The thing about the English Civil War and everything that surrounds it is that it's remarkably difficult to pick a team, from the modern perspective. On the one side, you've got Puritans and repressive morality and NO PLAYS OR GOOD TIMES FOR ANYONE, but also democracy and egalitarianism and a rejection of the divine right of kings and the aristocracy! On the other side, you've got GLORY IN THE DIVINELY ORDAINED KING AND THE PERFECTION OF THE ESTABLISHED SOCIAL ORDER, but also people can have a good time every once in a while and make sex jokes if they feel like it.
Anyway, one fact that seems pretty certain about Aphra Behn is that she grew up during the Interregnum and wrote during the Restoration, and was very much on Team Divine Kings Are Great. Would Puritans let a woman write saucy plays for the stage? NO SIRREE, NOT AT ALL, three cheers for the monarchy and the dissolute aristocracy!
There aren't all that many facts that are certain about Aphra Behn, especially her early years -- the first several chapters of this book involve a lot of posed hypotheticals about who she might have been, how she might have got her start, and who might have recruited her into the spying business. It does seem fairly certain she was a spy: code name Astrea, Agent 160. (Me, to aamcnamara, after seeing Or last month: "I don't know that I buy all that Agent 160 business, there's no way that was something they did in the 1660s!" I apologize for doubting you, Liz Duffy Adams.)
Admittedly she was the kind of spy who spent most of her spy mission stuck in a hotel in Antwerp writing irritated letters back to King Charles' intelligence bureaucracy, explaining that she would happily continue with her spying mission and do all the things they wished her to do if only they would send her enough money to PAY HER DANG HOTEL BILL. (They did not.)
Besides her unpaid expense reports, most of what is known about Aphra Behn comes from her context and her publications, and the things she wrote in them -- only some of which can absolutely definitively be traced to her at all; several of her short stories and novellas are disputed, including one of the ones I found most interesting, "Love-Letters Between A Nobleman And His Sister." This early three-volume novel is extremely thinly-veiled RPF about a wildly trashy historical trial involving King Charles' illegitimate son, his best friend, the best friend's wife, and the best friend's sister-in-law. All of these people then went on to be involved in a major rebellion, which the second and third volume of "Love-Letters" cheerfully fictionalizes basically as it was happening, in the real world.
One of the first English novels ever written by a woman [if it was indeed written by Aphra Behn], and arguably the first novel written EVER, and it's basically one of Chuck Tingle's political satires. This is kind of amazing to me.
OK, but back to things we think we're fairly sure we do know about Aphra Behn! She wrote a lot about herself talking, and about men judging her for how much she talked; she wrote a lot of things that were extremely homoerotic; she also wrote a lot about impotence; she was often short on money; she cheerfully stole other people's plots, then got mad when people accused her of stealing other people's plots; she rarely wrote anything that was traditionally romantic, and most of her work seems to have an extremely wicked bite to it. She did not read Latin, which did not stop her from contributing to volumes of translations of things from Latin. She was almost certainly not a member of the nobility, but she believed in divine right, and divine order, and divine King Charles, even though it seems likely from her writing that she did not believe personally in religion, or God, and the King probably never did pay her bills. An extremely interesting and contradictory person, living in an interesting and contradictory time.
And now I think I need to go find a good biography of Nell Gwyn - she's barely relevant to this biography (Aphra Behn dedicated a play to her, but there's no other information available about their relationship) and yet Janet Todd cannot resist throwing in a couple of her favorite historical Nell Gwyn one-liners and they're all SO GOOD.
Or so my Aussie friends inform me.
For those who don't live Down Under, the Melbourne Cup is the biggest horse race in Australia, and one of the biggest in the world. Like our Kentucky Derby, but much much older.
Phar Lap won it once.
Can Jon Snow do the same?
This past Saturday, October 14, DC residents staged a walk to Downtown Anacostia from the Giant on Alabama Avenue SE, which is Ward 8’s only full-service grocery store.
The 45-minute walk was organized by a coalition of local activist groups to bring attention to the “grocery store gap” between relatively affluent and predominantly white parts of the city like Ward 3 and lower-income, heavily racial minority areas like Wards 7 and 8. The former has nine full-service grocery stores, while the latter two–with their combined population of nearly 150,000 people–have just three full-service grocery stores between them.
Dave attended the Walk and talked to participants about how the grocery store gap has affected them, and what can be done about it.
The grocery gap is not just about the number of grocery stores, it’s also about the quality of those stores
Nakkia M., a Ward 7 resident who attended the Walk, noted that distance wasn’t the issue for her, saying, “I'm about five minutes from a grocery store.” However, she says she shops at farmers markets when she can instead, “just because you can’t guarantee fresh produce at Safeway.” Nakkia noted that the store was “the Safeway that sold the bad meat.”
Back in August 2017, Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray conducted a surprise inspection of the store. He encountered long lines, poor service, and rotten food including moldy produce and spoiled steak. In the face of the ensuing negative publicity, Safeway pledged to do better–although Gray himself was skeptical.
Councilmember (At-Large) Elissa Silverman, who was also present at the Grocery Walk, said Gray’s exposé had an impact. “I've been in the Safeway on Minnesota before and after, and there's a tremendous difference,” Silverman said.
Customers are responding to the recent improvements. “I was in the Safeway the day after they redid it and everyone was in there [saying] ‘Look how great the vegetables look!’ People buy things when they’re fresh and looking good."
Past efforts to encourage more grocery stores east of the Anacostia River have often come up short
When Mary Alice Reilly of DC Greens, one of the cosponsors of the Walk, wrote about the event for GGWash, commenters pointed out that the lack of grocery options in Wards 7 and 8 is not a new problem. Some suggested that different patterns of development, rather than differences in race and class, were more likely explanations.
However, this argument doesn’t hold water. While it’s true that parts of Wards 7 and 8 are less dense and more auto-centric than the center of the city, the same is also true of Ward 3, as this map shows. Yet Ward 3 still has three times as many grocery stores as Wards 7 and 8 combined.
Other commenters noted that grocery stores have often struggled east of the Anacostia River, even when backed by the District government. A Yes! Organic Market in Fairlawn, in Southeast DC, opened with the support of $900,000 in grants in 2010, only to close two years later.
Owner Gary Cha and DC officials attributed the store's failure to unique issues with the store’s location, rather than a lack of interest from neighborhood residents. Indeed, many go out of their way to travel to other parts of the city to shop at stores carrying fresh, high-quality produce.
Leaders are hoping that this time will be different
Councilmember Silverman is a resident of Capitol Hill, and she says she witnesses a mass exodus of shoppers from east of the Anacostia River every week.
“If you go to the Harris Teeter at Potomac Ave on a Sunday morning, you see half of Ward 8 over there, and it's because they feel the Giant in their own neighborhood doesn't give them the choices and the options as consumers that they want,” Silverman says.
She believes that collective action on the part of the citizens of Wards 7 and 8 can put pressure on retailers to expand and improve grocery options by demonstrating “that this is a market over here, there are over 150,000 residents with a lot of purchasing power that [retailers] shouldn't ignore.”
Farmers markets offer one alternative to full-service grocery stores, and this map compiled by The Washington Post shows that there are 15 farmers markets east of the Anacostia River. However, they may not be a convenient option for all consumers. In addition, most farmers markets in the District are open just one day a week for only a few hours, and many close up shop during the winter.
Silverman emphasized that the Council needs to make promoting grocery options a priority by including funding for grocery stores in the District’s budget. Councilmember Mary Cheh of Ward 3 has proposed legislation doing just that.
Referring to the proposal to subsidize parking at the Ward 5 Union Market development to the tune of $36 million, Silverman said, “I think if you asked residents of Ward 5...I think most voters would say ‘We want grocery stores and healthier food options, and you know what? The developers at Union Market can fund some parking themselves.’”
Beyond securing additional funding for grocery store development, activists want to boost existing healthy food programs.
