One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for July 2018

Facebook, Free Speech, and Social Media

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After posting my interview with Dawn Xiana Moon about the Raks Inferno fundraiser on August 2nd, I did what many of my fellow Chicago Now bloggers do in these situations: post a link to this blog’s Facebook page. As a blogger, I feel a responsibility to highlight great nonprofit and community-based initiatives, so featuring this fundraiser was an extremely easy decision for me to make.

The next morning, I checked Facebook and found a post from Dawn on her page. She had mentioned that when she attempted to promote the Raks Inferno: Immigration Protest Edition Facebook event, they turned her down due to “political content.” In a further comment, Dawn indicated that they requested information including her social security number, a copy of her driver’s license, and a working knowledge of classic Doctor Who production codes.

Yes, that was a joke…but what comes next isn’t so funny.

In talking with my fellow Chicago Now bloggers, I learned that Jessica Gardner of Little Merry Sunshine also was denied the opportunity to promote a post on Facebook for “political content”. However, the focus of Jessica’s post isn’t on politics, but on a very painful, personal experience she had…which became reflected in a then-current political situation.


(Please read Jessica’s post – it’s extremely moving and I wish I had read it earlier. It deserves to be selected as one of Chicago Now‘s Best Posts of June 2018).

So I decided to try to boost two Facebook posts which included my interview with Dawn: one from this blog’s Facebook page, and another through my Patreon page. I thought, “Hey, what could go wrong?” Result – both were shot down due to “political content.” And I was asked to not only set up two-step verification (which makes sense for security reasons) but was also asked for a ton of personal information.

Ironically, this comes after Mark Zuckerberg had to walk back comments about Holocaust deniers, and before Facebook declared InfoWars comments about Robert Mueller fell “within their guidelines”. (Facebook later pulled four InfoWars videos for violating community standards). It may be due to a glitch in Facebook’s algorithm, but this feels too deliberate and selective to be totally random. So let’s put this in perspective:

Three private individuals were denied the opportunity to pay to promote their content on Facebook: one was promoting a fundraiser, another a very personal essay, and I was promoting an interview.

However, Facebook has supported causes and initiatives that were extremely political in content.facebook-logo_0

To be honest, Facebook has spent the past few years dealing with deeper concerns around social media and political interference. Most recently, Facebook’s recent scandals resulted in its stock declining by 19%, and there’s a general distrust of Facebook due to its policies.

But free speech in social media is becoming an increasingly complicated issue. As someone who has been Twitter blocked by a formerly famous cartoonist, and who has called out a comedian for racist statements on Twitter, I understand that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence or controversy. But paid social media becomes trickier, especially with nonprofits and other community organization relying more on paid Facebook promotions to get their content seen…this feels arbitrary and selective.


And it’s wrong. Yes, I understand that freedom of speech does not ensure freedom from controversy nor consequence. I have received comments for criticizing Roseanne Barr’s racist Tweets and was blocked by a former cartoonist-turned-pundit for conflating his irrelevance with my irreverence (or words to that effect). But Facebook and other social media channels (notably Twitter) are adopting a “both sides are equal” philosophy in their community guidelines but are inconsistent in enforcing those guidelines. At a time when there are organized efforts by right-wing members to harass women, people of color, other marginalized communities, and political opponents of the current administration via social media (hashtags that end with “-gate” come to mind), taking a stand in favor of diverse voices – rather than “walking away” from those voices – diminishes the power of social media bullying.

Truth is…Dawn Xiana Moon has every right to pay for promoting Raks Inferno: Immigration Protest Edition on Facebook to raise funds for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Her voice deserves to be heard.

Truth is also…Jessica Gardner has every right to pay to promote her Facebook posts for Little Merry Sunshine. She’s an incredible blogger, and like many of her fellow Chicago Now bloggers, I’m proud of her work.

Facebook is denying them – and others – a chance to shine. Sadly, that denial is costing Facebook…and free speech.

