Worst of NextDoor

It began innocently enough. What could be wrong with a website that reunites people with their lost cats, offers crowdsourced suggestions for plumbers and operates as an ongoing garage sale? But as is usual for anything coming out of Silicon Valley, NextDoor, has gone full Lord of the Flies except instead of kids it’s mostly old folks beating dissenters to death with their keyboards.

I’ve used NextDoor to get rid of furniture, give advice on humanely removing bees and publicize events. But, like so many other social media websites, NextDoor has devolved into a toxic stew of hatred tapped out by lonely, late night keyboard warriors. Here in my Los Angeles neighborhood, topics on homelessness and gentrification seem, in particular, to bring out the trolls. NextDoor has become 4chan for old homeowners.

Here’s a typical discussion on my neighborhood’s NextDoor, in this case about a homeless encampment at our local park:

If there’s one good thing about NextDoor it is that it has disabused me of the idea that my community is somehow more “open minded” than other parts of the country or that urban people are more progressive than rural people. These are stereotypes that I’ve been guilty of harboring in the past. We are all, myself included, easily sucked into the sort of hateful trolling that Silicon Valley has found a way to monetize on social media. How do you keep people glued to a website like NextDoor? Just offer the spectacle of your elder neighbors tearing each other apart in a text-based reality show. Best of all you can join in on the mud slinging!

There’s an easy solution to all the hate and trolling: paid moderators. Such moderators could limit the discussion to the things NextDoor is good at: the aforementioned and uncontroversial pet reunification and plumber recommendations. Maybe those plumbers could be vetted too! Of course, paid moderators would make the website unprofitable. Instead NextDoor crowdsources the moderation to both get around paying any employees and to absolve themselves of the responsibility of dealing with the mess they’ve made.

I’m curious if any of you, our dear readers, use NextDoor? What have you used it for? What are the controversies raging in your neighborhood on the site? As for me I still peek at the site periodically, mainly to see if anyone needs bee help, but I’ve become really turned off by the vitriol. And I feel sorry for the people I see most engaged in these NextDoor debates. I suspect they are both lonely and suffering from depression.

Nithya Raman for LA Council District 4!

During my years serving on the board of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition I learned that Los Angeles is one of the most corrupt and dysfunctional cities in the U.S. It’s run by a machine, is fundamentally un-democratic and, to top it all off, incompetent. Our city’s appalling homelessness crisis and transportation gridlock is the result of this disappointing leadership.

If there’s a silver lining to this dark cloud it’s that things have gotten so bad that a new generation of activists is rising up to toss out the incumbents. Last Friday, Root Simple friend and podcast guest Jessica Rath hosted an intimate gathering with one of those activists, Nithya Raman, who is running for Council District 4.

In the course of the evening, Raman discussed her homeless policy, how to make the city council more democratic and ways to escape gridlocked traffic. Raman has an urban planning degree from M.I.T., helped start the SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition, served as executive director of Time’s Up Entertainment and worked for the city on homeless policy. Frankly, she’s one of those people who have already accomplished what would take me ten lifetimes to get around to. She is much more qualified than the incumbent David Ryu, who has a thin resume and a record of opposing housing and transportation improvements.

This is an important election. City councilpersons in Los Angeles wield much more power than the mayor. CD 4 has a population of 253,000 people making it larger than most U.S. cities. If you live in CD4, a gerrymandered district covering Los Feliz, part of Koreatown, Sherman Oaks and North Hollywood please vote for Nithya Raman!

Making the Shed Great Yet Again

Here’s a picture from May of 1999 showing our late doberman Spike guarding me while I worked on our then 90 now 100 year old shed.

Guess what I’m doing over 20 years later? Working on the same shed.

Me in 1999. In 2020 I need glasses.

The shed has gone through two previous improvement battles starting with shoving a foundation under it, electrification and strengthening the floor followed by a somewhat misguided attempt at insulation and ceiling covering.

Over the past few years the shed went from being Kelly’s work space to a place to shove junk we didn’t want to deal with. With this latest improvement effort we’re turning it back into a pleasant space for Kelly to work in. I’m undoing some of my previous shoddy work and installing an oak floor and a nicer ceiling.

I have a hard time sitting at a computer when lured by the demands of carpentry which explains the sparse posting over the past two weeks. At least I’m thinking about writing while I work. I’ve been meditating on something Corey Pein said in the Twitters: “The more I learned to have confidence in myself and write from my own honest perspective, the more of an audience I have found, and the better I feel about my work.” The writing work I plan to do later this year would benefit from more honesty, from not shying away from controversy and a humor based more on experience than snark. Or the siren song of carpentry and woodworking might just lure me for the rest of my days. We shall see.