Reilly, the DC Greens Volunteer Coordinator who wrote about the Grocery Walk, suggested that the District reduce barriers to federal nutrition programs like SNAP and WIC, such as increasing the types of places that accept these benefits and allowing clients to sign up online. She also wants the District to increase funding for local programs that bolster access to fresh food, such as Produce Plus, Healthy Corners, and others.
New grocery options are already in the works east of the Anacostia River
Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White, who also attended the Walk, was optimistic that the combination of top-down policy changes and bottom-up activism would bring results. He said grocery stores may soon open at MLK Gateway and South Capitol Street, while community co-ops are continuing to expand.
One such establishment, the Community Grocery Co-Op, is looking to set up a physical location east of the Anacostia River. They describe their vision of a co-op as “a store which is owned and controlled by individuals within a community or collaborative rather than a single store-owner or corporate entity” in order to keep wages high and prices low.
Since co-ops are not run for profit, they may be more likely to remain in areas like Wards 7 and 8, which have proved to be challenging markets for traditional for-profit grocery stores. The co-op structure also gives members a say in how the store is run.
“We've already starting moving and [we councilmembers are] making sure we can put our money where our mouth is,” White said.
Yesterday, as part of her bid to attract Amazon's second headquarters, Mayor Murial Bowser announced two awardees from the Neighborhood Prosperity Fund who pledged to improve access to groceries to Wards 7 and 8.
LDP Holdings' Penn Hill project in Southeast, which will include a grocer, was awarded $2.1 million. The second awardee is South Capitol Improvement LLC in Southwest, which was granted $880,000 for its South Capitol Affordable Housing project that includes a grocer tenant and Good Food Markets. South Capitol will also be partnering with a Ward 8-based community group to bring fresh food to the area.
What do you think the District should do to improve access to groceries in Wards 7 and 8?
Top image: An attendee at Saturday’s Grocery Walk carries a sign saying, “Close the Grocery Store Gap.” Image by the author.
Dear Captain Awkward,
Over the years, my smart, funny, fun friend Elizabeth has become ruled by her insecurity, anxiety, and grievances. She’s close with my friends from a couple of overlapping friend groups — I met my boyfriend through her — and somehow, her emotional needs have become the center of our lives. We are constantly trying to manage around Elizabeth’s irrational reactions.
Any time she isn’t invited to anything I’m doing, I’ll hear about it directly and again passive-aggressively. It doesn’t matter the reason. Every low-key hangout becomes a dilemma: do I invite Elizabeth, do I lie about my plans, do I just endure the confrontation. If I invite her when I don’t feel like it, she claims I wasn’t happy to see her. If she’s busy when we make plans, she’ll still say how left out she feels. Any time anyone has big news — they’re engaged, moving, pregnant — telling Elizabeth is a whole thing that has to be strategized around.
It’s not hard to tell this is the result of some deep and miserable insecurity and loneliness. I feel terrible that she feels that way. But she is using her anxieties to control everyone around her, and I’ve realized it’s a fucked-up game that I can’t win.
If she weren’t friends with all my friends, I would cut her out of my life entirely. Given the overlap, though, that would be difficult and dramatic (and maybe end up ruining her relationships with people who are frustrated but not yet totally fed up. She does need friends. I just can’t be one anymore). I am trying instead to see her as a friend-of-friends who I don’t care for. I don’t feel guilty about ways I inadvertently hurt those people. I don’t vent for hours about them to mutual friends. I don’t go to parties we’re both invited to and leave frustrated by all the ways they are disappointing me.
But I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to react the next time she tries to make me feel guilty or make something about her. I don’t know what to say that doesn’t turn into a big, involved, emotional conversation that I do not want. She always wants more from me. I want to give her less. I know what my boundaries are. How do I make them clear to her?
Hello! I think your question is going to resonate with a lot of people.
Story Time: Once upon a time a group of friends and I were trying to decide where to eat dinner. One of the group members had her sister in town, and Sister is apparently a VERY picky eater. Not medical-issues or food-allergies-picky, more like: Most restaurant food is gonna be too weird/too spicy/too ethnic/contain too many foods, like, the “rocks” and the “trees” might touch each other on the plate, so we had to find someplace that would have something she could eat. Great! A challenge! Chicago is a restaurant-rich environment. Surely there would be something.
I tell this story not because picky eaters are bad and shouldn’t be accommodated as much as possible (seriously, do not fill the comments with details about you don’t & can’t eat, I don’t care and it’s not the topic of this column). I tell it because the conversation went on for almost two hours with people raising suggestions and others shooting them down and because during all of this the Sister never said a word. She never said “Ok, Mexican or Thai is cool, I can eat some rice there” or “The diner is fine, I can get a grilled cheese probably and they’ll put everything on the side for me” or “actually Italian doesn’t work for me, sorry” or “Listen, why don’t I make some Kraft dinner here so I’m not starving and then come keep you company later at the bar” or “Hey, I know this is kinda weird, thanks for trying to help find something that will work for me” or “Can we pull up the menu online and see if there’s anything I can eat?” She just sat there quietly making frowny faces and grimaces for almost two hours while 6 people (most of whom she’d just met for the first time) tried to find something she could eat and auditioned options for her while her sister tried to interpret her face and mediate between everyone else.
It was so weird. It was one of the most amazingly dysfunctional things I have ever seen. I say “amazingly” partly because of the way that the visiting Sister had trained her sibling to anticipate and worry about her around eating and to fear her negative reactions to the point that she didn’t even have to say or do anything at this point. The mere prospect of her being sad or upset or unsatisfied was enough to have everyone strategizing around it. It was amazing how quickly we were all trained, by proxy, to react the same way. Also notable was the amount of effort it took to break out of the pattern that was instantly established among us, the amount of energy that it took to be able to say “Listen, I’m starving, we gotta goooooooo.” (We ate Mexican food. There were plain quesadillas. It was fine. Also, this dynamic played out before every single meal of her visit, three meals a day).
I tell this story because your story about your friend is partly about habits and group dynamics and the way they calcify. Elizabeth has trained you all to strategize around her and dread her reactions to things. She has to an extent trained herself to be let down over and over again. It has become a self-perpetuating cycle – the more negatively she reacts, the more she’s left out, which makes her react negatively, which makes people want to be around her less. Stir in some Geek Social Fallacies and it sucks for everyone, Elizabeth most of all. Since you can’t change what Elizabeth will do or how she’ll feel, so can you change the way you react to it so that the relationship works better for you? And can your example help steer the group to help break the pattern?
Relationships where one person is always apologizing and the other person always needs an apology are pretty unbalanced, yes? Relationships where you have to strategize around the possibility of them blowing up at you over pretty minor things are also unbalanced and exhausting. Whatever you’ve shared in the past, that’s where you are now. So, since you do have a lot of social overlap and history with Elizabeth and don’t want to ostracize her from the larger group, figure out your threshold for inviting her to stuff (it sounds like big group hangs are where it’s at) and do that. When you want to invite different people, hang out in smaller groups, make plans without her, or announce good news, do that. When you don’t want to go to something she’s organizing say “No thanks, can’t make it” without giving a reason or apologizing. Then, the hard part: Let her feelings be her feelings and don’t work so hard to fix them or manage them. Be kind and polite without being effusive or engaging deeply and otherwise withdraw to the place that you are comfortable and that feels sustainable for you.
Part of setting and maintaining boundaries with others is internal. It’s making & owning the decision that hey, my line is here, and if someone crosses it, I will withdraw from interacting with them, and if that upsets them, that’s sad, but it doesn’t automatically make the feelings my problem or my fault. Once you decide that you can deal with Elizabeth’s negative feelings without making them your problem, you’ll feel a lot more free and relaxed.
If you end up talking about things with her, say, when Elizabeth inevitably notices your withdrawal and pushes you about it, the script you are looking for might be some version of this:
“I definitely don’t want to upset you or hurt your feelings, but I also don’t want to apologize for something that isn’t actually wrong.
For example, if we’re going to stay in each other’s lives, it has to be okay for me to hang out with other people without consulting you first. It has to be okay for me to do social stuff when you aren’t available. It has to be okay for me to tell you good news about my life and hear ‘congratulations, that’s so great!’ instead of comforting you about the things in your life that you are unhappy about.
