It’s just a tool

I gather that Mozilla has named some marketing person as interim CEO as they search for a replacement who would be acceptableeffective.

I don’t care, really. Mozilla is an organization that provides support for Firefox, a tool I use. I’m using Firefox because it is the browser that irritates me the least at this time. I used Chrome previously, but stopped when yet another unexpected-and-suddenly-appearing design change made it marginally unusable.

I appreciate the hard working souls who work on the browsers and the specifications that form the basis for the technology implemented in the browsers—most of whom don’t work for Mozilla, or Google for that matter. Most of them don’t get paid for their work, either.

If anyone deserves passionate support, it’s the people who labor on the technology that goes into my browser. Anything else is just organizational politics benefiting some corporate entity.

In the meantime, I use Firefox. I don’t do so because of loyalty or because of some cause. It’s just a tool.


The crap and cute day

My plan to post on Friday what I’m going to be writing about in the coming days has gone to the same place all plans go in the end…into the silent void where we hope no one remembers what we promised.

But I do think Fridays deserve something special. After all, for most people, it’s the end of the work week. Friday is a day we associate with drinks with friends, excitement about weekend plans, and relief that you don’t have to get up at 5AM to commute to work tomorrow.

Friday is also the day when most of us post something cute. It’s the funny video and photo day. The cute story day. It’s a day to decompress from the serious stories we’ve been subjected to all week, and to take a moment to realize that Hey! Life’s rough…here’s a cute bat video.

I think that Friday should also be the day when we read the “crap” stories. Stories like a South Carolina state senator deciding to ruin a little girl’s wish to make the wooly mammoth the state fossil (you’ll be glad to know, said legislator’s bill was rejected in the SC House). Or the story about the growing range war in Nevada between a rancher who seems to believe he has rights to do whatever he wants on federal land, and the Bureau of Land Management, who disagrees.

(I especially love the videos from this story—filled with protesters screaming “This is America!” all the while yelling at the BLM for administrating American law.)

Then there’s Heartbleed, which, fortunately, already comes with its own cute (and informative) graphic.

XKCD explains Heartbleed

By saving both the Cute and the Crap for the same day, we can intersperse the one into the other—read a crappy story, watch a cute video, read the crap, watch or look at the cute. It all balances in the end, and then we can go out for drinks.

Oh, and here’s owls.

Just Shelley

Walker Evans: I am a Writer

I am not a Walker Evans expert, but from my recent readings about him, I sensed there were three significant events in his life that shaped the man, and subsequently, the photographs we’ve come to cherish.

One of the events I briefly mentioned in the last Walker Evans writing, and that was his search for a particular style of photography. Rejecting the existing photographic styles of the time– which either disregarded the strengths of the camera in favor of artificially created scenes, or sought to tug emotion from the viewer–Evans sat in a library looking through all 50 issues of the photographic journal, Camera Work until finding what he was looking for: Paul Strand’s photograph of a blind woman, shown below.


In this picture, Evans saw an uncompromising realism unfettered by any emotional hooks. There was no attempt to make the woman into something either to be admired or pitied; nor was there an attempt to make a ‘pretty’ picture, or a noble one. Combined, this realism and lack of emotionality formed the basis for Evans’ own style of photography: unsentimental, realistic, and unstaged. In other words: objective.

A search for objective truth in art wasn’t unique to Evans–many of the creative people of that time shared this philosophy about their work. But objectivity was almost an obsession with Evans, and we can trace the roots of this to his upbringing and the second pivotal event in his life: the separation of his parents when he was in his teens.

Evans came from a relatively affluent family, and his father was a prominent marketing and advertising man, a profession Evans was later to term one of the bastard professions. His mother was from a wealthy family and liked nothing more than to be a figure in society.

Evans had a relatively happy childhood until they moved from his home near Chicago to Ohio when his father got a new job. It was in Ohio that his father began an affair and subsequently left his mother. Evans, already lonely from the loss of his childhood friends was left confused and unsure, and the previously outgoing boy began to draw inwards, away from his contentious family.

His mother, whose world was drastically upset, begin to live vicariously through her children, determined that they were going to have happy, prosperous lives (with her a central part in each). She was, in many ways, an outwardly sentimental woman, but at the same time, she was not demonstrative or terribly affectionate.

Within the Evans family, before and after the separation, sentiment was both an artificial promise and a means to an end. Through his father, Evans saw sentiment used as a tool to lure people into buying a product or service: after all, what better way to build a successful advertising campaign than to incorporate images of cute babies, small puppies, and happy American families. From his mother, Evans perceived sentiment woven into a complex fabric consisting partially of denied security and affection, a great deal of manipulative guilt, and even some frustrated sexuality.

