250 stories

City Council Kills This Man’s 30 Year-Old Tree, And His Revenge Will Make Them Deeply Regret It


What would you do if the council ordered the death of one of your favorite trees, and then made you pay for it?

Show Full Text

That’s what happened to one man in Redondo Beach, California, but although he lost the battle, he most certainly won the war. Because unknown to the council, the man, who’s an arborist, had a perfect way to avenge the death of his 30-year-old pepper tree. What did he do? Scroll down to find out. His story was recently shared online, and it’s since been read over 150k times.







If anyone is wondering how a giant sequoia looks like, here’s a pic:


Image credits: Amelia Takacs

Read the whole story
3 days ago
Seattle, WA
3 days ago
Overland Park, KS
Share this story

The founder of Pinboard on why understanding fandom is good for business


Maciej Cegłowski fields feature requests in a Google Doc

Subscription-based bookmarking site Pinboard is a one-man operation, founded and maintained by former Yahoo engineer and slightly eccentric Silicon Valley figure Maciej Cegłowski. Last week, it managed to acquire its longtime rival, Delicious, for a paltry $35,000, in what appeared on its surface to be a standard story of dog-eat-dog.

But behind every boring story is a smaller, more interesting story. Delicious may be largely lost to the internet, but it leaves behind a valuable lesson on understanding users — specifically those that belong to a massive online subculture.

Delicious’ road to decline was mapped by The Daily Dot, tracing its downfall back to a series of bigger acquisitions. First, the site was bought by Yahoo in 2005, and redesigned in 2009 to make it cleaner and more appealing for Yahoo’s then-huge audience. Making the site’s millions of bookmarks easier to sort through made it more accessible, but it also turned off older users who were accustomed to hiding in the haystack.

“At the time,” Cegłowski told The Verge in a phone call, “I asked [Delicious co-founder] Joshua Schachter’s blessing to do a version of what it used to look like, and spin it off as a product. I tried to target it at people who really cared more about privacy and might not want to share as many of their bookmarks.”

In 2011, after Delicious’ value had plummeted, Yahoo sold the site to YouTube property AVOS, which redesigned it again, rendering it unusable for one of its largest established user bases — fan-fic writers. Slash fic, or fan fiction about romantic relationships between popular characters, is traditionally denoted with the / mark it takes its name from. E.g. Steve Rogers / Bucky Barnes, or Hermione Granger / Harry Potter. The AVOS redesign made it impossible to tag or search for anything with a / in it. A single symbol turned into a huge opportunity for Delicious’ growing rival, Pinboard.

Cegłowski was only positioned to notice this with the help of former Delicious community manager Britta Gustafson. She taught him about fandom, and how fans had once made Delicious’ platform work for them as a way to organize hundreds of thousands of pieces of fan fiction. “As community manager,” Gustafson explained to The Verge in an email, “I heard a lot of friendly and thorough bug reports from fandom users, and I got curious about what they were bookmarking. Learning about it showed me that the fandom community was really interesting, lively, and thoughtful — a whole secret world of women like me who liked internet stuff, feminism, queerness, science fiction. I was just an amused and impressed observer.” Gustafson began participating in fandom herself, and encouraged Cegłowski to embrace the fandom community.

As a token of thanks, Cegłowski has given her control of the now-useless Delicious social media accounts. She posts from them for fun, but notes that the end of Delicious as a fandom community is a bit of a soft spot. As with many corporate redesigns of once-niche products, “[It] hurts to see a thing you built turn into a weird undead zombie.”

To learn more about how and why fandom became central to Pinboard, and what Cegłowski thinks the tech industry can learn from this weird little business story, I spoke to him about his experiences meeting fans, “building a habitat” for them, and being upfront about taking their money.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

I saw that you’re going to preserve Delicious as it is but not allow new activity. Why not shut it down?

The biggest reason for me is that I’ve been friends with Joshua [Schachter], the co-founder, and a bunch of the early Delicious people since forever. My roommate when I lived in New York was Peter Gadjokov, who was the other co-founder. This was their beloved project and I didn’t want to see it disappear or be bought by someone who wanted to use it strictly for SEO or marketing stuff. I thought it was really important given the amount of history and the special affection that some people have for this site, that it not end up in a startup graveyard.