I’m not doing those things AT you or in order to hurt you or exclude you, and it’s not okay when you expect me to take care of your feelings when I do them. I find these conversations really exhausting and I don’t want to have them anymore.”
For another example, when Elizabeth starts venting about people who have wronged her after parties, what if you said “Hey, let me stop you there. I don’t actually want to listen to this”? Or what if you redirected her away from venting about people and toward talking to them? “You sound really upset with ______, why don’t you talk to them directly about it?” It sounds like there’s a dynamic here where Elizabeth is expecting you and other friends to expend a lot of energy listening to her grievances with others but won’t take the actual steps that might fix the situation. What if you removed yourself as that outlet and put the work of fixing whatever it is back on her? You can’t control whether she actually talks to the person but you can actually control how much energy you’ll expend on the problem.
- “Listen, every time I hang out with someone who isn’t you, it can’t become A Thing Where We Have To Have A Giant Talk. I really don’t want to.”
- “Where is this coming from?”
- “What is this really about?”
- “What would make you feel better about this?”
- “You’re right, we’re not as close as we used to be. I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around you, and I don’t love it.”
- “You’re right, we’re not as close as we used to be. Sometimes it makes me sad to think about, but also I think it’s okay if friendships evolve over time.“
- “You seem really unhappy in general lately, what’s going on with you?”
- “But friends don’t have to do everything together.”
- “This is really weighing on you, and you seem so unhappy lately, do you think it would help to talk to someone about it?”
- “I feel like this comes up every single time I do something without you. Do you really think friends need to do everything together?”
- “Wait, I just told you good news. Can I get a ‘congratulations’ for a second before we talk about you?”
- “Can you not?”
- “Hmmm interesting“
- “Not cool!“
- “Okay so we’re going with worst case scenarios then?”
- “I can’t talk about this anymore today.”
- “Have you told ____ what you just told me?“
- “What are you going to do about that?“
- “If we all suck so much, why are you friends with us?”
- “It’s a giant bummer when every party or brunch needs this giant post-mortem with you. Can we not?”
There’s a pretty wide variety there, so, find that script or scripts that lets you engage constructively with her behavior and disengage from a performance of feelings. It might be really valuable to have this out once and for all and really argue with her, like, “Hey! You are stressing me out a lot and making it hard to be friends with you! Knock it off!” It might be better to quietly withdraw. Don’t (for example) ask a lot of questions and dig deeper into what’s going on if you’re ready to be done with the friendship.
I think that given your long friendship it’s worth addressing head on and in depth at least one time. If you’ve never actually said any version of “Hey, this is an unreasonable question, you’re not the boss of my social calendar, knock it off!” before – for example, if you’ve defaulted to mollifying her in the moment (and then resenting the hell out of it later) – remember to start gently and give everyone a couple of chances to reset the relationship. It’s a longstanding problem for you, but it may not read that way for her if this is the first time you’ve pushed back. Does that make sense? Maybe give her a little room to have a less-than-ideal initial reaction and a little bit of time to self-correct things before you tap out forever and ever.
Also, never, ever invoke the wider feelings of the group when you talk to her. Own your own annoyance – “It bothers me,” “I’ve noticed,” “I am annoyed by…” etc. Other people may well have these same issues but appealing to the the group will not lend you authority. It will only justify Elizabeth’s paranoia about being left out and distract from the conversation, like, “Wait, everyone feels this way about me? Who exactly? What exactly did they say?” She already worries that she’s being ostracized and/or bullied, do not feed that worry. Keep it focused on you: “I can’t speak for anyone else, but it bothers me when you hear about me having brunch with other friends and take it as a slight.”
Speaking of “the wider social group” and “things that you can control,” try to stop talking about & complaining about about Elizabeth with the larger friend group as much as you possibly can. There is power and freedom in venting, but sometimes venting also feeds on itself and it becomes a habit unto itself at the expense of action. While you try to break Elizabeth and yourself of bad habits, what if you also tried to redirect the group’s habits, too? When her “b-eating-crackers” behavior comes up in the group (and it will), what if you channeled the complainstorm into “Yep, that is pretty annoying. Have you tried talking to her directly about it?”
- “I know we all try to strategize about how Elizabeth will react to news like this, but what if you just told her ‘I’m engaged!’ and let her feelings be her feelings?“
- “Yeah, she can be like that sometimes. I’ve been trying to set boundaries and just talk to her directly when it comes up instead of spending so much energy talking about her.”
- “I think we have this weird pattern, where Elizabeth overreacts to stuff and then we all overreact to her overreaction. I’m trying to break myself of the habit and just take her as she comes without too much angst about it. I wish nothing but good things for her, and I wish she could be happier but I don’t have the energy to dissect all this every time we see her.”
- “Elizabeth’s gonna Elizabeth, let’s not feed the fire. How is [new topic]?”
People may or may not follow your lead. Set the boundaries anyway, and then enforce them by changing the subject or walking way from Elizabeth-centered conversations. Go talk to anyone else about anything else (the way you wish Elizabeth would do!).
It will take time and probably a few tries to disengage. Be gentle with everyone, especially yourself.
Finally, if you read this and thought “Shit, I’m ‘Elizabeth,'” here’s some stuff you can do to feel better:
A. First and foremost, if anxiety about your friendships and whether people like you is seriously messing with your life, take the problem seriously and investigate solutions. Here’s a website (with forums) devoted to helping people with social anxiety. There are tons and tons of people dealing with this in the world, you are not alone, there are tons of strategies for managing it, everything from therapy & medication to improv classes. Chances are that you don’t have to feel this awful forever.
B. It’s okay to need reassurance from friends sometimes. If your current ways of reaching out aren’t getting the results you want, can you try out a strategy of asking for some specific action the other person can do that might make you feel better? “I miss you, it feels like we never hang out anymore” or “I feel like everyone is too busy to spend time with me” might be true, real, awful, overwhelming feelings. Sadly, expressed out loud or in text form they read like accusations that require a lot of emotional work on the other person to figure out what to do next. What if you translated those feelings into more actionable requests like “I really miss you, friend, can we have lunch soon? Tuesdays are generally good for me.” See also “I’m feeling really sad today, it feels like no one likes me” vs. “I’m really feeling sad today, what’s your favorite song that really cheers you up?” or “I’m feeling really down today, please send compliments & animal .gifs.” I don’t necessarily know what to do with “I’m so lonely and I feel like everyone hates me” but I do know what to do with “Everything sucks today, can you tell me something nice?” or “I could really use a friend to come over and sit with me and color and watch TV later, do you have a little time?” It takes time and practice to reshape this pattern, so, go slow and be nice to yourself, but try it.
C. If it feels like everyone is always hanging out without you, or like your friend group has calcified into a pattern that doesn’t feel good for you, what can you do to change it up? What can you control?
For example, I get a lot of letters & comments about people who wish they were invited to more stuff. UNDERSTANDABLE. But more often than not, when I scratch the surface and gently ask “Hey, what happens when you plan things for friends to do?” the person says some version of “No + Nobody would come anyway” or “I invited some people once but they didn’t want to come so I stopped” or “Here are 1,000 reasons that this advice is stupid and will never work.” And yeah, okay, maybe so. It sucks, I’m sorry. But you can’t control what other people will do, you can only control what you will do. If the situation is going to change, you’re going to change it, by either changing up how you interact or finding different friends.
Additionally, planning and hosting social events is work. The people in your group who are good at it and confident about it or just defaulted into being in charge of it because no one else wanted to do it also have worries and anxieties: That no one will show up, no one will have a good time. They worry about accidentally hurting people’s feelings by excluding them, or accidentally inviting awkward exes or mortal enemies, or running out of food or ice, or that they’ll make a ton of food and no one will eat it, or that they’ll suggest a bad movie or a board game that is not fun, or that everyone expects them to do the work and nobody ever helps or even thanks them (I get those letters, too). It’s easy, when you are self-conscious, to forget that literally everyone else is also a giant self-conscious weirdo too.