(Please feel free to leave comments below or via our Facebook page – please note that comments will be moderated) 


Immigration Rights Fundraiser: A Conversation With Dawn Xiana Moon

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Dawn Xiana Moon of Raks Inferno
Photo by Peter Serocki

(Special thanks to Dawn Xiana Moon for her time and her insights)

With Americans increasingly divided over immigration policies, those with direct impact – children and families – are often ignored. Raks Inferno is holding an August 2nd fundraiser at Uptown Underground to benefit the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Recently, I had the chance to speak to Raks Inferno director Dawn Xiana Moon about their upcoming event, and how immigration issues and policy have personal relevance for her.

Please tell us about your upcoming benefit performance “Raks Inferno: Immigrant Protest Edition” on August 2nd at Uptown Underground.

On the one hand, the Raks Inferno is an incredible, delightful spectacle filled with world-class performers doing things that shouldn’t be physically possible, and on the other, we’re making serious art with social commentary, building community, and increasing Asian-American and LGBTQ+ representation.

For the Immigration Protest Edition show, we’ll also be auctioning off show tickets, artwork, dance classes, and other goodies from fellow artists throughout the Chicago area. Proceeds from both tickets and the art auction will go to the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.

Raks Inferno is a project of Raks Geek, a bellydance and fire performance company that’s most known for nerd themes – a bellydancing Wookiee, a fire-spinning Wonder Woman, a sword-wielding Sephiroth.

With Raks Inferno, we take the geek theme away and allow our performers – who have taught and performed everywhere from Germany to Morocco at the top events in their disciplines – to create pieces around a wider variety of subjects. Our group is majority Asian-American and majority LGBTQ+, so social justice issues are incredibly personal for us.

Can you tell us more about the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, and why you are helping them?

The Young Center champions the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children, making sure that they’re safe no matter where they land. We wanted to support an organization that directly addresses the human issues happening at the border, but also one that was local to Chicago. 

Photo by Peter Serocki

You’ve engaged people around civil rights issues (with an Inauguration Day performance for the ACLU) and Puerto Rican relief after Hurricane Maria (through a benefit album). How does the issue of immigrant rights resonate with you?

I am an immigrant. People don’t realize that becoming a US citizen is an incredibly difficult and expensive process – we’re talking thousands of dollars in fees, years of waiting, and the necessity of hiring a lawyer. It took around 10 years for my family from beginning to end, and that’s about as fast as the process gets.

I was lucky – in my case, even though I was coming from Asia, I had parents who were educated, native speakers of English. But it could so easily have gone differently, as it does for many who emigrated as kids, through no fault of their own. We have thousands of people in the country right now who were brought to the US as children, who are American-raised and college-educated but can’t get legal work – for those people, there is no waiting line, no path to citizenship. It simply doesn’t exist.

In the case of the family separation and detention issue, many of those coming are literally fleeing for their lives. You’re not allowed to apply for refugee status until you’re on US soil, so they’re selling everything they have, running to the US, and hoping that we’ll let them in because the alternative in many cases is death. This is a human rights issue, and we have a moral responsibility to help.

This may seem like an obvious question – why should this matter?

We like to think of evil as a cartoon: We think evil looks like Hitler or a serial killer. We think we’re good people, and we’re nothing like them. But the truth is, evil is banal. Most often, evil is people with privilege looking the other way, people deciding not to make a fuss, to stay silent.

Some believe that art should drive social change, and others believe that art should only be commentary, or even merely “entertainment”. Where do you stand on this?

I grew up on stories where heroes fought for what was right, even at great cost. Sam and Frodo went to Mordor. Leia led the Resistance. Sheridan and Delenn fought the Shadows.

Even just “entertainment” teaches us what matters, who we should emulate, and what we should expect the world to look like. Is that world one where the heroes treat everyone around them as disposable? Or is that world one where the heroes are willing to sacrifice themselves to save another, even if there’s no glory and no one will know?

The question isn’t are we making art or entertainment: The question is what kind of world is our art creating?

Gaea Lady – Raks Inferno

Many were able to attend the “Families Belong Together” march on June 30th, but many others were unable to participate. What actions can people take in order to protest and stop what’s happening along our border?

