. Check it out.”  Forevermore now, I have an aversion to people wishing me Happy Hump Day, and even before that elevator ride, I had this fear that people only said Happy Hump Day to me so that I would say it back, and if I said it back to them, then they would immediately conclude that I wanted to celebrate hump day, with them.
Some people might call that paranoia. I call it having class. I’m not about to hump just anyone here. I’ve never said Happy Hump Day back to anyone, ever - I’ve just kept pretending that I have no idea what they mean. Because when I do say it, I’m going to say it with the full meaning of the word, to the person I intend to hump and who I know intends to hump me.
So, people, please. Think about what you are saying. Stop being deluded into using rote phrases! Don’t let yourselves become de-sensitized to language! It’s the first step in being brainwashed. Once you’ve surrendered the meaning of the language you use to a trend that you don’t control or scrutinize, you are no longer the one speaking. And repetition really does affect the way you think.
When I was thirteen years old, my friend’s elder sister, who was around twenty, told me that she thought I was a classy lady. From that moment on, I knew. It was like being one of those mean people from What-Not-To-Wear. Instinctive. My purpose was to point out the flaws in other people and embarrass them into submission. Then they would look at themselves in the mirror and thank me. Over time, the world would become a more beautiful place.

Stay classy, America. Don’t use the phrase “Hump Day.”