Mostly, and I swear this is true once we get past high school, most people who like hosting events want people to feel welcome and to have a good time. They do not enjoy excluding people or making them feel bad. With this in mind, maybe you can approach the person in your friend group who does most of the scheduling and inviting and say, “Hey, I really appreciate the work you do hosting trivia night every month, what can I do to help?” “Can I plan something for the two of us where the only work you have to do is showing up?”
- RSVP promptly when you’re invited to something.
- If the culture of your friend group is “people bring stuff to parties even when it’s not explicitly a BYOB situation” then be a person who brings baked goods or something to drink. Contribute.
- Set up chairs, offer to wash dishes, and do other tasks that keep your hands busy.
- Say thank you to the organizers afterwards.
- Pay attention to whether other people are having a good time. Is someone new here, do they seem shy? Could they use an introduction to someone else?
- It’s okay to hide out in the bathroom or on the porch or with the host’s pets for a little while if you get overwhelmed. The person who hosts the best parties I know of in Chicago is a bit socially anxious and take breaks from her own parties.
- If you don’t really gel with someone, give them space. Find someone else to talk to at the party. You don’t have to have the same level of intimacy with everyone in a social group.
- Invite people to do smaller stuff, one-on-one. Stop thinking of it as The Whole Group vs. You and think of it as a bunch of people you mostly like and some you like more than others.
- Try to approach events you’re invited to with the mindset of “People want to be kind and want me to have a good time here.”
- When you’re not invited to something, try (I know, but try) to cultivate the mindset of “Hey, not everyone has to hang out together all the time. I’ll probably catch them another time.“
D. All that said, it’s 100% okay for you, Relatively Lonely Person, to back off from friendships that feel like too much work. If people make you feel like you have to chase them all the time, if people make you feel insecure, if people judge you when you need a little reassurance or cheering up, if people never make you a priority, it’s okay to disengage. You don’t have to make all the effort or have to subsist on crumbs or leftovers to deserve friends.
To be totally honest, I am a recovering ‘Elizabeth.’ I spent my teens and 20s as a needy and socially confused bull in ye olde emotional china shoppe. I had undiagnosed depression and anxiety. I over-relied on friends to process endless streams of complaints and obsessions. I got rejected a lot socially and romantically and received a lot of negative and painful feedback from groups I wanted to be part of. I *often* experienced that moment of saying something and feeling a group of people go kind of silent and limp around my awkwardness, exchanging awkward eye messages with each other, and then changing the subject (“So…anyway…“) while my conversational turd sat there, unacknowledged.
Things that helped: Therapy. Getting older. Reality checks and boundary-setting from friends who were like “I love you but you are too intense sometimes, please knock this off so I can keep liking you” or “Look I know you’re sad but I am done talking about this” or “Do you realize you start every phone call by immediately just talking about yourself and how sad you are and don’t even ask me how I’m doing?” Losing friendships where I didn’t listen to these boundaries and learning from those mistakes. Painful self-awareness and trying to do better. Making the effort to reframe situations where I felt rejected and not automatically default to the explanations that most dovetailed with my poor self-image. Realizing that the “So…anyway…” moments were an attempt to let me save face, and that it’s okay for people to have limits about how much complaining they can absorb. Learning to read the room better and to ask questions before launching in.
It took a long time and it was hard and I still fuck up sometimes. In some cases I let go of friendships that didn’t work anymore and sought less rocky ground. In others I changed my behavior. In all cases trying was better than not trying. In all cases the only person who could really change the dynamic was me.
I hope things get better all around for you and Elizabeth(s). You can’t fix her feelings, so, take care of yourself and be as gentle as you can.
My only child is 16 years old. He was curious about sex from a very young age and very open with me, so his interest in sexual matters gave me ample opportunity to talk with him about safety and consent. He went through a cross-dressing phase when he was small—mostly wanting to wear nail polish and try on mascara—and I felt like I navigated those waters pretty well, but his father made attempts to squelch those impulses. (He and I are divorced. He has since remarried and is less involved.) That's the background. I've always accepted that he is who he is and done my best to help guide and educate him. Then last year, I caught him trying to shoplift a pair of panties. I'm not the sort of mom who freaks out, but I made him put them back and talked to him about his actions. When I asked him why he stole them, he refused to tell me. I asked: "Did you want them to masturbate with? Did you want to wear them?" He said he wanted to try them on. I told him that if he wanted to explore, he needed to do that with a legal purchase and in the privacy of his own room. Today, I found a girl's bra in the laundry. He says he doesn't know whose it is or how it got there, but this isn't my first rodeo. What on earth do I do? If I send him to a therapist and this is about being trans or cross-dressing tendencies, I'm afraid that will shame him. However, this is now something of a criminal/ethical concern, and I want to nip that in the bud. He is in every way a wonderful human: kind, smart, funny, athletic, no drugs. Is this just the same kid who has always been curious about sex? Or are these warning signs of some sort of sexual deviance? Please help.
Mom In Sleepy South Carolina Lovingly Educates Offspring
Take a deep breath, MISSCLEO, or take two—take however many you need until you're back in touch with your inner mom, the one who doesn't freak out.
Your son may be a cross-dresser or he may be trans or he may find bras and panties titillating because women wear them and he wants to sleep with women (not be one). (Lots of gay boys are titillated by jockstraps—but a closeted gay boy can collect 'em all without freaking out his mom.) We can't know whether your son is a cross-dresser, trans, or merely titillated, MISSCLEO, but he's clearly exploring and wants to do so privately. So while he could go to his mom and ask for a pair of panties and let her know exactly how he intends to use them, he doesn't want to ask his mom for a pair of panties or share his uses for them with his mom. He knows you've always accepted him for who he is (but a reminder never hurts), so if this is about his gender identity, well, you'll have to trust that he'll share that with you when he's ready. But if this is about a kink, he may never share that info with you, because why on earth would he? Kinks are for sharing with lovers, not mothers.
Give your son some space, including the space to make his own mistakes. As teenage misbehavior goes, swiping a single pair of panties isn't exactly a crime spree. If you suspect he snuck into the girls' locker room and made off with a bra (there has to be an easier way for a guy to get his hands on a bra!), you'll want to address that with him—not the "Why do you want a bra?" part, but the risk of getting caught, suspended, expelled, or worse. There are too many prosecutors out there looking for excuses to slap the "sex offender" label on teenagers—especially in the Bible Belt.
My hunch is you don't have a sex offender on your hands or a kid drifting into organized crime. You have a slightly pervy teenage boy who's curious about sex and who may, like millions of other men, have a thing for women's undergarments. You should emphasize the Not Okay–ness of shoplifting panties from stores or stealing bras from classmates (or the siblings of friends or Laundromats or thrift stores) and the possible consequences should he get caught—theft charges, suspension/expulsion, losing friends, coming into the sights of a sex-negative prosecutor. (Seriously: A man like Harvey Weinstein gets away with assaulting women for decades, but prosecutors across the country are throwing the book at teenagers who got caught sharing pics they took of themselves with their BFs/GFs/NBFs.) But otherwise, MISSCLEO, I'm going to advise you to back the fuck off. Your son knows you love him, he knows he can talk to you about anything, and he'll confide in you if and when he's ready—if, again, this is something he needs to discuss with you at all.
My father passed away suddenly. I had a very idyllic childhood and was close to my father and my mother (who is also deceased). Upon sorting through my father's stuff after his death, I stumbled upon his erotica collection. If it were just a stack of Playboys, I would have thought nothing of it—that's just men being men. However, his collection contained material that was quite disturbing to me, including photos depicting violent sexual acts and fictional erotica books and magazines with themes of incest. Additionally, there were letters from people with whom he was obviously having extramarital affairs, including during the time that I was a child and believed that we were a "normal" family. Since discovering this, it has been hard for me to come to terms with it and think of my father in the way that I used to. I can barely stand to look at a photograph of him. I consider myself to be a sex-positive person, and I realize that even parents are entitled to be kinky, but I simply can't get over this. Any suggestions for how to deal with what I'm feeling and how to try to get past it?