If you can, educate the people around you and fight lies and misinformation: Help people understand that immigration isn’t just a matter of “waiting in line” or doing the “legal” thing (and note that applying for refugee status is legal!). At worst, entering the US without permission is a civil infraction along the lines of getting a speeding ticket. We don’t separate families or jail them indefinitely for speeding tickets.

Call and write your representatives. I know it feels like we have to call them every day at this point but call anyway.

Spread the word, and join us for Raks Inferno: Immigration Protest Edition – we’ll remind ourselves that we have strength as a community and raise money for an organization working on the front lines.

We can fight. Together.

(Again, we would like to thank Dawn for taking time out to talk to us. You can learn more about Raks Geek via or follow them on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram. Please feel free to join the conversation via the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

And thanks for reading!)

Written by gordondym

July 19, 2018 at 7:26 pm

How Do You Get Scott Adams To Block You On Twitter?

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Yesterday, I learned the answer to the question, “How do you get Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, to block you on Twitter?”

It wasn’t an answer I was actively seeking but resulted from Scott Adams explaining the proper use of “pour” and “pore” when discussing documents. (This was in reaction to the President’s recent Tweet). I simply made the observation that Scott Adams had not been relevant since the 1990s. I held back from adding “especially since Office Space did it much better).

Now, I probably should have thought better of trolling Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. After all, he believes that Donald Trump was a “Wizard” of persuasion. He claimed that men were inclined to rape women, and once pretended to be his own fan in an online forum. Last week, Scott Adams told Forbes that he believed that “goals are for losers.” So I probably should have been careful to engage him in an intellectual debate, rather than trolling him – after all, civility is paramount in our national conversation. Scott Adams deserved that much.

After deleting the Tweet that started this ruckus, Scott Adams declared that I was “conflating my ignorance with his relevance” and blocked me. Almost on cue, a wide variety of individuals defended Scott Adams’ honor by impugning my character. Of course, many of these individuals would be likely to complain about the lack of “civility” in social media. Their comments included

• Being called “made of soy” by a woman;
• Having “more neck than chin”
• Several slams about me not being “relevant”;
• Criticism of my writing style thanks to a Google search; and
• Being “butthurt” over getting “rekt by the Dilbert guy”

(I’ve chosen, after some consultation, to redact their names and Twitter accounts, but not their photos. Several of them have either generic Twitter icons or misleading photos. Plus, they don’t deserve total anonymity – I stand behind my Twitter avatar; they can stand or fall behind theirs. )

Now, it would have been easy for me to defend myself, to discuss caring for my mother, or even delivering a torrent of counter-insults…but it wouldn’t be civil. So I blocked them.

Civility in any conversation – whether personal or through social media – means that there is a certain level of accountability. Accountability suggests an understanding of the “rules” of conduct, and many on the right believe that they are beyond those rules. Confronted by an angry majority about the decline in our society, it is much easier for that vocal minority to assault or harass their opposition. They hide behind the First Amendment not realizing that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from controversy or freedom of consequence. I took my hit for stating what I believe; they deserve the same respect (or in this case, “contempt”).

(And this has happened before – after writing a post criticizing a PR firm’s selling Twitter followers as a “false tactic”, they created a series of Twitter bots and flooded my stream with Tweets. In addition, actress Kelly Marie Tran and Christopher McQuarrie have been driven off of social media due to organized harassment. Because many Star Wars and Scott Adams fans are touchy when it comes to what they enjoy. And they’ll do anything they can to push you off of “their” channel.)

Unfortunately, Scott Adams of Dilbert is engaging in behavior reminiscent of Roseanne Barr a few weeks ago: make an outrageous statement, refuse to take responsibility, and double down. Although I could have been a bit more clever, I won’t apologize for my behavior. Twitter is a public forum. Scott Adams behaved inappropriately towards a user. His tasteful follow-up to blocking me: posting a cartoon and suggesting that I was claiming to have “owned him”

(Considering our country’s history as well as an alleged incident involving a student and a gay teacher at my old high school, I don’t think that I have any right to use the word “own” in that context. Plus, like Scott Adams, I am a white male. I know better. I would never stoop to suggesting that this blog post is Tweeted directly to him with the hashtag #betterbutthurtthanbrownshirt…but then again, what do I know? I didn’t create Dilbert).

