2018: The Year in Review

Walter Crane: Christmas Card, 1894.

As Kelly noted in our Christmas letter it was a non-eventful year and sometimes that’s a good thing. We had no visits to the emergency room and no unexpected problems or crises. We have full stomachs, health care and a roof over our heads, all luxuries in this unjust world.

We spent most of the year on a home restoration project, putting the house back to exactly the way it was configured when built in 1920. A crew fixed our back patio and will return sometime this year to do some hardscaping for our neglected garden.

The blogging year involved a lot of kvetching, a veritable casserole of complaints with blog posts on the Thanksgiving holiday, squirrels eating all of our fruit, hoarding food and books, smart phones, junk mail, open floor plans, as well as proof that I’ve gone full Luddite.

Speaking of old Ned Ludd, the most commented upon post was the one in which I announced the deletion of my Facebook account. Let me note that I’ve not regretted it one bit and please allow me to toot my prognosticational horn by noting how news about Facebook went from terrible to, well, beyond terrible by the end of the year. When I first blogged about Facebook I thought I might have been too harsh. In fact, I probably wasn’t harsh enough.

As far as 2019 goes, I long ago gave up on New Years resolutions. But I know partly what is in store for 2019: finishing home improvements and working on that neglected garden.

How did your year go? What do you have planned for 2019?

That Time I Got Deplatformed

There’s been a lot of publicity, including an article in today’s New York Times “Patreon Bars Anti-Feminist Hate Speech, Inciting Revolt” about “deplatforming” or being booted off internet services due to controversial content. Most of the cases have involved alt-right figures such as Alex Jones and Sam Harris.

But even if you’re not a prominent trouble maker you can be deplatformed suddenly, without warning and with no recourse. I didn’t blog about it at the time, but back in September of 2017 a Meetup group I ran, The Los Angeles Bread Bakers got booted off its payment system, a Paypal competitor called WePay (as of October 2017, owned by JPMorgan Chase). Mike of WePay’s Orwelian “Customer Delight” department sent me this astonishingly rude email:

Mike (WePay Support)
Sep 1, 2017 1:56 PM PDT

Hi there,

We apologize for the inconvenience, but WePay is no longer able to process payments for your account. Our banks and processors hold us to a strict guideline on what we can and cannot process through our site. All information regarding our review process is proprietary so typically, no additional information is available in these instances. Unfortunately, we will not be able to provide you with our services. We wish you all the best moving forward.
WePay | Customer Delight

In other words, we’re kicking you off, not telling you why and don’t bother contacting us. I tried to take up the issue with Meetup, but I had too much going on in my life at that time to resolve the issue.

Without the ability to process payments for classes WePay had, effectively, made the Los Angeles Bread Bakers Meetup useless. Meetup does not allow you to integrate other payment services such as PayPal. You have to use WePay if you want to use Meetup’s registration/reservation system. Thankfully, Roe Sie of the King’s Roost took over LABB and runs class payments though his business. But, without Roe’s help, the LABB meetup would have folded.

LABB never had any complaints about payments or refunds for classes. Maybe it had something to do with an anti-Trump bake sale that was organized by some members of the group a few weeks before we got booted off. It could also have been a simple credit card problem. Or maybe they were cleaning up things ahead of being purchased by Chase. But I have no way of knowing since WePay refused to disclose their reasoning.

Kris De Decker, who runs the awesome blog Low Tech Magazine just had the experience of getting caught in a Facebook “fake news” algorithm when the company rejected an ad he had taken out for his blog post on energy security.

This incident combines the idiocy of Silicon Valley’s monopoly over content with their belief that algorithms can parse the nuances of all the world’s languages. No intelligent person would confuse Kris’ carefully researched, non-partisan writing with “fake news.”

I’ll conclude with some advice: if you are a small business person or someone who hopes to run an internet based business, if you can, make sure that you are not dependent on any one platform. And have a contingency since it’s probably not a matter of if, but when you will be deplatformed even if you’re not spouting conspiracy theories or hate speech. It’s also time for us all to think about, as Kris De Decker has, of starting some alternatives to the big Silicon Valley platform monopolies.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Many thanks to all of you, our dear readers and listeners for your kind comments, input and support.

In lieu of sending a gift to each and every one of you, we offer this link to a downloadable version of William Morris’ fantasy novel, The Story of the Glittering Plain illustrated by Walter Crane and suitable for your tablet thingy or online reading. The book, published in 1894, influenced a young J.R.R. Tolkien.

May you all have a productive and happy 2019.

The Art and Architecture of C.F.A. Voysey

As a tangential way of following up on my overly hasty post on turn of the last century street scenes let me begin by saying that I’m not interested in an uncritical nostalgia for the past. Rather, I’d like to question why we assume we’re on the only right historical trajectory. What would happen if we could see that the way things are now are not the only possible way things could have turned out? In the case of those streets, for instance, what would have happened if we had planned cities on a more human scale and had not ceded so much real estate to automobiles? And why can’t we change the way we do things now?

C.F.A. Voysey: Design for a house.

Questioning this myth of progress is one of the reasons I’m so obsessed with the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I have a sense that many art historians don’t like this period because it doesn’t fit neatly into a linear progression from representation to abstraction. It also combines a contradictory, conservative interest in historicism along with radical socialist politics. So, just like reconsidering our streets, how about we ponder what would have happened if the Arts and Crafts movement had not died in the horrors of WWI.

C.F.A. Voysey: cabinet.

Looking for some dining chairs to make for our living room, I stumbled on the work of C.F.A. Voysey, an English Arts and Crafts architect and designer. He took an obsessive gesamtkunstwerk (total art work) approach to his architectural commissions, insisting on designing not just the building but the furniture and everything down to the pen trays. Very conservative politically, he was an exception to the more progressive bent of the movement. It’s also obvious that he spent every spare moment of his life obsessively drawing.

C.F.A. Voysey: Birds of Many Climes c.1900.

Voysey’s work points to an alternate trajectory in which our art and our cities are entwined with a reverence for nature instead being at the service of machines. Instead we have the cynicism, self absorption and nihilism of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. And all we have to look forward to are cites soon to be clogged with self driving cars.

C.F.A. Voysey: design for wallpaper.

Though we ended up in a great crapulence, at least we can still get Voysey’s wallpaper. Put it on your kids walls and maybe it will inspire them to figure out a better future.

Street Life in San Francisco, Paris, New York, Victoria and Vancouver

Steven Pinker be damned! If you’d like evidence that history is more complex than the misguided notion that everything is always magically getting better I’d point you to these  films showing city life before our streets became sewers for cars.

I’ll get right down to my cranky point: they show that our streets and parks are worse and more impoverished since we ceded them to automobile interests.

To us who live in developed countries these street scenes can seem chaotic. I would suggest that instead of chaos they show a city life that’s more democratic. No one form of transit dominates. You can walk, ride a bike, take public transit or ride a horse and not feel like a second class citizen for not owning a car.

Here’s Victoria and Vancouver, Canada in 1907 where loose dogs seem to be a thing:

And New York:

And to notch up the crankiness let me point out that the clothes look a lot better too in the days before “athleisure.”