Parent's Arousal Really Ended Nice Thoughts
Sex-positive, huh? Could've fooled me.
Your dad was a kinky motherfucker—you know that now—and if you've been reading Savage Love for a while, you'll know that lots of people are kinky and, distressingly, lots of people out there "enjoy" incest porn. "Of the top hundred searches by men on Pornhub," Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes in his book Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, "sixteen are looking for incest-themed videos." And it's not just men: "Nine of the top hundred searches on Pornhub by women are for incest-themed videos." That's cold comfort, I realize, and it doesn't make it any less squicky, but your dad's tastes weren't as freakish as you thought and/or hoped.
As for his affairs, your happy childhood, and your suddenly conflicted feelings...
Your mother isn't with us, PARENT, so you can't ask her what her arrangement was with your father. But it's unlikely you would have had such an idyllic childhood if your parents' marriage was contentious and your mom was miserable about your dad's cheating and his kinks. It seems likely that your mom didn't have a problem with your dad's sexual interests or she tolerated them or—and I hope you're sitting down—she was an active and happy participant. (Kinky women weren't invented in a lab in San Francisco in 2008.) If your mom didn't have a problem with your dad's kinks (which she had to have known about) or his affairs (which she might not have known about), I don't see why they should be a problem for you.
On the Lovecast, Dan chats with the creator of a naughty, naughty game: savagelovecast.com.
Malagash, written by Joey Comeau and released in 2017 by ECW Press, doesn't feel like a book. The plot is premised on a computer program that the young protagonist Sunday is in the process of writing in order to help her father to achieve immortality. By capturing his voice and laughter in .wav files, as well as recording the hushed conversation from hospital rooms as her father dies of cancer at a too-young age, she hopes to create a computer virus that will then infect others with her father's living memory. The novel is filled with the file extensions written in computer code right alongside the recreated conversations she records surreptitiously on listening devices as she, her brother, and their mother go back and forth across the city of Malagash.
The novel, like much of Comeau's other work, is written in present tense from a first person perspective. This POV hastens the pace at which Sunday goes through and collects these files of her father, always running against the clock of his mortality. The handful of other books I've read with this perspective are dystopian novels (The Hunger Games most strikingly, along with The Last Policeman series by Ben Winters and The Evolutionist by Rena Mason all share this writing choice); it's a hurried pace that makes me feel as if I am always on the edge of my seat. In dystopias and horror novels, this kind of frenetic pace makes sense, as it does with Comeau's other works, especially his webcomic A Softer World. The reader should be at the edge of their seat because the narrative isn't done yet and they must wait for the true horror of The Hunger Games's dystopia to reach its climax, while in A Softer World, the immediacy of the emotions becomes visceral in the present tense and episodic form. In Malagash, though, the reader is on the edge of their seat because of fear—but fear of the precise thing they desire: the end of the book. The closure of the novel means the reality of death, and as much as we want to keep going and read as fast as we can, we ultimately don't want to continue. In this way, Malagash offers a contemporary narrative about grief and the complex emotional struggle it engenders—the persistence of time running against the repeated loop of memory.
As Sunday worked on her virus in the novel, I was reminded of Hackers, the 1994 movie that I've come to love as a darling of the 1990s. Since Comeau was born in 1980, I can only assume he's also been influenced by the anarchic cry of “hack the planet” when he created Sunday, along with cyberpunk thrillers. In much of Comeau's prose, I hear antiquated nostalgia for a past vision of the future of technology and the hope it once offered. Though Sunday is a young adult in this work, she reads like an adult who has access to that time period. This can sometimes be a problem in novels—I actually despise it when children or teens read as mini-adults—but Comeau provides a plausible reason for Sunday's apparent maturity and beyond-her-years wisdom. Her tongue-in-cheek dismissal of the daily, parting ritual around her father's sickbed is written off with their standard exchange of “goodbye forever.” There is a strong resistance to sentimentality among all the family—as seen when the mother consistently treks back and forth to get coffee in order to get out of the hospital room, rather than play the wife who stays by his side at all times—but it is also made clear that these resistances to their emotions are defense mechanisms. Sunday's cry of “goodbye forever” isn't callous, and it isn't even her anachronistic attempt at humour that makes her seem from a different time. It's mimicry of her dying father who does not want to believe he is dying, so instead makes a joke out of it.
Sunday's role in the story is precisely that mimicry she does to avoid death; it's what she aims to capture with her computer program and subsequent virus. If she can replicate her father through these .wav files and particular snippets of conversations and stories, she believes she can keep him. He can become the proverbial ghost in the machine and all the melancholy she once felt about death will be assuaged through technology. She is so convinced of this until the very day where he does die. Suddenly, the bed is empty and there is nothing to mimic anymore. And she must truly be alone with herself.
When the father dies, I was expecting it. But the fact that he dies so soon in the novel was refreshing to me, because it meant that Malagash wasn't really about death or even about a computer virus. As much as I want to read this work in the vein of William Gibson and other Canadian writers of sci-fi and fantasy, the only thing that is speculative in this technology are the emotions it engenders. This isn't a sci-fi story of progress; it's a story about how sadness and grief become mechanical and banal to the point where Sunday and her family need the computer to access the full extent of their emotions. There has been much (some would say too much) written about how the younger generation is always distracted and how everyone blames their distraction on iPhones and internet. Indeed, an easy reading of Comeau's story would be that these people can't feel feelings so they drown themselves in technology—but that is not the case at all. They use technology as a tool for grief, tapping into the Greek root of the word technology as a teachable art. Grief is a teachable art in this story, one that Sunday tries to pass on to her brother after her dad is dead and gone. Her insistence on the virus as the answer, and her brother's help with making it manifest, becomes not so much a memento mori of death itself—since death needs no proof when they already have an empty bed in a Malagash hospital—but a way to deal with the sadness that envelopes them after the funeral is over. The virus is not a way to facilitate immortality, but community.
The last passage of the story, something which I won't spoil here, is another testament to this fact. In the same way that funerals are never about the dead but about the living, the computer virus is not about her father, but everyone else he touches. Titling the work Malagash, after the peninsula in Nova Scotia where the story is set, is yet another way to further the point about community over immortality. It is less about a family that this death happens to, and more about the countless numbers of families that have had this happen to them. Cancer is as common as computer virus; a never ending ones and zeros of suffering.
Malagash ultimately doesn't feel like a book to me because it feels too familiar. It is remarkably short (I read it in an afternoon), and it doesn't linger on something we already know too well. Instead, Comeau creates his own kind of virus with his prose, something I haven't been able to shake off since reading.
The District's traditional public schools are known to be highly segregated, but charter schools are actually even more so–despite the fact that segregation is one of the problems charters were ostensibly created to combat.
The numbers bear out the impacts of this racial divide. Despite overall improved test scores this year, DC saw a widening race and income gap in achievement, which studies show is exacerbated by segregation.
What does this mean for the city’s students as charter schools grow in number, and what should we do about it?
DC’s schools are all racially segregated, but charters are segregated the most
Charter school students currently make up about 46 percent of the student body in DC (with enrollment trending upward), and more than 90 percent of these charter students are black and Latino. Over 80 percent of these students are low-income.
Some of DC's Pre-K classrooms reflect the city's growing diversity, but this trend doesn’t seem to stick in higher grades. Beginning in kindergarten, white parents with options begin pulling their children into richer, whiter schools.
Despite the broad claim of “providing choice,” in practice charters seem to be merely providing an alternative to crumbling neighborhood schools primarily populated by poor black and Latino children.
Both nationally and locally charters are becoming increasingly popular, so the debate about whether or not they should exist (or be taxpayer-funded) is effectively over. The questions now are: can charters help fix widening segregation, which they were created to solve in the first place? If so, should they?
During a recent panel discussion on the role of charters in integrating DC, Saba Bireda, a lawyer and member of the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board, reiterated this question to local experts: "Where do diversity and integration fit into charters?