But the story ends with two Facebook conversations – not this blog’s Facebook page, mind you, conversations with friends. Conversations that provided a sorely needed sense of perspective and humor.

One was a long-time colleague who asked, “LOL, who is Scott Adams?” After gently “mansplaining” Scott Adams’ career as the creator of Dilbert, her response was, “I stopped reading Dilbert years ago – is he still around?”

But the second conversation was with a friend who, without prompting, answered the question I posed at the beginning of this post.

“How do you get Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, to block you on Twitter? Be a decent human.”

(Please feel free to comment below or via Facebook, and note that comments are moderated)

Written by gordondym

July 5, 2018 at 1:49 pm

How Harlan Ellison Influenced My Writing

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Harlan Ellison in Boston
Photo by Pip R. Lagenta via Flickr
With Harlan Ellison’s recent passing, I have to admit that…well, he’s been on my mind a great deal. Not out of concern…just a group of unread ebooks on my phone. In fact, I was so bored recently that I found – and watched – the 2008 documentary Dreams with Sharp Teeth to pass the time…

And now, I realize that Harlan Ellison’s work has not only had a notable influence on my work but has also provided a great example of courageously expressing your values and opinions…even if it means facing criticism. In a time when “civility” is promoted as a community ideal, Ellison’s I-don’t-care attitude and blunt realism serve as both welcome examples and cautionary tales. Sometimes simultaneously.

Growing up, I knew about Harlan Ellison – after all, he wrote one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, as well as a really memorable Outer Limits episode. He even wrote the introductions to Pinnacle’s first wave of Doctor Who paperbacks. I knew the name…but I didn’t know the man or his other work.  But it wasn’t until my first year of college – an abortive year at the University of Chicago – that I was formally introduced to his work by a woman I was quite…infatuated with.

That summer, I checked out The Essential Ellison from the West Lawn Branch of the Chicago Public Library…and read it cover to cover. That led to searches for well-worn paperbacks in thrift shops, with Ellison’s work competing for my hard-earned dollars with Doc Savage paperbacks. Reading his work voraciously, I found myself not only enjoying his prose…but sought out other ephemera, like tracking down the episode he wrote for The Man From UNCLE or even catching adaptations of his work for The Twilight Zone such as  Shatterday or Paladin of the Lost Hour. 

I have always believed that great writing always looks easy to do…until you actually have to do it. Ellison’s prose and essays had a sharp, incisive attitude. Yes, I heard all the storiesabout Ellison’s difficult attitude (and to be honest, I share Harlan Ellison’s predilection towards disruptive behavior and blunt honesty). And his later life was not without controversy…but there was something straightforwardly honest about the man.

West Lawn Branch - Chicago Public Library by Gordon Dymowski

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Harlan Ellison called it as he saw it…and realized that he might be wrong. He stood his ground and spoke his truth. He also called for social change where it was needed, but more importantly, he actually lived his principles. (He often mentored new writers, including Octavia E. Butler). And one of my favorite Ellison quotes has not only served as a personal mantra but has greater resonance in our time of “civility” –

“We are not entitled to our opinions; we are entitled to our INFORMED opinions. Without research, without background, without understanding, it’s nothing. It’s just bibble-babble. It’s like a fart in a wind tunnel, folks.”

It’s that willingness to be honest, to see writing as much as an art as a craft, to see where the piece leads has not only influenced my blogging for Chicago Now but also my fiction writing  and “writer’s commentaries” on my short stories and essays.  It’s that total dedication to pure honesty and integrity in writing that has not only influenced me but has also helped me appreciate Harlan Ellison’s work even more.  I could quote several other writers who claim that Harlan Ellison is one of the greatest writers who ever lived…but I would rather let you seek out his work and enjoy it for yourself.

Ironically, for a man who led such a tumultuous life, Harlan Ellison passed away peacefully in his sleep. Somehow, I wish he would have gone down fighting…but I won’t complain.

Please feel free to leave your comments below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. Please direct any personal correspondence via my contact form.

And thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

July 1, 2018 at 9:54 am