Feb 11, 2018

Lying to Myself

I have always been somewhat less than impressed with my ability to lie to myself. Other people seem to do it really well, but I can never quite get it down.  It’s actually very disappointing that I’m not better at lying to myself because I have a really active imagination. I was able to convince my entire first grade class, their parents and our teacher that gypsies had kidnapped my father, which was why he was, you know, mysteriously not around. Why hasn’t this skill translated somehow to dishonesty so that I could actually profit from my natural talents?
Granted, I faced some general fallout about the whole kidnapping thing when my mother flatly denied it in a series of awkward phone calls.  After that, whenever I told anyone anything it was double and triple checked with the teacher, or my mother. Which was too bad, because generally I was a brutally honest kid, and I wasn’t trying to lie for attention. I just lived in a fantasy world of my own making. Even when I was found out, I never bothered denying the truth. I didn’t need people to believe me, I was simply answering a question creatively – to spice things up!  Yes, some of those answers were only possible in alternate, comic-book-based realities but I never let little things like the real world hold me down.
Once I was in some support group session thing for kids of divorcées or “broken” families, a term I vaguely remember being used. They would sit everyone down in these two concentric circles, one inner and one outer, and the inner one would talk while the outer one observed. I don’t actually recall that much about it except that they tried to get you to talk about your missing parent in front of the other kids, who cried sometimes when they spoke about their own parents, which I didn’t really get but tried to respect anyway. I had been warned in advance against a retelling of the kidnapping gypsies story, so I felt like I had to make up something new, which I don’t think anyone appreciated. Someone told me to “Just say the truth.”
But the truth was this gaping foggy circular thing that I didn’t understand and barely noticed inside my own head.  I didn’t have the words or life experience to talk about it, since it wasn’t visible and only really seemed to exist in this imaginary place somewhere behind my eyes. Mini-memories or details that I had forgotten about would occasionally float up out of it, but there was no pause button for me to stop and examine those.  I continued growing up and every day that black hole was a little deeper in my mind behind all these other, way more immediate aspects of my life.
I didn’t get that I was supposed to talk about that feeling of something important fading away. I just didn’t understand that the whole point of gathering in those groups together was to open up, because I wasn’t very good at opening up. I never have been, actually, but at that particular time in my life it never even occurred to me that I should speak about myself in front of a group of strangers.
I’ve said this before: I’d like to think of myself as a misunderstood child but I don’t really think I was that misunderstood. I was the one misunderstanding.
 I had seen a movie about a little girl, Madeline, and at one point she and her friends are nearly kidnapped by gypsies. The gypsies in the movie were dark and looked Middle Eastern, and reminded me of my dad, who was dark and Middle Eastern, and missing.  At school, people asked questions about my dad or my friends didn’t like it when their dads paid attention to me because I was supposed to have my own, so naturally I thought that this dangling plot line in my life could be tied up neatly, and in a way that also explained why we had no money (the ransom, you see). 
It was explained to me in several different ways and by several different people that I couldn’t keep telling the story about the gypsies kidnapping my father because (1) I was terrifying my classmates, (2) it was a Lie and Lies Are Bad, and (3) I didn’t want to be a Liar, did I? Then I was told the story about the Boy Who Cried Wolf, who was liar.
At one point, I think I asked the teacher who told me this story if she knew where my father was. And, of course, she was like, “No.”  So I was like, “Neither do I, no one knows where he is, he could have been kidnapped.”  I tried to argue that since we had no proof he hadn’t been kidnapped by gypsies and the teacher didn’t know where he was, I wasn’t a Liar, per se.
Honestly, even if I had been lying for attention, a theory of my teacher’s, I really wouldn’t have been asking for this kind of attention and scrutiny. In fact, I was the kind of child that thrived on inattention. I didn’t want anyone to notice I had the entire classroom’s collection of scissors in my desk, as well as several rolls of tape. I had worked hard to get them there in secret and had no interest in exposing myself as the reason why we had to borrow scissors from Across The Hall. The same went for when I decided art time should be all the time and that my artistic medium of choice was clear tape, or when I failed to do a single homework assignment for the entire first grade year (twice, by the way, I repeated first grade and didn’t complete a single homework assignment the second time either), or that I actually spent most of my time staring off into space. I didn’t want these things to be noticed, I wanted to keep on quietly doing my own thing, and mostly I got away with it because I wasn’t a behavior problem.
I didn’t really enjoy interacting with teachers because often times I felt like they were trying to trick me into doing something I didn’t want to do.  Also, another aspect that played a large role in my instinctive need to fly under the radar, was that I didn’t know how to read and wasn’t learning. I could barely recognize letters. I was pretty successful at hiding this right up until third grade, when people started to notice, thanks to damn standardized testing. At least we have Betsy DeVos to change everything up these days. No unwilling, impoverished dyslexic kids are going to learn how to read on her watch.
 I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I couldn’t read at all. What I could do really well was remember, word for word, what someone else had read out loud, and repeat it exactly, while staring into the same book they had held. I did this in front of multiple teachers, for years, and I was quite good at acting like I could read, until suddenly I had to answer written questions about a written paragraph.  I couldn’t read the paragraph, I couldn’t read the questions, I had no idea which answer was which. I stared blankly off into space every day for a week during that testing period and turned in every single answer sheet blank. There was even this big confusion about the teachers having misplaced my answer sheet because I hadn’t written my name on it. I stayed silent during that whole inquisition. Even when they gave me a new answer sheet and told me to write my name and use it until they found the old one, I didn’t write my name.  I had no idea how to write my name.  I had no idea what was going on in class, and in first and second grade, at least, I didn’t really think I was missing much.
Now that I’m an adult and answer to no one but myself, it turns out that I am really really bad at lying to myself.
For the holidays, I had to prepare myself to talk to relatives about what I’m doing with my life. I even semi-planned what I was going to say, coaching myself over the blatant false statements and wishful thinking. I thought I was ready. Then, when I was actually asked a question about my life, I replied with, “I don’t know,” because at the last minute I was suddenly ashamed of what I had planned on saying and had somehow forgotten the real answer.
Donald Trump constantly amazes me with his ability to lie to himself. He takes dishonesty and self-deception to new levels every day.  I can only imagine the kind of childhood filled with undiagnosed disorders and syndromes that it takes to make someone like him. If only we were all as good at lying to ourselves as he is at lying to himself. Then we could all be successful in whatever endeavor we chose to pursue, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. 

The moral of this story? Elementary school teachers are fascists.