Category Archives: blog

“Actions, Inactions, and Consequences: Doctrine of Doing and Allowing” W. Quinn

There are a lot of interesting and valid things to say about the philosophy and actual arguments of the “Actions, Inactions, and Consequences: Doctrine of Doing and Allowing” by Warren Quinn. Unfortunately for me, none of them are things I feel particularly inspired by. I’m much more attracted to the many things implied in this paper. Among them are the role of social responsibility in making moral decisions.

At various points in the text, Quinn makes brief comments about how we have roles that we need to fulfill for the sake of society. These roles carry with them responsibilities that may supersede our regular moral responsibilities. Examples Quinn makes include being a private life guard (and being responsible for the life of one particular person) and being a trolley driver (and your responsibility is to make sure the train doesn’t kill anyone). This is part of what has led to me brushing Quinn off as another classist. Still, I am interested in the question of whether social responsibilities are more important than moral ones or whether there are times when this might occur.

One of the things I maintain is that we cannot be the best versions of ourselves because we are not living in societies that value our best selves. We survive capitalism. We negotiate climate change. We make decisions to trade the ideal for the functional. For me, this frequently means I click through terms of service, agree to surveillance, and partake in the use and proliferation of oppressive technology. I also buy an iced coffee that comes in a single use plastic cup; I shop at the store with questionable labor practices; I use Facebook.  But also, I don’t give money to panhandlers. I see suffering and I let it pass. I do not get involved or take action in many situations because I have a pass to not. These things make society work as it is, and it makes me work within society.

This is a self-perpetuating, mutually-abusive, co-dependent relationship. I must tell myself stories about how it is okay that I am preferring the status quo, that I am buying into the system, because I need to do it to survive within it and that people are relying on the system as it stands to survive, because that is how they know to survive.

Among other things, I am worried about the psychic damage this causes us. When we view ourselves as social actors rather than moral actors, we tell ourselves it is okay to take non-moral actions (or in-actions); however, we carry within ourselves intuitions and feelings about what is right, just, and moral. We ignore these in order to act in our social roles. From the perspective of the individual, we’re hurting ourselves and suffering for the sake of benefiting and perpetuating an caustic society. From the perspective of society, we are perpetuating something that is not just less than ideal, but actually not good because it is based on allowing suffering.[1]

[1] This is for the sake of this text. I don’t know if I actually feel that this is correct.

My goal was to make this only 500 words, so I am going to stop here.

Updates

We are currently working on a second draft of the Declaration of Digital Autonomy. We’re also working on some next steps, which I hadn’t really thought about existing before. Videos from GUADEC and HOPE are now online. We’ll be speaking at DebConf on August 29th.

I’ll be starting school soon, so I expect a lot of the content of what I’ll be writing (as well as the style) to shift a bit to reflect what I’m studying and how I’m expected to write for my program.

Contact Tracing

Contact tracing is a necessary step

We’re entering the period of local pandemic (whether we’re ready or not) during which we open up our communities, track where we go and who we see, rigorously rest, and then retreat to our isolation should anyone test positive for Coronavirus.

Contact tracing — the process of keeping track of who you might be putting at risk of infection should you become sick — is a necessary step in increasing socialization. When done as an individual, this is record keeping. When doing it through computers, it is surveillance. We could track where we go through rigorous record keeping, which I think would not work out so well for me personally. Alternatively, we could deploy or commandeer a mobile app that would take care of keeping track where everyone is and when they’re there. [1]

[1]: Not everyone has a mobile phone. Let’s acknowledge that.

Contact tracing is surveillance

Computer assisted contact tracing is surveillance, and it will likely be carried out by corporations and governments. It’s information being gathered on our activities and associations, stored and analyzed, and used to report on the social and physical networks we build. This is a flagrant violation of our rights to privacy, to freedom of association, to freedom of assembly. Who we see and where we go will be turned into data points, stored and monitored.

Monitoring has a chilling effect. When people know they are being monitored, it affects their behavior. This is not just that bad behavior is deterred (and it generally is not), but people who would otherwise do harmless or even benevolent things do not, because they are afraid of the side effects it will have on them.

We will get used to surveillance. Whenever we lose some aspect of our privacy, we eventually get used to it. We stop considering it wrong or even an inconvenience, and are less inclined to argue about future erosion of our rights and privacy. When we become acclimated to the loss of a right, when we normalize it, we don’t even think to ask for it back. Rarely do we succeed in rolling back oppressive policies.

