So Glad You Did It

My book collection is 5 shopping bags lighter after a few trips to the Book Corner, a Book-Trader-like store next to the main branch of the no-longer-troubled Free Library of Philadelphia. So I picked up one of the dozen unread books to start clearing the backlog and came across this must-share quote in the first few pages:

Writing this way is a little like milking a cow: the milk is so rich and delicious, and the cow is so glad you did it. — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Eight Years Ago Today

After the towers fell, I hunkered down in the spacious West Village apartment that had become home a few days earlier. What had seemed like a great place to spend Fall after summering in a pre-war closet just south of Central Park felt more like a bunker with the shades drawn and windows shut tight against the chaos outside.

I remember thinking a few things as I watched NY1 and got dressed for work that morning:  This was no small plane like the newscaster initially reported. I didn’t have long to get off the island and back to Philly if that’s what I wanted to do.  If this was something more than a horrible technical glitch, the last place I wanted to be was Penn Station or Port Authority or a subway car.  Then the 2nd plane hit and it was clear that staying put and out of the way was the best plan.

I don’t remember much after the towers fell except for the barracade at 14th Street, the lack of cars or people, debris blowing up from downtown, and the stench.  It was like burning circuits mixed with many unfamiliar odors–maybe AVGAS or any of the ten thousand things pulverized as the towers collapsed.  I can’t remember if it took weeks or months to fade, but it did.

Those billowing clouds included the vaporized remains of people in the planes and buildings.  We breathed in the dead, entombed them in our tissues, bore them with us as we shuffled around the city in shock.  I don’t know how long it took for their last few atoms to leave my body:  Maybe their traces remain in my bones. Maybe I’ll carry more than just memories of that day to the end of mine.

QFEST 2009 BEGINS!

QFest 2009

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again! It’s time for QFest 2009, formerly known as The Philadelphia International Gay Lesbian Film Festival (PIGLFF) — oh how I will miss that abbreviation! Like previous festivals, I will be twittering micro-reviews and news as things happen, then updating my schedule and adding expanded reviews to the blog on a more-or-less daily basis.  Hope to see you at the festival!

The Unfolding #amazonfail Controversy

My open letter got Amazon’s boilerplate response to the #amazonfail controversy:

This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles – in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon’s main product search.

Many books have now been fixed and we’re in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.

cust.service03@amazon.com on 14 April 2009 08:24:48 GMT-04:00

Controversies in the Web 2.0 age start out more like lynchings than fair trials.  It’s too easy to respond with a comment or a Tweet before emotion burns itself out and a more rational response can be crafted.  Such an act can lead to a kind of remorse almost as irrational, but it can also lead to a better-researched and better reasoned follow-up when wanting to correct the record. You can see both perspectives in Mary Hodder’s Why Amazon Didn’t Just Have a Glitch and Clay Shirky’s The Failure of #amazonfail.  Both take a good hard look at the aftermath of the #amazonfail frenzy and come to different conclusions.

It’s also brought its share of exploitation.  Beyond spamming the hash tag, there is an e-Bay auction to buy the domain amazonfailsite.com.  I could do without the sideshow antics; it’s another unsavory fact of Web 2.0 life.

Hodder’s argument resonates with my experience in information systems.  Trying to fit everything into a single, hierarchical classification system (taxonomy) is fraught with dangers.  Excluding content based on a single tag, especially one as broadly-cut as gay, is bound to exclude far more than it should.  A retailer like Amazon is probably more comfortable with excluding too much instead of including the wrong thing to avoid offending and losing customers.  It’s hard to get outraged about not finding things you didn’t know were even there.

However, there is a deep-rooted homophobia in saying “all things gay should be excluded”.  This metadata shove back into the closet offends me on both personal and professional grounds.  It does make Amazon’s glitch argument seem more believeable.  That single action, a change in a taxonomy file, could result in delisting tens of thousands of books as quickly as that change could replicate across Amazon’s servers.  If that’s the case here, it’s just as easy to fix, but there’s no evidence Amazon’s made that little tweak yet.

What looks worse for Amazon is reports that such problems have existed for months, especially around the Kindle store.  In Amazon’s “Glitch” Myth Debunked, a lesbian author levels some serious accusations about the scope, duration, and casual indifference around Amazon’s homophobic filtering.  The #amazonfail controversy erupted because of some tipping point–technological or social or both–but now has focused plenty of eyes on uncovering the truth.  While I might prefer a more dispassionate investigation from the beginning, I’m glad to watch the truth unfold.  The real test of course is when Amazon either fixes the problem or suffers the consequences.

See Also: Crowd Forms Against an Alogirthm – The New York Times

To Amazon.com, RE: Gay Censorship Incident #amazonfail

Regarding the controversy over the apparent censorship of gay material on Amazon, I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. I assume this is an attack by people with a homophobic agenda who are gaming your review system. I also expect that Amazon will correct the problem in the very near future now that it’s been identified.

The first hit when searching on “homosexuality” in Amazon right now is “A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality”. I am deeply offended by this and worry about its effect on GLBT youth coming to Amazon. A software glitch would not selectively impact dozens of positive gay works–even literary classics like Giovanni’s Room–while boosting the ranking of such homophobic works.

I still can’t believe that Amazon has directly or indirectly caused this. However, if Amazon is involved in causing or perpetuating this heinous censorship, I could not continue to do business with Amazon and would be compelled to urge my friends to do the same.

Thanks to @MollyWood for linking to these articles on Twitter as details emerged:

http://community.livejournal.com/meta_writer/11369.html

http://community.livejournal.com/meta_writer/11992.html

http://tehdely.livejournal.com/88823.html

My Cinefest 2009 Schedule

Spring is finally here, and so is Philadelphia’s international film festival.  It’s on the short list of things Philadelphia does better than anybody else.  Yes, I’m looking at you, NYC.

This year the Philadelphia Film Festival has morphed into Cinefest 2009.  Unfortunately the website still hasn’t grown features we had when BSide hosted it, like audience reviews.  The silver lining here is that the Twitter limit of 140 characters has slimmed down my reviews from War & Peace wordiness to haiku minimalism; follow me on Twitter for updates, reviews, and general festival ramblings, and please tag with #pcf09 if you tweet about the festival.  I promise not to actually write reviews in haiku.  Well, maybe only for Japanese films.

My Cinefest 2009 Schedule

Cinefest 2009 Official Website

Scheduling 34 films is real work!  Other festival fanatics all have their own elaborate, ritualistic scheduling methods.  I’d really like to see the official website grow scheduling tools.  Until then we’d all love a link to the schedule as an Excel spreadsheet, CSV file, or (for me) XML. This year I won’t be able to see four films due to such conflicts or venue issues.

Help pass the PA anti-discrimination bill.

One of the few things that makes me look across the Delaware with envy is New Jersey’s vastly superior record on Equal Rights for The Gays.  We finally have a chance to catch up.  Of course, this should be a Federal mandate.  Until then, please help:

Did you know that under PA state law it is perfectly legal to fire someone from their job simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity? It’s time to change this, to make sure that the law protects everyone against discrimination. House Bill 300 would do just that by prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

This issue means a lot to me, so I just took action with the Human Rights Campaign to ask my state representative to stand for equality. I hope you will, too. Please contact your state representative now by visiting the link below:

HRC Action Center – Help pass PA anti-discrimination bill.