I’m an archivist. That’s what Pinboard is for, so the idea that these sites just go offline and take millions and millions of pages of bookmarks with them is one of the things I hate the most. I’m glad to get the chance to preserve something that changed my life in a number of ways.

Pinboard for a while had this competition with Delicious as a main part of its brand — on Twitter, you wrote a lot of jokes about Delicious, lots of taunts aimed at Yahoo or AVOS — now that that’s over, who’s next?

Yeah, it’s really weird for me, because especially at the outset I felt like I was a flea on the elephant. I was trying to suck a few dozen customers away from this enormous Yahoo-funded giant and the idea that I could not just compete with this site, but actually buy it, never entered my mind. So I’m in a bit of a Twilight Zone feeling.

I feel like I won the war so thoroughly that I don’t really know what to do next. I would love to take down Pocket and I would love to take down Diigo. Pocket is losing a lot of money, and Diigo is kind of a strange, weird longterm competitor. Actually, I think there’s room for a lot of different bookmarking sites and I like that there’s competitors, I hope that they stick around.

There’s all these little niche areas in bookmarking that I want to see be occupied by people like me, who are just kind of living from it. There are a lot of ways you can earn a living but there’s not a lot of ways you can make millions. Unfortunately what ends up happening is that people start with a niche, but then they decide they want to grow the business to be like Pinterest and that never seems to work, maybe once in a decade.

I saw that you tweeted something at Flickr, is that another rivalry?

It’s not so much a rivalry, it’s just a regret. There’s this whole generation of startups that got bought at the same time by Yahoo. Upcoming, which Andy Baio was able to buy back and he’s running it again, which is super. And then Delicious, obviously. And then Flickr, which was a pioneer and it was really a beloved website and it still kind of is. If you could have Flickr back the way it used to be and run competently, everybody would be on there right now. I think it would be wonderful if the old Flickr crew could get the site back and run it the way they wanted to.

Yahoo just doesn’t understand anything about the sites they bought years and years ago, so they might as well just give them back to people who know what they’re actually for.

Pinboard has a reputation for being a platform for fandom. Would you say the platform itself also has fans, in the way that like, Tumblr has fans?

There’s been fan-fic written about Pinboard, which I thought was awesome. I think that’s the litmus test. I don’t know if it goes that far, but fans have been really nice to me and they’ve responded in a very friendly way to my overtures so I would say I get along with them. I try to understand their specific needs and uses maybe more than some other sites do.

Pinboard feature request Google Doc.

Since you’re pretty publicly the sole personality behind this site, do you have a lot of personal interactions with users?

For the last six months I’ve been running the Tech Solidarity group, which is a political activist thing. I’ve been having meet ups in different cities, trying to get tech people involved in areas where we can help locally with volunteering and also trying to do some broader political organizing in the tech industry. In the course of those meetings I’ve actually met a lot of Pinboard users and a lot of fandom people who use Pinboard. So that’s been a very funny side effect of this sudden political activism is that I get to meet people who use the site all over the country. Some people I’ve had Twitter relationships with forever, I’ll get to put a face on a Twitter account.

Could you give some specific examples of how you communicate with fans or collaborate with them?

The biggest example was this giant Google Doc they made for me in 2011. That was after yet another [Delicious] redesign that turned off a lot of essential fan features and they ended up just creating a collaborative design document that I could work from. So that was really the most amazing example for me, of cooperation. Whenever I see Pinboard users in fandom, we talk about things they’d like to see on the site or integrations. I really like the fandom community, they’re one of the most friendly groups to support that use Pinboard.

The more fans I can get on the site the better, just from a selfish perspective as someone who has to do customer support.

Pinboard feature request Google Doc.

Fandom, generally speaking, is a little complicated in that people who are really enthusiastic about things also have very strong opinions. Do you ever find it hard to keep up with requests?

I find that people are really understanding about it being just my solo project. So even if I can’t get stuff happening that they want, they’re pretty patient. Hopefully there’s some credibility at this point. They know I’m going to keep the site going without changing it majorly. I’m going to respect the way that people use it now and not try to go for millions of dollars or anything like that.

Pinboard anticipated these complaints that fans had about Delicious. Can you explain a little bit about how you came to know about these things? Were you personally involved in fandom?