Free software is not enough to fight surveillance

Whenever we are being required to use a piece of software, the relevant organizations call for the demand that that software be free: released under a licensing that makes the code available, usable, shareable, and modifiable by anyone. This is a a reasonable request to make when dealing with an otherwise harmless piece of software, however contact tracing contains the potential to be weaponized against individuals and whole populations, carries with it chilling effects, and if, in fact, just another piece of surveillance technology. Even free technology can be unethical technology.

We must create a solution that protects people.

It is not enough to condemn using a technical solution – we must create one that protects the privacy and rights of those using it. Mobile technology is wonderful and we have this amazing opportunity to leverage the fact most of us carry around little computers when we’re on the move. We have the chance to create something that empowers us, giving us the freedom to leave our homes and begin to open our lives up again while building in fail safes for when people begin to get sick.

Software using a free license is part of this story, because it will create accountability for the creators of that software, as the working parts will be verifiable by third parties. However, it is imperative that the software itself is also designed to respect the fundamental physical and digital rights of the people using it: we must protect their anonymity, we must protect their freedom of movement, freedom of association, and freedom of speech. We must give them the opportunity to move through this world knowing they are being protected, not surveilled.

Iron Cocktail Club: Maximillian Affair

The Iron Cocktail Club challenges participants to make a riff on a cocktail based on whatever they have in their homes. I picked the Maximillian Affair because it was highlighted on PUNCH as part of their Tip Your Bartender initiative. In thanks, I tipped the Drink staff for each person in attendance.

The drink is marked by bright acidity, floral notes, and a subtle smokey bitterness. Punt e Mes is a vermouth, somewhere between Rosso Vermouth and Campari. Cazadores Blanco is a silver tequila, notable for its citrus notes, herbal aromas, and smooth finish.

Ingredients

1 ounce St-Germain
1 ounce Cazadores Blanco tequila
½ ounce Punt e Mes
½ ounce lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe.

My Recipe

1 ounce chamomile simple syrup
1 ounce Casamigos Repesado
¼ ounce Aperol
¼ ounce sweet vermouth
½ ounce lemon juice
3 dashes orange bitters

Combine all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled mason jar.

Thoughts

I have no clue how I was going to approximate elderflower liquor, which to me is floral with some flavor qualities I also find in grape skin, grapefruit, and lychee. I settled on making a chamomile simple syrup to bring the floral and the sweetness. I thought about adding some rose water or orange blossom water, but decided against it for this case. Most participants used a Campari/vermouth mixture to replace the Punt e Mes. I’m out of Campari, so I used Aperol instead, which I generally treat as interchangeable with Campari in a pinch. I added the orange bitters to bring in some of the citrus the Cazadores Blanco claims to have.

Iron Cocktail Club: Davy Jones’s Locker

The Iron Cocktail Club challenges people to make riffs on cocktails based on whatever they have in their homes at the time. I picked this recipe out of the book Winter Drinks.

The actual recipe

2 oz. gold rum, ideally Appleton Estate Reserve Blend
1 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 oz. cinnamon simple syrup
1/4 oz. fernet-branca
1/4 oz. fresh lime juice
Garnish with a lime wheel

Mix all ingredients and shake with ice until chilled. Strain into a wineglass or coupe. Garnish with a lime wheel.

My recipe

2 oz. Sailor Jerry Rum
1 oz. Medium Pulp Orange Juice
1/2 oz. cinnamon simple syrup
1/4 oz. Campari
1/4 oz. store bought lime juice

Mix all ingredients and shake with ice until chilled. Strain into a small mason jar. Do not garnish.

Some thoughts

I really liked this drink! I thought the Campari brought a nice bitterness without the menthol (that I dislike) from fernet-branca. The orange juice was definitely a lot sweeter than grapefruit would have been. One of the other people that evening referred to my use of store bought lime juice, from a little squeezy green lime, as “the most offensive part.”

Iron Cocktail Club: Mott and Mulberry

The Iron Cocktail Club is a weekly drinking group, inspired by Victoria Aveson. In it, each week, we pick a cocktail and then attempt to make it based on what we have in our homes. The drink is announced 1-2 hours before the meeting.

For the first Iron Cocktail Club, I picked the Mott and Mulberry. As I decided on the drink, I made a point to pick something that I lack at least one ingredient for.

Original recipe

Ingredients:
1 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. Luxardo Amaro Abano
3/4 oz. fresh-pressed apple cider or tart apple juice
1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. demarara syrup

Combine in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a glass over ice and garnish with thin apple slices.

