Desert of My Real Life

{May 30, 2009}   Recycling

If you’re anything like me, you probably have a couple of old, unused computers lying around your house gathering dust.  In my house, we had six computers until recently, two very old desktops, two relatively old laptops and two new laptops.  We had accumulated these six computers in just 11 years since we had a fire in 1998 which destroyed most of our belongings, including our computers.  It’s amazing how quickly we accumulate new computers.  A lot of this quick accumulation is the result of planned obsolescence, the idea that computer manufacturers design computers to either fail or not be able to keep up with newer technology in a certain period of time.  And then, of course, there’s the question of what to do with the old computer when we get a new computer.  In fact, the EPA estimates that 30-40 million computers will become surplus each year for the next several years.  The EPA also classifies these surplus computers as “hazardous household waste” so simply dumping the computer into a landfill is dangerous.

When I purchased my newest laptop, I got a form to send in along with my old computer so that it could be recycled.  The problem with this form for me was that I really wanted to recycle the old desktop computers but they are HUGE and I really didn’t want to pay for the shipping even though the recycling itself would be free.  So I decided to check out the options at my local transfer station.  It’s a “transfer station”–not a “landfill”–so I was hopeful that they’d have a solution for me.

It turned out that for $8 each, I could dispose of both of the computers at my local transfer station.  I believe $5 of the $8 was for the monitor.  Apparently, the glass in the CRT of the monitor contains a high amount of lead.   The tower portion of the computer contains mercury, cadmium and fire retardant.  The mouse, keyboard, speakers and so on apparently don’t contain hazardous waste although since they are made of plastic, they still should not end up in a landfill. 

My local transfer station hires a company to take away the hazardous portions of the computer and that’s why we have to pay a fee.  When I placed the monitors and the towers in the appropriate sections of the transfer station, I noticed that there were upwards of 50 other systems there, many of which were far older than mine and which looked like they had been there for a long time.  I live in a really small town and so I do imagine that it would take a while to accumulate the number of systems that would make a trip to the town by the recycling company worthwhile.  Since we’re a small town, our transfer station is completely out in the open, with no building covering any of the materials dropped off there (which raises a whole other issue of what happens when paper gets wet and the fact that we pay by weight to have it taken away).   So I did wonder what the environmental impact of having those computers systems sit out in the weather for all these years might be.  But at least they won’t end up in a landfill.

{May 23, 2009}   Security Theater

Nothing captures the public’s attention like a named killer.  Jack the Ripper.  The Boston Strangler.  Son of Sam.  Zodiac.  The Night Stalker.  The Green River Killer.   Last month, a new name was added to this list: The Craigslist Killer.  It turns out that Philip Markoff, the medical student who was arrested (and who has pled not guilty) for the murder of Julissa Brisman in Boston, is not the first killer dubbed “The Craigslist Killer.”  In fact, quite a few murderers who met their victims via the popular classified advertising site have been dubbed “The Craigslist Killer.”  What’s interesting about this latest murder, however, is the response from the administrators of Craigslist.

Police claim Markoff had attacked several other women in the days leading up to his alleged murder of Brisman.  He apparently found his victims on Craigslist in the “Erotic Services” section of the online advertising site (although it isn’t clear that all of them were found in that section–I’m making an assumption based on Craigslist’s response to the murder).  An earlier victim, for example, had advertised as an exotic dancer.  Brisman advertised her services as a masseuse.  When Brisman was shot, Markoff was allegedly attempting to restrain her, presumably in as a prelude to robbing her, as he had his earlier victims.  By all accounts, Markoff is an unlikely suspect, a Boston University medical school student with no criminal record and no history of legal problems.

In the wake of this murder and series of crimes against women, several attornies general have called on Craigslist to do something to prevent future use of the web site by predators.  Craigslist has responded.  They will remove the section called “Erotic Services” and replace it with an “Adult Services” section that will be “monitored” by Craigslist employees.  Any sexually suggestive advertisements will expire after seven days.  This response appears to have satisfied the attornies general for now but to me, this is an example of what Bruce Schneier has called “security theater,” an action which is about making us feel safer without any real consequence to actual safety.

