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A Simple Explanation Of “The Internet Of Things”

The “internet of things” (IoT) is becoming an increasingly growing topic of conversation both in the workplace and outside of it. It’s a concept that not only has the potential to impact how we live but also how we work.  But what exactly is the “internet of things” and what [...]

Tal Fortgang and the Chamber of Web Outrage

Screenshot via YouTube

Inevitably, if you are the kind of person who reveals your thoughts and feelings to the internet—which is to say, you are anyone who has ever updated your Facebook status or reblogged something on Tumblr—you will make someone angry. Occasionally you will make a lot of people very, very angry, and they will write about you and call you names while others rise to defend you. If you are exceptionally star-crossed, your name will be bellowed from all corners of the internet as commenters both famous and obscure craft hot takes about you. Inevitably, you will be called an idiot and a racist and a symbol of America’s decline. You may even end up on cable news—suddenly locking eyes with Greta Van Susteren as she asks you to explain yourself—before your moment in the spotlight is gone and you are returned to your previous life as another person who has said something on the internet takes your place among the blogs and tweets and tumbls.

This is called a “news cycle,” a phrase that always reminds me of the Hindu theory of the universe being destroyed and reborn again and again. There is something strangely calming about thinking of news as some great cosmic entity that is constantly eating and excreting and then eating the excrement—it is a self-replenishing outrage machine that hums along, screaming about each new offense against INSERT NAME OF IDEA OR GROUP HERE as if it were the most vile transgression of all, then abruptly but seamlessly moving on to the next uniquely obscene gaffe or theory. Once you realize that this cycle/machine/beast (which is also a collection of websites, TV channels, and individuals who fill the air with hyperbole about the topic du jour for a living) will hum along without your participation, you can more or less ignore the individual yelled-about items and relax in the knowledge that none of it matters—unless, of course, you happen to be one of those items.

Tal Fortgang, a gloriously named freshman at Princeton became news-cycle fodder last week when an opinion column he wrote—which was originally titled “Checking My Privilege: Character as the Basis of Privilege” when it ran in the Princeton Tory, a student-run conservative publication, in early April—was republished by Time and Fox News on Friday.

The gist of the piece is that Fortgang, a 20-year-old white guy, is upset at some fellow student who apparently told him to “check your privilege,” an especially grating collegiate way to say, “I think that your opinion is invalid and/or shitty because you are a white guy who doesn’t care and/or consider the perspective of others.”

Fasten your seatbelts, you’re in for a self-righteous ride. Writes Fortgang:

The phrase, handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung.

[...]

I do not accuse those who “check” me and my perspective of overt racism, although the phrase, which assumes that simply because I belong to a certain ethnic group I should be judged collectively with it, toes that line. But I do condemn them for diminishing everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life, and for ascribing all the fruit I reap not to the seeds I sow but to some invisible patron saint of white maleness who places it out for me before I even arrive.

Fortgang goes on to inform the check-your-privilege crowd that his grandparents survived the Holocaust and built a business from nothing, and that for 25 years his father worked “from the crack of dawn” to earn a living. And what privilege Fortgang has—cue the patriotic horns—is passed down to him by not just his family but by the Founding Fathers. “I recognize that it was my parents’ privilege and now my own that there is such a thing as an American dream,” he writes, “which is attainable even for a penniless Jewish immigrant… It’s not a matter of white or black, male or female or any other division which we seek, but a matter of the values we pass along, the legacy we leave, that perpetuates ‘privilege.’ And there’s nothing wrong with that.”

As Upworthy might write, “This opinion-havin’ guy expressed unironic belief in the idea that America is a meritocracy… you’ll never believe what happened next.” Actually, you would: He got lionized on the right by everyone from the American Conservative to the Blaze, while people on the left straight-up called him a racist. It’s sometimes hard to figure out why some piece of writing or video goes viral the way Fortgang’s essay has, but I can think of a couple reasons it spread so far:

1. He expressed something that many conservatives feel on a deep level, which is that the discourse of “social justice” (the current catchall phrase used to describe pretty much everyone to the left of the Democratic Party) warps language and belittles their views. When a leftist talks, wealth means greed, masculinity means sexism, pride means racism, traditional values means homophobia, and rural America means a bunch of idiots. Phrases like trigger warning and microaggression circulate on college campuses thanks to an epidemic of overly sensitive liberals who say things like “check your privilege” when they really mean “fuck yourself, white boy.” I think there is some truth to this line of complaint, actually: It can seem like left-wing activists have built their own vocabulary and grammar, and if you don’t use their language and agree with them on everything you are scorned and insulted. When they call you “ignorant” they don’t mean that they want to educate you into enlightenment; they want to shame you into shutting the fuck up.