Though it’s not as fashionable to lay praise for a person on their early childhood experiences, it’s difficult to deny the impact Evans’ parent’s separation, and their behavior both before and after, had on his search for both objectivity, and anonymity, in his work.


To get a better understanding of Evans’ objectivity, compare his photographs of sharecroppers during the Great Depression with those of another very famous photographer of the time: Margaret Bourke-White.

A month before James Agee and Walker Evans took off on their trip that would result in the book, Now Let Us Praise Famous Men, Bourke-White took off for similar reasons with the well-known writer, Erksine Caldwell.

Margaret Bourke-White was not a person who waited for a photograph to happen. Whenever they arrived at a potential scene, she would direct the people, telling them not only where to stand but what type of emotion to display on their faces. From Belinda Rathbone’s biography of Walker Evans:

White relied on Caldwell to guide her to the people she wanted to photograph, but once there she went to work “like a motion picture director”, remembered Caldwell, telling people where to sit, where to stand, and waiting for a look of worry or despair to cross their faces. Under her direction, passive, weatherbeaten, and cross-eyed sharecroppers were turned into characters in a play, playing themselves.

Bourke-White even went so far as to arrange objects in a scene, for which she was scolded by her co-author (and husband), Caldwell. Unusual behavior considering the following quote:

I feel that utter truth is essential,” Bourke-White said of her work, “and to get that truth may take a lot of searching and long hours


Bourke-White would enter churches during services and start taking pictures, once going so far as to climb in through a window one time when she found the door locked during a service.

Evans, on the other hand, was reluctant to intrude. Rather than ask to enter a church, he would take photos of the outside. He wouldn’t touch any objects within a scene, and when taking pictures of people, he would allow them to pose themselves, or he would wait to take the picture until their initial stiffness from being in front of the camera wore off.

More importantly, he refused to make the people into objects of pity, which, after all, would imply sentimentality. If Bourke-White’s photos inspired one to want to change the fate of the people, Evans inspired no such humanitarian impulses. One never feels guilt, when looking at an Evans’ photo. Or pity, or humor, or desire. All one feels is interest, admiration, sometimes astonishment…and a little envy, but that doesn’t arise from the subject.


So what was the third event that was so significant in Evans life? Well, in actuality it was a non-event.

When Evans was a young man, he convinced his family to send him to Paris to study the language and literature. At that time, photography was only a hobby for him, he wanted to be a writer. And there was no better time for an aspiring writer to be in Paris, with the likes Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, Dorothy Parker, Ezra Pound, and someone whom Evans admired above all others, James Joyce, living there.

Evans would hang out at the bookshop where Joyce would appear every day, watching other young men and women seek Joyce’s company, to shake his hand and try to engage him in conversation–an impossible task with the monosyllabic Joyce. The shop owner offered an introduction between Evans and Joyce, but Evans shied away from his chance to meet his hero, something that he’d talk about for many years into the future.

When Evans returned to New York at the end of the year, photography gradually overcame his interest in writing, inspired in part, I believe, by James Joyce. After all, what could Evans write that had not been written by others such as Joyce? And how could he shine in a field as luminous as this? All those who write experience these moments of doubt when we read another’s writing that is so brilliant that we are left feeling humbled and inadequate. Humility, not to mention being second, third, or even tenth best, is not something that Evans would have lived with, comfortably.

But the camera, the camera now, was fresh territory. And with the camera, he could grab his quick sketches of life, in pictures rather than words. Whatever interest he had in writing could not be sustained alongside his growing passion for photography.

Evans would later say:

Oh yes, I was a passionate photographer, and for a while somewhat guiltily, because I thought that this is a substitute for something else, well for writing, for one thing. But I got very engaged and I was compulsive about it too. It was a real drive. Particularly when the lighting was right. You couldn’t keep me in.

I can agree with Evans, that photography can quickly become a substitute for writing. One image can so easily convey information that may take thousands of words to do, and less eloquently.

A few weeks ago, when I started digging more deeply into Walker Evans’ life, I was asked by a magazine to provide a portfolio of photos, including any better quality digital ones. I asked Charles, a photographer who has worked with magazines in the past to give me advice on printing the photos, which he was very generous to provide. He also shared with me anecdotal stories about photography students preparing their portfolios, each professionally printed and bound

But I looked at my little digital images, all of them at 72 DPI, and my slides, and my nice, but not great inkjet printer and asked myself, “What the hell are you doing, Shelley?” just about the same time I read, …I was a passionate photographer, and for a while somewhat guiltily, because I thought that this is a substitute for something else—well for writing, for one thing….