To see what I mean by this, think about the Brisman case.  She was advertising her services as a masseuse.  I’m not sure whether her advertisement was under “Erotic Services” but let’s assume it was.  I’m also not sure whether her advertisement was sexually suggestive but again, let’s assume it was.  So if someone were to write the exact advertisement that she had used today, Craigslist employees would review it and presumably decide it was one of the ads that needs to expire in seven days.  In those seven days, many Markoff clones would review that ad and presumably call for those services.  Is the woman now any safer than Brisman was?  And after the ad expires, the woman will now write a new ad.  Does the fact that her ad expired in seven days make her any safer?  And what is more likely to happen is that the woman advertising masseuse services will NOT write a sexually suggestive ad (because she know that it will expire in seven days) and will therefore, NOT have her ad expire in seven days.  Is she any safer than Brisman was?

It is completely unclear to me how a Craigslist employee reviewing “Adult Services” advertisements could have saved Julissa Brisman.  So perhaps what we should be calling for is the complete elimination of both “Erotic Services” and “Adult Services” advertisements.  Brisman was advertising as a masseuse.  Do we want to go so far as to claim that ALL massages have an underlying erotic dimension and that they therefore should ALL  be banned from advertisement?  Why don’t we ban those advertisements from all newspapers, both in print and online, then?  In fact, there have been many murders in which the murderer and victim met through newspaper classified ads (just google “lonely hearts killers” to get a sense) and yet those advertisements have not been banned.  Maybe they should be.  But then we should also ban all advertisements for masseuse services from the Yellow Pages, right?  In fact, maybe we should ban massages altogether. 

The response by Craigslist to the fact that an alleged murderer met his victim via their web site is all about theater, about making us feel safer rather than really making us safer.  In actuality, nothing could have stopped Markoff from robbing someone and in those robberies, someone who resisted him was likely to get injured and perhaps even killed.  Why do we need to kid ourselves otherwise?

{May 22, 2009}   NeMLA 2010

There have been quite a few stories that have captured my attention in the nearly six month break that I’ve taken from writing entries in this blog.  I will be sharing several of those stories in the next few days.  In the meantime, I recently had a panel proposal accepted for the Northeast Modern Language Association conference that will be held in Montreal in April 2010.  Here’s the call for papers for my panel:

Playing Web 2.0: Intertextuality, Narrative and Identity in New Media


41st Anniversary Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)

April 7-11, 2010

Montreal, Quebec – Hilton Bonaventure


A recent Facebook spoof of Hamlet by Sarah Schmelling illustrates the current proliferation of experiments in narrative form and intertextuality found in new media.  Web 2.0 tools, such as wikis, blogs and social networking sites, allow the average web user to actively participate in online life.  Given our societal bent toward postmodernism, it is not surprising that much of this online participation is characterized by a proclivity to challenge and play with traditional conventions.  This panel will examine play, defined in the broadest sense by Salen and Zimmerman as “free movement within a more rigid structure”, using Web 2.0 tools and new media.  Some questions of interest to the panel include:  Are there particular attributes of new media technologies that encourage play?  How is new media play different from/similar to play found elsewhere?  What impact do new media technologies have on our notions of play?  What are the motivations of those who engage in play via new media technologies?  Some example topics for the panel include: experimentation with new literary forms using social networking conventions (such as the 140-character status update); creation of online identities using text-based tools such as blogs; development of fictional worlds by fans of popular culture narratives using wikis and blogging tools; the use of casual online games to influence attitudes and behaviors concerning issues of social importance.

Submit 250-word abstracts to


Deadline:  September 30, 2009


Please include with your abstract:


Name and Affiliation

Email address

Postal address

Telephone number

A/V requirements (if any; $10 handling fee)


The 41st Annual Convention will feature approximately 350 sessions, as well as dynamic speakers and cultural events.  Details and the complete Call for Papers for the 2010 Convention will be posted in June:


Interested participants may submit abstracts to more than one NeMLA session; however panelists can only present one paper (panel or seminar).  Convention participants may present a paper at a panel and also present at a creative session or participate in a roundtable.


Travel to Canada now requires a passport for U.S. citizens.  Please get your passport application in early.

et cetera