Charters could do more to integrate
Jenni Niles, Deputy Mayor for Education who founded what is now considered a “diverse by design” charter school called E.L. Haynes, said at the outset there was pushback because intentionally bringing in students across demographics meant there would be less spots for the neediest students. However, she didn't see a better way to close the achievement gap, which studies show widens when schools are highly segregated.
Niles' own team members were skeptical, but she felt her experience as a teacher in diverse classrooms would be a start. She framed the school's mission in terms of a "teaching hospital", where teachers and parents could come together to try new approaches to integrate the student body.
It worked. E.L. Haynes has been successful both in both academics and in its diversity profile. However, Niles is the first to offer a note of caution, saying a "diverse by design" school isn't necessarily better than the homogenous ones seen throughout most of the country, and says we should be careful about considering them as "less than" more diverse schools.
Furthermore, creating a school whose mission is to be more diverse is only a first step; maintaining diversity requires comprehensive and concrete policy changes. For example, transportation plays a big role in whether parents find a particular school accessible or not, so pushing for accessible transit is important aspect of creating high quality and equitable schools.
Another problem is that once a school becomes high-performing, affluent parents and parents with more information often "crowd out" disadvantaged students. To fix this, Bireda suggested a preference for at-risk students and a lottery with geographic boundaries within districts or wards.
Diverse schools for the sake of diversity won't address what causes segregation
Laura Wilson-Phelan, founder of Kindred, a non-profit that works with parents of different backgrounds to drive equity in their schools and communities, wondered if we were overly focused on diversity without considering what kind of environment best fits the needs of children. She suggested that certain schools may be better able to serve their populations through specialization.
“I think there is a time and place for segregation in a way that is really beneficial to the development of identity,” Wilson-Phelan said, giving the examples of all girls and all boys schools, as well as the Ron Brown Academy. She later clarified, “The relatively new Ron Brown Academy is a school set up just for males of color to give them space to develop identity in an affinity-based setting. Support groups for those who have gone through a common experience or who share a common identity are other examples. By no means am I talking about all-white schools or clubs or any relics of racial segregation.”
However, Bireda challenged the notion that a homogenous learning environment is always necessary for this purpose, pointing out that her own experiences as a black woman in all-white schools actually helped shape her identity. Different children will have different needs, and a one-size-fits-all approach to diversity doesn't work.
Another obstacle is that parents are not equally open to diversity. Niles and Bireda both pointed out that racial minority parents are more willing to send their kids to majority-white schools, whereas the same is not true for white parents–even if that school has good test scores and other indicators of quality education.
If we want better schools, we need to talk about the tough stuff. (Yes, that means race.)
In order to build a more diverse school, Wilson-Phelan says Kindred focused on the deeper issues driving segregation. They created a space where parents could have honest discussions about identity, race, equity, and aspirations for their children. These discussions are hard, she admitted, but "the magic happens" when you bring parents together and allow them to express their concerns without fear. As a result, sometimes more advantaged parents decide to step down to make space for others to take on leadership roles. Other times, these parents decide that a particular diverse school community isn't for them.
Regardless of background, it can seem like an insurmountable task to walk into a PTA meeting where few share your race or cultural upbringing. The fear of any parent is that you might say something wrong or inadvertently offensive. However, that fear stifles conversation, and getting past it may mean we have to confront some uncomfortable truths about ourselves.
Niles said initially there was no official parent-teachers association at E.L. Haynes, just an informal group mostly comprised of affluent parents who were not representative of the school body's demographics. This group was often reluctant to make decisions for the broader school community, who they suspected may have different experiences, needs, and priorities, and they decided it needed to change. A lot of hard work went into making the group more representative of its students, with Niles herself recruiting a slew of parents who spoke different languages. It wasn't easy or comfortable, but it was successful.
Of course, a more integrated school system is not a silver bullet. Desegregation alone isn't going to fix the opportunity gap or solve systemic racism in education. Nonetheless, finding the courage to have honest conversations about what it means to have a truly diverse school–one where children across socioeconomic and racial backgrounds can thrive–is an important place to start.
"I just want to create an environment where all students can learn," said Wilson-Phelan. That’s a vision we can all agree on.
This post has been updated to clarify that charter school students currently make up about 46 percent of the student body in DC, and more than 90 percent of these charter school students are black and Latino.
The choice voters make in the 2018 local elections will be pivotal in choosing which direction Montgomery goes—sprawl or smart growth. How we grow will be one of the essential questions facing voters and candidates over the next year.
The Coalition for Smarter Growth has released a Smart Growth Platform outlining policies that allow Montgomery to grow in an equitable, economically successful and sustainable way. By following through on the platform vision, the Montgomery of 2040 can be even better than the Montgomery of today.
The 5 Principles Of Montgomery Smart Growth
- Increasing investment in transit-oriented development
- Expanding the county's housing supply at all income levels
- Funding new transit initiatives that lower vehicle miles traveled (VMT)
- Implementing complete street policies that foster bicycling and walking
- Expanding, preserving Montgomery's parks and protecting our streams, drinking water, and the agricultural reserve
What does this look like in practice? Building the 81-mile bus rapid transit network, maximizing mixed-use centers near our metro stations, increasing our affordable housing trust fund to $75 million per year, using public land near transit to expand our supply of affordable housing, allowing multi-family zoning around new Purple Line Stations, and funding express bus service on major corridors like Veirs Mill Rd.
Arlington and DC show smart growth reduces traffic
Arlington and DC, the jurisdictions that have the highest transit ridership and lowest driving rates in the region, correspondingly have the shortest commute times as well. Both region-wide and in Montgomery County, the amount of driving per capita has actually decreased.
Regionally, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has fallen by about 10 percent since 2000, and in Montgomery VMT per capita has declined 11 percent since 2010.
Research has shown that simply expanding highways will not solve our congestion issues.
Through a phenomenon known as induced demand, the more we widen roads, the quicker they will fill up with cars. For every one percent increase in lane miles, vehicle miles traveled increase between 0.6 percent to one percent. If we want to stop digging the hole of adding more drivers to our roads, we have to build communities that rely less on driving.
In 1999, the Washington Post published a groundbreaking article about the expansion of I-270. Even though the highway had just been expanded from eight to 12 lanes, it had been reduced “to a rolling parking lot”.
The article ended with a quote from a transportation official cautioning, “Tests should be run using different assumptions about induced traffic when evaluating the benefits of the proposed road projects to see if their investments are warranted.”
Smart growth will help Montgomery's economy keep going
The economic value of both current and future transit-oriented development cannot be overstated. $235 billion dollars of property value sits within a half mile of Metro and represents 28 percent of our regional tax base—even though it is just three percent of our land.
A 2015 report prepared for the Montgomery County Planning Department found that the most successful office clusters in Montgomery County were in walkable, transit-accessible locations. This reflects a larger trend in the county and in the region toward transit-oriented development.
The first phase of bus rapid transit in Montgomery County is expected bring in $871 million in net fiscal revenue to county coffers–enough money to build 30 new elementary schools. Transit-oriented development is an investment that not only lowers commute times, but also brings more money back into the economy.
The CEO of Marriott explained his decision to move to Downtown Bethesda, despite county attempts to have the company remain in their current office park: “I think, in many respects, that’s a losing proposition. People are going to want these urban, pedestrian friendly, public transit accessible places”.
The data bears that out. In Montgomery County, of the 10 buildings of 100,000 square feet or more that are completely empty, and the nine others that are expected to empty because of planned departures, all are located outside the beltway and far from downtown cores. Countywide, there are 11 million square feet of vacant commercial space.
As Montgomery has struggled to adapt to the urbanizing market, its share of regional jobs has declined.
What does this mean for Montgomery’s future?
If we do not invest in the type of economy that attracts the next generation workforce, we are going to have growing social needs and lessening revenue. From 2015 to 2025, the number of people in the 22 to 64 year age group–prime wage earners–will drop by five percent. The county is looking at a 28 percent increase in the number of seniors. With the movement of boomers out of the workforce, the worker-to-senior dependency ratio changes from 4.5 in 2015 to 3.5 in 2025.
