Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for March 3rd, 2003

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Posted by shannonclark on March 3, 2003

Full Disclosure XML proposal

Discussion that builds on the same discussion that I commented on at Anil Dash’s blog. Interesting suggestion – basically an XML format for full disclosure. I think a good idea, very rough around the edges, and probably needs some more fleshing out (and only works perhaps for RSS driven sites? Otherwise, how is this full disclusure distributed to readers?

And is it per-entry? (which implies a modification to something like the Blogger API so that you can chance the full disclosure XML at the same time as you add a new entry)

Lots of stuff to work thru but it is a start of a good idea.

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Posted by shannonclark on March 3, 2003

Eye contact
or do I make too much of it and may be mugged someday?

This weekend, after mostly not watching TV at all, I finally relaxed briefly Sunday night, ate some dinner, and watched random shows. Which included one on, I think, the Learning Channel that included instructions of a sort on what to do in a lot of different situations. Including possible muggings, being held by gunpoint by a crazed co-worker and other nice possible situations.

The instructions included a number of ones which I fundementally do not agree with (though perhaps the “experts” know something I do not – I’m not an expert).

First, in both scenarios they emphasized the importance of “avoiding eye contact” – made a very big deal of this, repeated it many times, even had an “expert” on that was a talking head (head shot only) and said that “avoiding eye contact is a primative gesture that indicates passiveness and submission” – which they claimed would lead to a lowered risk of being beaten or shot.

More on this later.

The second item was in the case of a man with a gun pointed at you “do what he says” – i.e. because he has the gun just do what you are told. The implication of their advice being that not only is this of course the best action, but that because they have the gun they control the situation – and thus your actions are now basically out of your own control.

I should explain something here, in many ways I am a hard line existentialist (like Sartre but not his communist leanings) – that is, I hold as the core of my worldview and philosophy that free will and free choice is at the core of everything – and that I am responsible for all of my actions – and that I always have a choice – nothing excuses me from responsiblity, not even “a man with a gun pointed at me”.

But more on that some other day – my main interest today is on the this whole idea of “avoid eye contact.”

My experience in life has been that when you make eye contact with a stranger on the street it will more likely diffuse a situtation than start one. That is, by looking someone in the eye you show them respect and connect with them as a human being. The situation being further impacted by your other gestures, bearing, and reactions. Generally I look at someone (especially someone approaching me) in the eye, and then both smile or nod and tip my head in greeting – usually followed with moving to the appropriate side (this is assuming that we might otherwise have been on course to walk into each other).

All of my interactions may be helped by the fact that I am not a small man (5′ 11″, 220lbs) and I have lived in and walked in the city for quite a while.

But on the other hand, I have never once been mugged or assulted, and I have certainly walked late at night (and during the day) through parts of Chicago where that was and is a real possiblity.

Once this year I was yelled at and cursed at by a begger – but also, it was someone with whom I had avoided eye contact, someone I probably had clearly sent a message of “I’m ignoring you”.

Mostly, however, my interactions with people on the street result in smiles, friendly gestures, even surprised conversations with me – in at least one case specifically on the point that I had made eye contact, and that I had smiled. In that case, an older black man, he said that I was the first white person that week to do so – to aknowledge that he was a person and an individual – his comment was that I was the first white person who clearly did not think of him as a “black man” first.

I mention race here, because the show, in another move I did not approve of, showed the “muggers” as a gang of “tough” black men. And though they showed a victim of the “gang” as another black male, and though the footage was supposed to be “actual footage shot by the gang members themselves” – I thought as I viewed the show that the message being sent to the audiance was clear “be scared of a group of young black men walking down the street with you”.

Yes, they then had a middle aged black man as the “expert” offering advice (including the “don’t make eye contact it will only trigger primative rage” or some such – which perhaps the show’s producers thought would temper their message a bit. But for me the message seemed clear.

My experience, and I have quite a bit of it with bullies at least, is that it is the very denying that they are individuals (and also that you are one and someone like them) that allows for and causes the physical (and mental) torture to occur.

If, however, indivuality and individual connections are brought into the moment – the situation can diffuse (may still not, but it can). A smile, eye contact (but brief not confrontational), and perhaps even shared words and conversation can and do diffuse a situtation.

Personally were I confronted by a group of muggers – something that has never yet happened to me – I would talk to them but not by looking away and downward and submitting but rather by looking up to and at them. I would also try to connect with them in some way, to show them that I was an indivudual, and to aknowledge that they too were as well – something that we held in common – the weather, a local sports team, the neighborhood, perhaps something from what they are wearing or carrying – or a common local establishment.