2. Fortgang is not a bad writer for a 20-year-old, but he makes a lousy argument that’s easy to dissect. Having a family history that includes horrible hardships and an inspiring immigrant story does not mean that you haven’t benefitted from your race, gender, and class, or that you shouldn’t contemplate the role those things had in shaping your “Weltanschauung.” (Princeton students, who are all privileged in one way or another, tend to drop $20 words like that when other people would just say “worldview.”) It’s nice to praise an America that allowed your Jewish immigrant grandfather to build a business, but it’s useful to recognize that that at the same time in America, black people were being denied loans and forced to live in racially segregated slums—you’re meant to check your privilege by considering other people’s stories, not your own. Just as conservatives could read Fortgang’s words as empowering and an antidote to the liberal thought police, lefties could quickly throw together takedowns and attract readers by pointing out all the ways that this college kid is a big dumb wrong jerk.

Combine those reasons with Fortgang’s authorial smugness/confidence (you say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to), and you’ve got a viral essay that set the op-ed world on fire and landed the author on Fox News—which is a shame, because this conversation should have stayed on campus.

I like to believe that colleges are still places where you can actually learn something. Fortgang’s column stirred things up at Princeton—hopefully it started a dialogue about what “privilege” means and who has it, and maybe also about the right and wrong way to have debates about values. Hopefully Fortgang read this New York Times article about the confabulation in which Briana Payton, a member of his school’s Black Student Union, is quoted as saying, “I concluded after reading that he had been ultimately unsuccessful in examining his own privilege… He doesn’t know what it feels like to be judged by his race.” In an ideal world, Payton and Fortgang would have a chat about how they both get offended when people prejudge them, and how they view race and class and equality.

We’re not in an ideal world, of course; we’re in the news cycle. In the above video, when Greta Van Susteren asks Fortgang what “check your privilege” meant, he replies, “I don’t think the people who are saying ‘check your privilege’ really know what it means.”

That’s a bad way to start a dialouge, but it’s how you talk when you’re inhabiting the world of cable news—you claim your ideological opponents don’t understand the words they use, you scoff and gloat your way through two-minute segments until everyone who agrees with you is convinced you’ve won the argument. These “debates” are all empty calories, and the people who publicize them move on to the next thing as soon as they possibly can, because there’s a cycle to feed with anger and elation. Current candidates for outrage include a black teacher suing a school after being mocked for her race, a Republican senate candidate who once worked as a drag queen, and a California school that asked students to write papers about whether the Holocaust actually happened. That’s a lot of privilege to be checked!

The cycle will soon return Fortgang to Princeton, where he and his Weltanschauung will no doubt continue to irritate his peers and where he’ll continue to write things that will one day make him cringe as he looks back on them. Hopefully now that he’s no longer on television he’ll be able to learn something.

Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.

Might You And Your Associate Move A U.S. Immigration Marriage Interview?

How well do you actually know your romantic partner? Find out with these questions.

If you’re a U.S. citizen and you want to marry a foreigner, part of the process involves an interview about your relationship.

If you're a U.S. citizen and you want to marry a foreigner, part of the process involves an interview about your relationship.

Flickr: thisisbossi

Part of the application for the foreign spouse’s green card includes an in-person interview with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. In it, an immigration officer will question the couple to make sure the marriage is legit and not, as they say, a “green card marriage.” While the interview usually includes basic questions about the relationship — when did you meet, how did your courtship progress — immigration officials may also ask very specific questions about your significant other.

The following are potential questions that could be asked, culled from newspaper articles, immigration lawyers, and testimonials. So, you know, don’t treat this an official preparation of any kind because there are a lot of different factors that go into that interview. This is a quiz and it’s supposed to be fun, mmmkay?

RULES: Check off each question you know the answer to. If the question doesn’t quite apply to you and your S.O., check it anyhow. (For example, if it’s a question about your S.O.’s job, but he/she’s unemployed, still check that question.)

Sources: New York Times, Nolo.com, New York Daily News, Google Groups, Visa Journey.