Luzardo Amaro Abano – a medium bitter amaro with cardamom, cinnamon, and bitter orange peel – https://www.luxardo.it/liqueurs-and-distillates/amaro-abano/

My recipe

Ingredients:
1 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. campari
3/4 oz. mango juice
1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. cinnamon cardamom syrup
1 dash orange bitters

Combine in a large mason jar with ice, cover, and shake. Strain into a glass over ice and garnish with thin apple slices.

A note on the cinnamon cardamom syrup: I made a cinnamon cardamom simple syrup by taking a cup of sugar and caramelizing it. Then I added a cup of water, three sticks cinnamon, and five cardamom pods. I let these boil away for a while before turning off the heat, letting it cool, and straining.

Crisis Response (2)

The purpose of this post is to give a more general picture of how I live and deal with my mental health on a day-to-day basis. The hope is that through following practices and exhibiting behaviors that are good for my overall mental health, I will need to rely on acute crisis response behaviors less frequently.

Much like my previous post on the matter, this is about what I do and works for me.

Make schedules

Make a physical or digital schedule. Don’t just keep it in your head, but actually write it down in a way you can look at it. This helps you hold yourself accountable to getting these things done, because they’re on a schedule.

Explicitly add things like breaks, exercise, and meals to your schedules.

Build routines

Wake up at the same time each day, go to bed around the same time each day. Pick some times to have meals, or take breaks.

I work in two-hour chunks and then take 30-60 minutes off, depending on which break it is. I take these breaks away from my computer and read, exercise, stretch, nap, or have a beverage, snack, or meal. I’ve gotten back into taking care of my skin, as it gives me more ritual for the day.

Routines are not just on a daily basis. Come up with weekly routines as well: play games on Wednesday nights, have coffee wit a friend (via jitsi or whatever) on Tuesday afternoons. Call a family member Friday night. Watch a movie Sunday afternoon. I wash my hair twice a week – Sunday and Wednesday.

If you’re like me, it’s easy to have days and times blur together. Having things that happen on certain days help mark the passage of time, and having different times you do things also helps shape your day.

Have separate mental and physical spaces, and mark them however works for you

I do not wear leggings on a weekday, unless it’s under a dress or skirt. On the other hand, I don’t wear work clothes on weekends (unless there’s a particular reason to). I work from the kitchen, so I take breaks in other parts of the apartment (we are very lucky and have a large apartment). If possible, stay out of your bedroom (see more on that below) during the day. Work on associating different parts of your home with different activities.

Find things you can be in control of

Many, many people are struggling with the lack of control they have over the world around them right now. Find little, healthy things you can control. I make my bed every day, even if it’s just spreading the blanket and putting the pillows on top of it.

Keep your space clean, organize the fridge and cabinets, open the windows and get some fresh air in. Decorate. Rejoice in the fact that you have things you can control, no matter how small they are.

Exercise!

Exercising and being active is basically one of the best things you can do for your mental health. I exercise in 15-30 minute blocks, several times a day, so it doesn’t feel like a big commitment. I do body weight exercises, yoga, and go for runs. Sometimes I dance or do barre videos from YouTube.

When I take my work breaks, I walk around the apartment or stretch or both. Sometimes I just carry something up and down the stairs.

Sleep Hygiene

Maintaining good sleep hygiene is the second most important thing you can do. Here are somethings you can do:

  • go to bed at the same time every night
  • wake up at the same time every day
  • no devices in bed, unless you’re using something to provide sound/white noise
  • only use your bed/room for sleeping
  • do the same things every night the 30 minutes before bed
  • sleep without lights on, or get a nightlight designed to be gentle on your eyes, or automatically go off after some time
  • don’t eat too close to bedtime
  • wear socks if your feet get cold
  • if you wake up and can’t get back to sleep, leave your bed/room and read or whatever it is you do when you can’t sleep

Focus on your Second Thoughts

You’re going to have a lot of stressful, terrible, questionable, disturbing, and anxiety inducing thoughts. These will be your First Thoughts, that come in response to something. After you have your First Thought, intentionally create a Second Thought that challenges your First Thought.

For example: Your roommate finishes the eggs, so you cannot bake the cake you were planning on making. You think they’re mean and terrible and unreasonable and selfish. Then, you remind yourself that maybe they were just hungry, or forgot you were going to bake a cake, or were not feeling well themselves and really needed those eggs to feel better about their current situation.