And it is thankfully, and with relief that I gave up the nonsense about being a stock photographer for magazines, or an art photographer, or any kind of professional photographer, and return to what I love: writing. Because I am a writer.


Corporate actions vs personal beliefs

2023 update:

In 2023, I find I disagree with this, completely. I do think that corporations hiring known bigots reflects poorly on the corporation.



Second Update Andrew Sullivan in The Hounding of a Heretic:

Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.

Update: Mozilla caved to pressure. This was not a good decision. It was a cowardly decision.

We had a chance to have a mature, thoughtful discussion on what freedom really means, diversity—even if being diverse means working with people who don’t agree with you—and the importance in establishing boundaries between company direction and personal choice.

We had that opportunity, and we spit it all away.


I’m writing about corporate actions vs. personal belief. No, I’m not writing about the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case, at least not yet. I’m writing about Brendan Eich being named as CEO of the Mozilla Corporation.

Appointing Eich isn’t altogether a surprise. After all, Eich was a co-founder of the Mozilla organization. He has been CTO for years. He’s also known as the father of JavaScript, which should give him some street cred among techs. I’m not sure how his business acumen is, but I haven’t heard any Wall Street type yell out, “Oh god, oh god, we’re doomed!”

Eich’s appointment, though, has come with more than a fair share of controversy, and none of it is related to anything he’s done at Mozilla. It has to do with what Eich did, as an individual, several years ago.

California has a law where donations to political causes have to be reported. I’m not sure of all the particulars, but it sounds like a good law. In 2008, Eich donated to the Proposition 8 campaign. Proposition 8 was the initiative to make gay marriage illegal in California. Unfortunately, the law passed; fortunately, it hit a Constitutional wall.

Because of California’s reporting laws, Eich had to report his donation, as well as list his employer, Mozilla. The report went unseen for many years until 2012, when it generated a Twitterstorm of moderate proportions (after all, he’s a geek, not a reality TV show star). The storm died down, as these storms invariably, do.

Now, Mozilla has named Eich as CEO, and the storm, she is a blowing once again. Mozilla app developers are promising a boycott. Employees are asking Eich to step down. Pundits are writing heartfelt and soulful contemplations about the act.

And I don’t agree with any of them.

I have been and will continue to be a supporter of gay rights and marriage equality. I shouldn’t have to preface my reason for supporting Eich by saying this, but such is the environment with which we now hold discourse—we have to shield ourselves with righteousness just so we can safely have our say.

Appointing Eich as CEO to Mozilla is not a slap to the gay community—it’s a corporate action most likely taken for any number of reasons, in which Mozilla launching a new anti-gay movement is not one of them. I’m comfortable saying this because I’ve known Mozilla since the day this organization first started making ripples in the tech community. There are very few organizations as open, and as inclusive, as Mozilla. Mozilla’s own employees demonstrate this by coming out on Twitter, expressing their unhappiness at Eich being appointed. Not many companies have a culture such that employees ask a CEO step down because they don’t agree with his personal actions.

Personal actions. I can think of no act more intolerant than the one that does not allow individuals to express their own political views.

Brendan Eich donated to the Proposition 8 campaign. When I first heard this news, I was disappointed. Surprised, too, because I’m like so many others in the tech community in assuming we all share the same core principles. How shocking to find out, though, that among the tech community members I know, some don’t support gay marriage, some don’t like President Obama, and many are hard core libertarians. A few even teeter into Tea Party territory.

In other words, for all the homogeneity of the audiences at tech conferences, we are actually a rather diverse crowd. And diversity doesn’t always mean diversity our way.

I was personally disappointed in Eich’s donation, but it did not impact on my view of Mozilla. Why should it? He wasn’t donating as an employee of Mozilla. He wasn’t representing Mozilla. He was donating as a private citizen. Last time I heard, we respect this sort of thing in the US. Don’t we?

And now he’s been made CEO, and his past donation as an individual to one campaign I don’t agree with still doesn’t impact on my view of Mozilla. What Mozilla does, as an organization, influences what I feel about the organization: not what one employee believes, personally.