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Forging Unity in Syria with Music

Rabia was the drummer for a Damascene band called Ana, which is the Arabic word for “I.” He was one of five members who dreamed about making an album that mixed Arabic rhythms with post-rock instrumentals.  Yet as civil unrest spread throughout Syria, the band’s aspirations faded away.  

As the mood of Damascus changed and the music scene diminished, Rabia became more active in demonstrations against the regime.  But on May 25, 2012, someone followed him home. He was found dead at the age of 31, with a bullet in his neck inside his sister’s car the next day.

“I didn’t believe it at first,” said Anas, a 25-year-old Syrian songwriter and former vocalist for Ana. “Rabia’s death broke our spirits.”

With the band parting due to the incident, after being together for four years, Anas took a break from music to focus on his work at a radio station. But strict state control on media content pushed him to resign three months after Rabia’s death. Confining himself to his basement in Damascus, Anas began producing music again.

With more than 145,000 people dead and 2.7 million Syrians displaced since the beginning of the crisis, music has, like many aspects of life, become an instrument of resistance and war. But while artists from all circles propagate support for the regime or opposition, Anas has endorsed a more constructive message.

Before uploading his first track in November 2012, Anas, in order to protect his identity from the regime, called himself Khebez Dawle—a title meaning “My Country’s Bread.” Anas told me that bread represents the foundation needed to build any project. He hoped his music could build solidarity by connecting listeners from all around the country.

After uploading his music, not only did Khebez Dawle gain relative popularity in the country for a new style of music—reaching more than 5,000 views within the first two weeks—but his old bandmates quickly took notice.  

“I told him to come to Beirut once I heard his music,” said Bazz, a 25-year-old old bassist and former member of Ana.

Bazz joined a cover band called Purple Haze after Ana split up. Yet growing instability in Syria pushed him out to Lebanon in search of new opportunities.  “Beirut had a more advanced music scene and donors willing to help us,”  Bazz told Anas.

While Anas eventually agreed to join he insisted to first return to Nabek—his hometown in Syria—to say goodbye to his family. But upon arriving to Nabek, a ceasefire between the opposition and regime ended and fighting broke out. Without knowing whether he would survive, he chose to enter an internet café to transfer his last song to Bazz. The track was called “Lasatk Aish”—meaning, “You’re Still Alive.”

Instantly after the transfer finished, while still speaking to Bazz online, a bomb landed on the building next to the cafe causing a power outage in the neighborhood.

“I thought he was dead,” Bazz told me in the band’s underground studio in Beirut.

“I don’t think I have ever experienced a more honest moment,” said Hekmat, the 24-year-old guitarist and keyboard player, who had been sitting next to Bazz when Anas suddenly went offline. “‘Lasatk Aish’ captured life in Syria.”

Although Bazz and Hekmat didn’t receive word until hours later, Anas survived. In March 2013, a week after the fighting in Nabek, he left for Beirut to form the band Khebez Dawle. They have since started to work on a concept album that portrays the events of the Syrian Civil War through their eyes.

After applying for financial support in August 2013 to the Arab Fund for Art and Culture (AFAC) and the Arab Culture Resource (ACR), two agencies committed to empowering cultural production in the Middle East, Khebez Dawle was awarded its first grant from AFAC in November and its second from ACR in January.

Finally, dreams once shattered seemed attainable. But despite their success, the band still wasn’t complete.

While collaborating in their studio one afternoon in May 2013, Hekmat received a call from an unknown number. It was Bashi, a 27-year-old guitarist and the lone remaining member from Ana.

“I never heard from Bashi after Ana split up,” said Anas.

“Damascus became a prison,” said Bashi. “After I heard the band rejoined I fled to Beirut to be a part of it.”

Today, Khebez Dawle is scheduled to perform three shows in Beirut to promote their album release in August, including a performance at the American University of Beirut’s outdoor festival on May 24. And though they intend to perform with a guest drummer, replacing Rabia remains an impossible task.

“He was more than our drummer. He was our friend,” Bashi told me as his hands fidgeted and rubbed his neck, while looking at the vacant drum set in their studio.

While each member reflects upon friends and family living in Syria, the simplest of ambitions pushes their project forward.

“We’re not promoting a political side, but we’re sharing our story, as it is” said Anas. “We just want our people to listen to something different than shelling and bombs every day.”