In 2015, the average retirement income is $42,756, one third of the County’s average income of $134,527. This shift will further drive down the county’s median income and with it the ability to fund schools, infrastructure, and other social programs. Unless we are willing to shift from a 1970s-style type of growth to attract new capital from jurisdictions like DC and Arlington, we are looking at doing more with less.
To put a finer point on it, this year DC had a $600 million budget surplus, while last year Montgomery raised property taxes 8.7 percent to keep up with growing costs.
Smart growth is better for equity
Smart growth development of walkable, transit-accessible, inclusive neighborhoods isn't just good for the economy, it is better for an equitable Montgomery. Access to transportation has emerged as the single greatest indicator of someone’s odds of escaping poverty.
The best thing we can do to bolster those odds is to ensure that we build affordable homes in our transit-served areas.
Recent research in California has found that cities who limit new housing had much higher rates of gentrification than those that had less restrictive zoning. Even the Obama administration has weighed in, saying that restrictive zoning is killing our local housing markets and hurting poor people.
Opposing change will only hasten our economic divides and preserve current inequities.
Let’s build what’s smart
Montgomery County’s median wage has decreased 5.8 percent since 2007, the second-largest decrease in the region. Most startlingly, Montgomery County had the most significant increase in poverty of any jurisdiction in the DC region during the recession. In 2000, none of the county’s census tracts had more than an 18 percent poverty rate; now there are 12 census tracts exceeding that standard.
The answer to our economic and infrastructure needs isn’t build nothing or build everything, it's to build what’s smart. Simply doubling down on 1970s growth patterns will not prepare us for a 21st century economy.
In the 1970s Montgomery came together and led the way on progressive growth. Now we have to rise to the occasion again and build the Montgomery of 2040. A good start is by following through on the vision we laid out in our platform.
Top image: An abandoned office park in Montgomery County. Image by Dan Reed.
In August, four US Senators introduced a bill designed to improve Internet of Things (IoT) security. The IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2017 is a modest piece of legislation. It doesn't regulate the IoT market. It doesn't single out any industries for particular attention, or force any companies to do anything. It doesn't even modify the liability laws for embedded software. Companies can continue to sell IoT devices with whatever lousy security they want.
What the bill does do is leverage the government's buying power to nudge the market: any IoT product that the government buys must meet minimum security standards. It requires vendors to ensure that devices can not only be patched, but are patched in an authenticated and timely manner; don't have unchangeable default passwords; and are free from known vulnerabilities. It's about as low a security bar as you can set, and that it will considerably improve security speaks volumes about the current state of IoT security. (Full disclosure: I helped draft some of the bill's security requirements.)
The bill would also modify the Computer Fraud and Abuse and the Digital Millennium Copyright Acts to allow security researchers to study the security of IoT devices purchased by the government. It's a far narrower exemption than our industry needs. But it's a good first step, which is probably the best thing you can say about this legislation.
However, it's unlikely this first step will even be taken. I am writing this column in August, and have no doubt that the bill will have gone nowhere by the time you read it in October or later. If hearings are held, they won't matter. The bill won't have been voted on by any committee, and it won't be on any legislative calendar. The odds of this bill becoming law are zero. And that's not just because of current politics -- I'd be equally pessimistic under the Obama administration.
But the situation is critical. The Internet is dangerous -- and the IoT gives it not just eyes and ears, but also hands and feet. Security vulnerabilities, exploits, and attacks that once affected only bits and bytes now affect flesh and blood.
Markets, as we've repeatedly learned over the past century, are terrible mechanisms for improving the safety of products and services. It was true for automobile, food, restaurant, airplane, fire, and financial-instrument safety. The reasons are complicated, but basically, sellers don't compete on safety features because buyers can't efficiently differentiate products based on safety considerations. The race-to-the-bottom mechanism that markets use to minimize prices also minimizes quality. Without government intervention, the IoT remains dangerously insecure.
The US government has no appetite for intervention, so we won't see serious safety and security regulations, a new federal agency, or better liability laws. We might have a better chance in the EU. Depending on how the General Data Protection Regulation on data privacy pans out, the EU might pass a similar security law in 5 years. No other country has a large enough market share to make a difference.
Sometimes we can opt out of the IoT, but that option is becoming increasingly rare. Last year, I tried and failed to purchase a new car without an Internet connection. In a few years, it's going to be nearly impossible to not be multiply connected to the IoT. And our biggest IoT security risks will stem not from devices we have a market relationship with, but from everyone else's cars, cameras, routers, drones, and so on.
We can try to shop our ideals and demand more security, but companies don't compete on IoT safety -- and we security experts aren't a large enough market force to make a difference.
We need a Plan B, although I'm not sure what that is. Comment if you have any ideas.
This essay previously appeared in the September/October issue of IEEE Security & Privacy.
Just south of the Friendship Heights commercial district is a one-story Pepco substation that looks mostly like a gray box and which one Washingtonian article called "an eyesore." The Tenleytown Historical Society and Art Deco Society of Washington recently applied to designate it as a landmark. Should it be?
The substation, on Wisconsin Avenue near Harrison Street, was built in 1940 and is a one-story, L-shaped brick building with limestone on the front. As the nomination explains, following community opposition to building power substations in Columbia Heights, Pepco designed its stations to harmonize with the surrounding architecture. Here, that meant making it look like a one-story storefront similar to others nearby.
The building used to have plate glass windows, the nomination says, but they were later filled in with gray brick. Today, there are a pair of great murals of JFK covering the blank faux-storefronts. However, those murals are temporary; they were added in 2016 while Pepco upgrades the substation.
Local Advisory Neighborhood Commission chair Jonathan Bender told Washingtonian last year he hopes Pepco will restore the glass and perhaps feature local artists' work in the display areas. As a new and temporary feature, this isn't part of the historic nomination and not relevant to designating the building.
The substation lies immediately next to the WMATA Western Bus Garage (which includes the south entrance to the Friendship Heights Metro). Preservationists tried to landmark that, too in 2012, but there has never been a hearing on the application. Just behind the substation is a cluster of apartment buildings which the Tenleytown Historical Society is also trying to landmark; Eric Fidler argued that nomination isn't merited.
When is preservation about history versus stopping growth?
However, there must be a balance. Washington should preserve enough of the best and most significant buildings to maintain architectural distinction and a connection to the past, but also needs to meet the needs of a growing city with new housing, jobs, schools, and more.
People join preservation organizations for different reasons. Some truly love old and historic buildings, enjoy learning about the story of each one, telling it, and preserving it. Some love the architectural distinction in many of the past's most notable buildings, and lament the cases where true gems have been lost. Other people simply are alarmed that someone might build something in their neighborhood and want to stop change. They see the preservation law as one powerful weapon against growth.
WMATA will need to overhaul its garage in the not too distant future. When it does, building a mixed-use structure with retail, offices, or housing as well as a new garage could be a great way to better use the land on this block and generate money for the garage rebuild. If WMATA does apply to redevelop or modify the garage, preservation officials will have to take action one way or another on the 2012 application.
As for this building, Pepco doesn't like to do mixed-use projects and is just renovating the substation now, so it is not likely going anywhere anytime soon. But one day, who knows?
The criteria are very broad
One frustrating thing about reading landmark nominations is how little demonstration of actual historical importance is necessary. Most DC nominations check two of four federal criteria:
A. Property is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.
C. Property embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components lack individual distinction.
Note the vague words: "Associated with events." "Embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction." If you squint, basically every building is "associated" with some events. And does any building not embody characteristics of its method of construction? Every architectural period has a name; every building has a period; every construction has characteristics.
Some nominations revolve around truly notable associations with important events (Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation from the cottage at what's now the the Armed Forces Retirement Home, for instance). And some buildings are important examples of major architectural advances. But this nomination isn't about that kind of stuff.
Instead, this nomination talks about how Pepco needed new substations as the city grew and areas like this became settled, so they built them. That's basically the association with historical events. It's tautological; all buildings that are original to when their neighborhoods were built are associated with the historical event of the neighborhood being built.