This situation isn’t the same thing as the Hobby Lobby court case, where the owners consider their business to be a reflection of their personal views. More than that: consider their business to be an extension of their personal views. This situation also isn’t the same as a bakery refusing to provide a cake for a gay wedding, or a pizza corporate CEO attempting to use his company as a way to undermine Obamacare. These actions were all the actions of leadership seeking to entwine personal views with corporate identity, and doing so aggressively.

Mozilla is Mozilla. I do not expect Eich to someday state that Mozilla is coming out against gay marriage. Neither will he allow his personal belief to negatively influence corporate culture because it has not done so for the last six years. Remember that Eich made the donation in 2008, but Mozilla has somehow managed to survive to this day, still open, still inclusive.

(Speaking of which, if you’re not going to develop apps for the company today, why didn’t you refuse to do so yesterday? Or last year? It was the same company then. He had enormous influence then. Do you expect his appointment as CEO is somehow going to rip down the rainbows over night?)

Leah Libresco wrote in the American Conservative that “Balkanized businesses, which only hire employees or leaders that are politically palatable to their donors and customers aren’t economically or socially efficient.” She also wrote:

If the gay rights movement wants to change Brendan Eich’s mind, it’s to their advantage to keep him enmeshed in mainstream culture; after all, gay friends and acquaintances are one of the strongest predictors of support for same-sex marriage.

Sometimes you can influence people more by positive actions than negative. After all, thanks to this thoughtful piece, I’ve now actually linked a story from the American Conservative.

I wish Eich the best of luck in his new position, as long as he doesn’t allow it to detract him too much from his work with JavaScript.

I also hope that all the openness and inclusiveness among so many Mozilla workers, floats up.

Update: Brendan Eich’s response.


The Affordable Care Act: Field tested in battle conditions

How can you tell if armor is any good? You field test it. You shoot stuff at it. You shoot a lot of stuff at it.

Think Progress created a one-page timeline of GOP attacks on the Affordable Care Act. After looking at the extraordinary degree the GOP went to undermine and/or kill the ACA, I came away with a feeling that this thing must be pretty good—look at how it survived all these attacks.

What’s a bit sad about the timeline is knowing that the GOP has spent most of its time the last several years either trying to prevent people like me from having access to affordable health care or ensuring that women have little or no control over their bodies—or both. Seriously, GOP, my god, don’t you have anything else to do?!

Regardless of all the attempts, the ACA survived. It not only survived, but I’m now a proud possessor of a genuine healthcare policy, provided via the Healthcare Marketplace, that allows me to see the doctors I want to see. I had originally decided to go with an Anthem Blue Shield plan, but the company is having problems with its own systems and the provider network wasn’t that great. Instead, I went with Coventry and I can see the doctors I want to see and it covers all the nearby hospitals and urgent care centers. The deductible and co-pays aren’t too bad, either.

All the GOP warnings about the many and myriad failures of the Affordable Care Act—of Obamacare—have proven to be false. False. The hysteria has been proven to be nonsensical, the assertions are unfounded, even the court challenges have, for the most part, been unsuccessful. The only court case of importance that still exists (Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores) should give even the GOP cause for concern because if the Supreme Court determines corporations can have religious freedom as well as freedom of speech, we’re all in a world of hurt. And that includes the corporations because a religious ruling undermines the economic separation between corporate owners and corporate actions (which is why the Chamber of Commerce is rooting for the government’s side in this one).

The real problem, though, isn’t with the GOP. No, the real problem is with the Democrats. And people like me.

See, once I stopped having problems with the Marketplace and was able to get a healthcare policy, I never said another word about the ACA. I bitched about the system, but when it came through in the end, not a peep.

That’s a heck of a way to thank a system that ensures I have healthcare coverage for the first time in five years.

And Democrats, oh my. When did aliens come from another planet and rip the backbone out of every Democratic candidate for office in the land? Instead of holding up the ACA with pride—because they, more or less, single-handedly solved one of this country’s biggest problems—they either pretend the ACA doesn’t exist, or they actually repudiate it.

Seriously, Democrats create a system that, over time, will ensure the majority of people have adequate healthcare coverage in the only industrialized nation that didn’t ensure this previously, and they run for rocks when it’s mentioned.

Well here’s a clue, gutless ones: I won’t vote for a Democrat that doesn’t go, “Damn straight, I’m proud of the ACA!”

We need to stop letting the GOP control the discussion about the Affordable Care Act. We need to stop pandering to the ignorant and the paranoid and the libertarians who, frankly, can only be libertarian because our government is so damn strong.

The Affordable Care Act is a good thing. End of Story.