Build a team

Find 3-6 people in your life you can reach out to when things get really bad. Ask them explicitly to be on your team, and lay out what the expectations are. In general, my expectations for my team are that, should I become overwhelmingly stressed or anxious, I will reach out to one of them to vent, distraction, or for help planning how to respond or overcome the situation that is causing me problems. Also, explicitly state to each of them that it’s okay if they don’t have time for you at a specific moment – that’s why you have a team. I’ve found that people on my team will frequently make time for me when I need it, even if I have other things going on.

If you have trouble reaching out for help when you need it, suggest a code phrase that will communicate that you need your team. Some I like are:

  • What have you been reading lately?
  • Did you see the new Werner Herzog documentary?
  • Have you seen the new Homestuck?

So

As another reminder, these are things I do, and they work for me. Not all of them work all the time, and sometimes I don’t do them even when I should. Experiment and see what works in your life.

Computing Under Quarantine

Under the current climate of lock-ins, self-isolation, shelter-in-place policies, and quarantine, it is becoming evident to more people the integral role computers play in our lives. Students are learning entirely online, those who can are working from home, and our personal relationships are being carried largely by technology like video chats, online games, and group messages. When these things have become our only means of socializing with those outside our homes, we begin to realize how important they are and the inequity inherent to many technologies.

Someone was telling me how a neighbor doesn’t have a printer, so they are printing off school assignments for their neighbor. People I know are sharing internet connections with people in their buildings, when possible, to help save on costs with people losing jobs. I worry now even more about people who have limited access to home devices or poor internet connections.

As we are forced into our homes and are increasingly limited in the resources we have available, we find ourselves potentially unable to easily fill material needs and desires. In my neighborhood, it’s hard to find flour. A friend cannot find yeast. A coworker couldn’t find eggs. Someone else is without dish soap. Supply chains are not designed to meet with the demand currently being exerted on the system.

This problem is mimicked in technology. If your computer breaks, it is much harder to fix it, and you lose a lot more than just a machine – you lose your source of connection with the world. If you run out of toner cartridges for your printer – and only one particular brand works – the risk of losing your printer, and your access to school work, becomes a bigger deal. As an increasing number of things in our homes are wired, networked, and only able to function with a prescribed set of proprietary parts, gaps in supply chains become an even bigger issue. When you cannot use whatever is available, and instead need to wait for the particular thing, you find yourself either hoarding or going without. What happens when you can’t get the toothbrush heads for your smart toothbrush due to prioritization and scarcity with online ordering when it’s not so easy to just go to the pharmacy and get a regular toothbrush?

In response to COVID-19 Adobe is offering no-cost access to some of their services. If people allow themselves to rely on these free services, they end up in a bad situation when a cost is re-attached.

Lock-in is always a risk, but when people are desperate, unemployed, and lacking the resources they need to survive, the implications of being trapped in these proprietary systems are much more painful.

What worries me even more than this is the reliance on insecure communication apps. Zoom, which is becoming the default service in many fields right now, offers anti-features like attendee attention tracking and user reporting.

We are now being required to use technologies designed to maximize opportunities for surveillance to learn, work, and socialize. This is worrisome to me for two main reasons: the violation of privacy and the normalization of a surveillance state. It is a violation of privacy, to have our actions tracked. It also gets us used to being watched, which is dangerous as we look towards the future.

Crisis Response

I have bipolar disorder. Bipolar has a variety of symptoms that show up differently in different people. My symptoms began to show up around 20 years ago, which means I have 20 years of experience on dealing with moments of acute mental health crisis.

I’m probably going to do two blog posts: one that details general mitigation techniques on how I manage my mental health overall and this one, which will cover what I do in specific moments of crisis.

A “moment of crisis” refers to not a general life condition, but a specific moment of experience that is a crisis. This can be an internal or external crisis. While we might be in a moment of crisis as a society, you as an individual are in one when you are overwhelmed, experiencing trauma or the memory of trauma, or having a panic attack, for example.

Now that we have some background out of the way, here are some very specific things I do – tools in my tool belt – for managing moments of crisis.

Distraction

The best thing to do is, at a point when you’re calm, make a list of healthy things you can do to distract you. There are two types of distractions I want to cover here: actions and activities.