Do not get me wrong, some people (of all races) are evil and dangerous – and bad things can and do happen all the time. But, and this is probably controversial, I firmly believe that you generally get what you expect – so, if you walk through the city expecting to be in danger, it gets sensed and you are in fact in danger. If, however, you walk through the city expecting not to be in danger, and expecting that the people around you will be friendly and welcoming, that is generally the reaction you will get.

My friend Andrius tells a story of living on the south side of Chicago (he is white, the area he was staying at, my friend David’s house is very poor and mostly black). He was confronted one day by a group of his neighbors – who proceeded to tell him “we’re looking out for you” – i.e. not in a “we’re going to mug you, shoot you, take your money” but in a “hey, we’ve noticed you’re around here…

Andrius is a very engaging sort – holds longer conversations with more people than even I – but I think his interaction is not some rare isolated example, but rather what happens when, like him, you have an attitude that people are basically good and honest.

There is mugh more, but this is overly long – more later this week.

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Posted by shannonclark on March 3, 2003

Salon.com News | Aide on U.S. image in Muslim world quits

An idea – for what it’s worth.

What if instead of a “big” plan to “sell America and American Ideals” to the world, we instead engaged in a “smaller” plan – more point to point, but impactful nonetheless.

Specifically, what if we here in the US (and elsewhere) were to try to reach out to the “muslim street”, ideally in non-religious and non-political ways.

I’m thinking of ways such as trading with them, playing games (literally online), chatting, answering questions, learning Arabic from them and teaching them English. Exchanging music, photos, etc.

I am at my heart a historian, and my interest is in the Middle East – but in a history of trade and commerce, not of religion or war.

It is a region with a long history of trade and connectiveness to the world – so why should it not be so in the current era? Yes there are technical difficulties and formal censorship in some parts and yes, perhaps Internet access is not widespread – but not all forms of online communication require broadband or even need to be widespread.

For example, with just a few connections could not those connection points serve as relays for information and the exchange of ideas? Americans and westerners sending images, sound bites, photoes etc – the connection points in the Middle East printing out, burning to CD (and from that to tape) the sounds and images of people here in the West?

It is also a case that those of us who are not evangelical Christians, but who are still Americans (or other Westerners) should emphasize to the rest of the world that we do exist, and should show our willingness to be engaged.

And not all of this needs to be “mere” friendship, there is certainly room for businesses to connect and prosper as well – even in a time of possible war.

Yes, there are risks (but when are there not any in business or in life) but there are also opportunities. A large part of the challenge faced by the countries in the Middle East is that they have a very young society, increasingly so, and that while a few people are amazingly wealthy from Oil, and a few countries have spread this wealth to their citizens (but then too restrict who can be a “citizen” very harshly) the case majority of the society are not rich and the oil wealth has created few incentives or opportunities for other industries to prosper.

Historically the wealth of the Middle East was in trade – serving as a crossroads for the world. In modern times, however, this trade role has been bypassed by modern shipping and airfreight and little alternatives have arisen.

There is nothing in the Koran or in Islamic society that is against commerce and business, though there are restrictions and rules on certain forms of transactions (interest payments for example fall under prescriptions against ursury, not unlike similar restrictions on it that Christians practiced not that many years ago). These restict some forms of transactions common in current financial markets – but these restrictions too are not a total barrier, there are acceptable alternatives and other means by which to conduct business.

My point is that why should all of the connections between societies and even countries be only the domain of the current administration – why should not the energy and effort that the current Anti-war movement is now using to engage in a futile (mostly) and idealistic venture against governments in the west instead be used to engage directly with the populace of the Middle East – to engage with them one-on-one and business to business and see if as a mass alternative solutions to seemingly intractable problems can be found.

I should emphasize however that solutions predicated on “this is God’s will” or other forms of religious “truth” are unlikely to make headway – they certainly have not since the 7th century. Rather, I am suggesting that we look for ways to cooperate and prosper together. And for ways to be so busy communicating and/or working together that we stop trying to kill each other.

(full disclosure, while I am personally not religious and am, indeed, atheistic (but also not communist in the least) my family is a mix of Irish Catholic and Eastern European Jews – so take that with what you will)

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Posted by shannonclark on March 3, 2003

anil dash – buying into blogs

My comments (probably too long) on Anil’s post about Project Blogger and corporate use of blogs as a marketing medium.

My discussion identified three types of blogs (I’ll probably reproduce my comments here later today)

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