Happy 2020!

As 2019 comes to a close I’ll leave you with two caricatures by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones. The first depicts, I think, William Morris after a night of partying.

The second one is a self-portrait. There’s a nice anecdote about Burne-Jones,

….his pet grandson used to be punished by being sent to stand in a corner with his face to the wall. One day on being sent there he was delighted to find the wall prettily decorated with fairies, flowers, birds, and bunnies. His indulgent grandfather had utilised his talent to alleviate the tedium of his favourite’s period of penance.

Thanks to the Pre-Raphaelite Society for these images.

A Love Supreme

I’ve long made it a policy of this blog to avoid political discussions, believing that we needed to unify folks under a big tent of growing food, keeping livestock and learning to cook from scratch. But in recent years, all around the world, we have collectively slipped into a dangerous crisis I can not longer be silent about.

The neoliberal order has crumbled. Populist, authoritarian leaders such as Trump, Bolsonaro and Johnson have ascended to power. Here in the U.S., nearly everyone I know, including myself, can’t seem to turn our attention away from Trump’s siren call of attention getting antics and late night twitter screeds. Concurrently, interest in urban homesteading has waned. It’s almost as if you have to lash yourself to the mast not to wake up with Trump so much on your mind that you forget to let out the hens.

Over the Christmas break we joined 15,000 of our fellow Angelinos at a Bernie Sander’s rally at Venice Beach. It was a beautiful, cool and sunny winter day. We stood with the ocean at our back and a magnificent view of the mountains that surround our city. After a few warm-up speakers and music, surprise guest Dr. Cornell West ascended the stage. Quoting Sly and the Family Stone West said that it was time to take a stand, “You’ve been sitting much too long/There’s a permanent crease in your right and wrong.” Invoking a long list of brave Americans who took a stand, including Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day he noted that “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Then he introduced Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and, as the crowd went wild, I felt an energy and solidarity that I never thought I’d live to see.

As a long time attendee of lost-cause leftist events I’m used to a scattered message, marginal ideas, anger and disappointment. Not at this rally. Everyone was unified behind Dr. West’s message of a “love supreme.” There were people of all races and ages at the rally (though it skewed young). The rally looked like a cross-section of this diverse city. People were happy and positive. Ocasio-Cortez said “One of the things that makes this campaign different is that we know we can’t go back to the way things were before. Because the way things were before is how we got to where we are now.”

The rally, without exaggeration, was a life changing event for me. This is why I’m joining with our friend, climate scientist Peter Kalmus, in endorsing Bernie Sanders. I respectfully ask all of you who live in the U.S. to consider his policies and to vote for Bernie Sanders in your state. I believe that we all need to act on the household level and the community level and the national level and the global level. Yes we need to take personal actions, but those personal actions alone won’t get us out of the crisis we are in. Especially when it comes to climate change we need, radical, immediate action at the national and international level. The time for moderate, measured change has long since past. Electing Bernie Sanders is not an end but a beginning. If he gets into office the struggle will be even more difficult than taking on a few corrupt, corporate Democrats.

Be wary of the mainstream media’s treatment of Sanders. The Los Angeles Times did not even bother to show up to the Sanders rally. When Joe Biden came and spoke to less than 100 people at LA Trade Tech back in November the LA Times deemed it worthy of attention.

I struggled to find any wide shots of the Biden LA rally but couldn’t find any. It’s an exercise in how photographs lie. Frame a candidate tightly and it looks like there’s a lot of people. For contrast, here’s what the Sanders rally looked like from where Kelly and I stood:

In the coming months, as the oligarchs who run this country begin to freak out at the rise of a popular left, I predict that the mainstream media will throw everything they can at Sanders. They will call him an anti-Semite, a misogynist and worse. The Democratic party establishment and their friends in the media will do everything they can to prevent Sanders from winning. I’ve seen, at the local level, how this same establishment does the bidding of powerful interests–here in LA that’s Hollywood and real estate developers.

I’m also sticking my neck out because I’ve seen some in the urban homesteading movement drift towards what I’d call a fascist and/or alt-right adjacent ideology and I want to distance myself from that contingent. More on that in another post. I believe that the way we treat the environment, our bodies and our households is on a continuum with the way we take care of all people. Everyone has a right to health care, housing and education. For the sake of future generations we need to join with Dr. West, AOC and Bernie Sanders in seeking immediate and radical change based on love for each other and for all creation.