Actions are things you can do immediately, at this moment, that will refocus or distract you. They are quick responses that require little to no preparation and minimal commitment. These are useful when I am actually starting to panic. My list of these includes:

  • counting down from 100
  • running my hands under hot water
  • splashing cold water on my face
  • putting ice on my face or neck
  • Peeling and smelling a citrus fruit
  • Tensing then releasing my muscles, starting from the toes and going up to the forehead
  • Stand on one foot and move my upper body (it’s surprisingly hard!)
  • do some basic physical activity repeatedly (like squats, picking up and putting down something heavy, etc)

Activities require more preparation and accouterments. They are for when I feel unreasonably stressed, or feel panic coming on. My list of these includes

  • bake
  • go for a run
  • dance
  • play music
  • hug the baby
  • cuddle the cat
  • pet the dog
  • do yoga
  • look at photos of monkeys riding dogs with little cowboy hats on (this always makes me laugh)

Find a sense of control

Many people I know feel out of control right now. Here are some healthy things I do when I feel out of control:

  • take a shower
  • change my clothes
  • brush my teeth
  • make the bed or change the sheets
  • clean or organize something small

So

Like I said, these are just things that work for me in the middle of moments of crisis. They may not work for you, but others things will!

Seven hundred words on Internet access

I wrote this a few months ago, and never published it. Here you go.

In the summer of 2017, I biked from Boston, MA to Montreal, QC. I rode across Massachusetts, then up the New York/Vermont border, weaving between the two states over two days. I spent the night in Washington County, NY at a bed and breakfast that generously fed me dinner even though they weren’t supposed to. One of the proprietors told me about his history as a physics teacher, and talked about volunteer work he was doing. He somewhat casually mentioned that in his town there isn’t really internet access.

At the time (at least) Washington County wasn’t served by broadband companies. Instead, for $80 a month you could purchase a limited data package from a mobile phone company, and use that. A limited data package means limited access. This could mean no or limited internet in schools or libraries.

This was not the first time I heard about failings of Internet penetration in the United States. When I first moved to Boston I was an intern at One Laptop Per Child. I spoke with someone interested in bringing internet access to their rural community in Maine. They had hope for mesh networks, linking computers together into a web of connectivity, bouncing signals from one machine to another in order to bring internet to everyone.

Access to the Internet is a necessity. As I write this, 2020 is only weeks away, which brings our decennial, nationwide census. There had been discussions of making the census entirely online, but it was settled that people could fill it out “online, by telephone, or via mail” and that households can “answer the questions on the internet or by phone in English and 12 Non-English languages.” [1][2]

This is important because a comprehensive census is important. A census provides, if nothing else, population and demographics information, which is used to assist in the disbursement of government funding and grants to geographic communities. Apportionment, or the redistribution of the 435 seats occupied by members of the House of Representatives, is done based on the population of a given state: more people, more seats.

Researchers, students, and curious people use census data to carry out their work. Non-profits and activist organizations can better understand the populations they serve.

As things like the Census increasingly move online, the availability of access becomes increasingly important.

Some things are only available online – including job applications, customer service assistance, and even education opportunities like courses, academic resources, and applications for grants, scholarships, and admissions.

The Internet is also a necessary point of connection between people, and necessary for building our identities. Being acknowledged with their correct names and pronouns decreases the risk of depression and suicide among trans youths – and one assumes adults as well. [3] Online spaces provide acknowledgment and recognition that is not being met in physical spaces and geographic communities.

Internet access has been important to me in my own mental health struggles and understanding. My bipolar exhibits itself through long, crushing periods of depression during which I can do little more than wait for it to be over. I fill these quiet spaces by listening to podcasts and talking with my friends using apps like Signal to manage our communications.

My story of continuous recovery includes a particularly gnarly episode of bulimia in 2015. I was only able to really acknowledge that I had a problems with food and purging, using both as opportunities to inflict violence onto myself, when reading Tumblr posts by people with eating disorders. This made it possible for me to talk about my purging with my therapist, my psychiatrist, and my doctor in order to modify my treatment plan in order to start getting help I need.

All of these things are made possible by having reliable, fast access to the Internet. We can respond to our needs immediately, regardless of where we are. We can find or build the communities we need, and serve the ones we already live in, whether they’re physical or exist purely as digital.

[1]: https://census.lacounty.gov/census/ Accessed 29.11.2019
[2]: https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/03/one-year-out-census-bureau-on-track-for-2020-census.html Accessed 29.11.2019
[3]: https://news.utexas.edu/2018/03/30/name-use-matters-for-transgender-youths-mental-health/ Accessed 29.11.2019