The nomination does include a quite interesting history of Pepco. Some bits:
In 1907, Pepco’s proposal to construct a new substation at Harvard Street and Sherman Avenue was met with opposition from the surrounding Columbia Heights community which attempted to prevent its construction through court action. After a two month delay, construction of Substation no. 13 proceeded. The Harvard substation (no. 13), designed by Frederick B. Pyle, is notable for being the first purpose built substation built outside of Washington’s central core in one of the city’s growing suburbs (Columbia Heights). It is also the most architecturally significant of Pepco’s early substation designs prior to 1928.
Prior to construction of the Harvard substation, the small number of Washington suburban substations that existed were co-located with streetcar carbarns. After 1907, Pepco not only designed and built substations to conform with the zoning laws in the section of the city they occupied, but also adopted a philosophy of designing the buildings to harmonize, as much as possible, with the types of buildings prevailing in the surrounding neighborhood. A review of known Pepco substation design from 1899 to present reveals that Pepco’s philosophy of creating substations that architecturally harmonize with their surroundings has evolved over time.
In the 1939-1944 timeframe, Pepco was very concerned about enemy attacks on Washington's electrical infrastructure seeing as there was a big war going on. The utility took classical measures like adding guards and barbed wire fences at generating plants, but also had some architectural approaches:
In addition to Pepco’s efforts to strengthen security at its power plants, Pepco undertook efforts to make the entire system of energy distribution in Washington more secure. The result of these efforts went well beyond barbed wire and armed guards, and resulted in Pepco changing the very architectural design of its electrical substations – a break from an established design aesthetic developed a decade earlier by Arthur B. Heaton. ...
Pepco’s approach after the spring of 1939 embraced the art of deception, whereby Pepco architects designed substations that were camouflaged to reflect the built environment around them. Substations erected in residential neighborhoods were designed as either one- or two-story red brick colonial houses. These structures typically included slate roofs, painted shutters, and landscaped grounds.
The art of deception was carried out to such a detailed degree as to use trompe l'oeil paintings for the windows of the residential substations. Venetian blinds and curtains were painted on composition board and located within the windows to give an appearance of an inhabited house. Often times, these paintings included flowers or vines in the windows as well.
Alternatively, substations constructed on commercial streets, such as the Harrison substation, were constructed to resemble storefronts and included display windows with changing displays for Pepco, appliances, or the war effort.
I do think that's a pretty interesting story. But an interesting story worthy of a blog post isn't enough significance to legally add obstacles to changing or redeveloping the site.
Historian Kent Boese, who prepared this nomination for the Art Deco Society of Washington and Tenleytown Historical Society, also wrote nominations last year on behalf of the DC Preservation League for the Harvard Street substation mentioned above and the Champlain Street substation designed by Heaton. Both substations are slated for upgrades as part of Pepco's Capital Grid program.
Maybe some substations in the city should be designated, maybe not. This one especially just does not seem to be that significant, beyond being another example of a building Pepco built as the city grew, to look like other fairly unremarkable storefronts. It doesn't need to be a landmark.
Top image: The substation in October 2016. Image by Kent Boese from the landmark nomination.
Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 2: Don't Stop Me-Ow remains really cute and fun and drawn in manga-esque style. Vampire Jubilee and her adopted son showed up in this one, as did Jessica Jones and Hellcat's two ex-husbands. Also there was karaoke. In contintuity, this fell into the time period when She-Hulk was in a coma, but that plotline managed to feel hopeful even though Patsy/Hellcat was unhappy.
Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison is a mixed bag. There was some insightful commentary on the history of comics from the pov of a major comics writer. There were also some memoir elements and psychological musings that sometimes got a little too convoluted for my taste. I think the book was compiled from various essays and interviews, which would explain why it sometimes looped back on the same ideas after meandering the byways.
Warning for dated but not apparently derogatory use of the word tranny.
But I enjoyed it, overall, for sections like this:
Where Superman strove for modernity in everything from the image of its hero to the kinetic editing of its torn-from-the-headlines narrative, the Batman strip reveled in the trashy aesthetic of the mystery pulps and the penny dreadfuls.
From the very beginning, Batman habitually found himself dealing with crimes involving chemicals and crazy people, and over the years he would take on innumerable villains armed with lethal Laughing Gas, mind-control lipstick, Fear Dust, toxic aerosols, and "artificial phobia" pills. Indeed, his career had barely begun before he was heroically inhaling countless bizarre chemical concoctions cooked up by mad blackmarket alchemists. Superman might have faced a few psychic attacks, but, even if it was against his will every time, Batman was hip to serious mind-bending drugs. Batman knew what it was like to trip balls without seriously losing his shit, and that savoir faire added another layer to his outlaw sexiness and alluring aura of decadence and wealth.
Arlington has strict zoning codes for accessory apartments, or Accessory Dwelling Units. Now the County Board will consider a proposal to relax many of those restrictions, like occupancy limits and maximum area. Want to stay updated on this issue? Sign up here. (Chris Teale / ARLnow)
With serval major buildings up already and more on the way, the Wharf is creating a new neighborhood on the SW Waterfront. Should we consider the modern glass buildings a fun and busy collection, or just the design equivalent of fast casual food? (Kriston Capps / CityLab)
The Montgomery County Council requested that Maryland's transportation secretary discuss the governor's at least $9 billion proposal to widen local highways and add tolls. The Council has questions about the plan's rollout and feasibility (Nick Iannelli / WTOP)
The DC government and private architects redid the plans for the 11th Street Park, which will be located on a bridge spanning the Anacostia River, to make it narrower after determining that the piers along the river could not support its original weight. (Michael Neibauer / WBJ)
A ten-story office building in Hyattsville, Maryland will capitalize on the high demand for housing and convert from empty office space to just over three hundred apartment units, mostly one bedroom. ( Ryan Teague Beckwith / Hyattsville Wire)
A Paid Family Leave bill passed the City Council, but Council Chairman Mendelson has been holding closed-door meetings with paid leave advocates and local employers concerned about a new tax burden, with the intent of possibly amending the law. (Martin Austermuhle / WAMU)
The Wharf is being built in stages, and last week's opening introduced us to Phase I. Designs for Phase II include eight massive new buildings with offices, retail, restaurants, hotels and housing, as well as three public plaza spaces. (Nena Perry-Brown / Urban Turf)
The Manassas City Council had ordered the evacuation of residents because unrepaired sewer leaks had created a health hazard on the property. Instead, a nonprofit group, Catholics for Housing, will buy the land and fix the leaks, keeping residents in place. (Patricia Sullivan / Post)
After reports of a potential shooter on campus, Howard University locked down it's DC campus while police and campus security swept the buildings. No shooter was found, and no one was injured. The lockdown comes the week of Howard's homecoming celebration. ( Peter Hermann, Sarah Larimer and Keith L. Alexander / Post)
Six City Council members signaled concern with Veritas of Washington, the company managing United Medical Center. The council is continuing their public review of the hospital, which had to shut down its obstetrics unit earlier this year. (Tina Reed / WBJ)
(I liked ferrets. I found them clever, beautiful, charming creatures. I had had a stuffed animal black-footed ferret since late elementary school. By the time Outcast came out, I even knew several domestic ferrets in person; they were playful and I did not object to their smell. That was the novel where I realized that Jacques' species essentialism was immutable, and I felt painfully betrayed. I understood the long shadow of The Wind in the Willows, but I couldn't understand how Jacques could miss that his readers would at some point identify with Veil, the orphaned ferret kit adopted into a society of mice and voles and moles—the outsider, the one who feels there's something wrong with them for just being what they are—and then fail to see how it would hurt them to have Veil confirmed as irredeemable, genetically evil after all. He went so far as to give a morally ambiguous character a selfless death scene and then retract it a few chapters later. That ending accomplished what endless recipes for damson and chestnut and Mummerset dialect could not: I burnt out on the series on some deep level and have never even now gone back, despite positive memories of the first four books and their unique combination of cozy talking animals and total batshit weirdness. If you can't appreciate ferrets, I'm out of time for you.)