No, no, I was a terrible person. I didn’t know anything. I made fun of fans and fan fiction. I was awful and Britta Gustafson, when she was Delicious community manager around 2005, told me all these cool tagging things that fans were doing on Delicious. The tagging system is really freeform, it’s not designed to do the things that fans made it do, but by collaborating they came up with all these inventive things that made it possible to search for fan-fic. I was just amazed by the level of collaboration and inventiveness on their part, so I remembered that. When I started Pinboard I really wanted to get the fandom community onto Pinboard, because I thought it was really cool the way they just built out the site to do their own thing.

When I saw that they were freaking out about the redesign that AVOS was doing, that was kind of the moment. I already knew who they were and how they used the site, I still didn’t realize to what extent they were a subculture of their own with their own lingo. Britta helped me, I learned that. I give her all the credit for broadening my mind about how fandom was using these sites. I’m a really big fan of the open web, of people using the web to create things and not just looking at stuff. So from that perspective I think fandom is one of the most amazing phenomena out there and I’m honored they’re using my site.

When they did that doc for me I was amazed at the level of friendliness and cooperation. I just had never seen anonymous users working together in that kind of spirit, and only later did I learn that fandom is predominantly women. That’s another reason that I’m happy that Pinboard has this subculture using it. When I was back in a frame of mind of being like “Oh, fandom, haha,” [Britta] was like “Well, you know, fandom is an underground training course in feminism for a lot of young women.” You go into it because you’re into the stories, you’re into the writing, but as a side effect you learn a lot of stuff from other women in the community. That stuck with me.

The reason this story is so interesting to me is because I think lots of entertainment brands have already recognized the benefit of having large fanbases but I haven’t seen it as much on the tech side or developer side. Is that something you’ve noticed?

I live in San Francisco, and there’s a really good website that tells you how to build a garden that attracts bees. I didn’t know this, but there’s dozens of species of wild bees, not just the ones we’re used to, but lots of odd-looking little ones. They have these instructions on how to make a bee-friendly garden and if you do all this stuff they’ll show up and make their hives. I’ve thought about Pinboard as trying to create a habitat for different kinds of users and make it useful, and then letting things happen on their own.

What I’ve seen with fandom is that these tech companies really try to co-opt them. They try to lock them into using platforms a certain way. Amazon made this attempt to have people doing fan-fic, basically moving fan-fic onto the Kindle ecosystem, but then they had all these rules. You couldn’t use certain characters in certain ways, they basically tried to rule it with a heavy hand. Fans have been burned a lot by people trying to get money out of them, in those ways and control what they do. Of course, I’m trying to get money out of them but hopefully I’m being transparent about it. I’m really adamant that I don’t understand the ways people use my site and I want to learn from them.

Read the whole story
10 days ago
Seattle, WA
10 days ago
Overland Park, KS
Share this story

The Most Hated Woman on the Internet


Haters–myself included–have pummeled Amanda Palmer so far beyond recognition that it’s disconcerting to hear her actual voice in her new memoir, The Art of Asking.

Palmer has been portrayed so consistently as a human black hole, a sucking moral and intellectual void from which no shred of human worth can emanate, that it’s probably necessary, in some way, to be confronted with the actual sound of her voice.

What, exactly, did we prove by hating Amanda Palmer?

This was what I found myself wondering as I plowed through the 15 hours of Palmer’s new memoir/self-help book/manifesto/self-apologia The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help. For reasons of masochism and/or incompetence (take your pick) I was only able to get my hands on the audiobook version, which meant there was no skipping ahead: I spent nearly one full day listening to Amanda Palmer speaking directly to me, and frequently speaking about the fact that journalists hated her. I was once one of those journalists. And I found myself, by around Hour Seven, wondering what on Earth I had accomplished by disliking her. What any of us had. What hating Amanda Palmer actually did.

For those not up on the human blog-controversy-generator that is Amanda Palmer, she emerged in 2003 as the frontwoman for the Dresden Dolls, a weird punk-slash-goth-slash-yes-they're-wearing-mime-makeup band that attracted very little mainstream notice but earned a base of devoted fans, most of whom seemed like the kind of sensitive, sweet oddballs who might put a lot of thought into what to wear to the next Rocky Horror Picture Show screening. This, for a while, worked out; she was famous without really being famous. If you liked her, you probably knew about her, and if you disliked her, she wasn't ubiquitous enough for you to mind. (Someone recommended the Dresden Dolls to me in 2004. I listened once or twice, thought it sounded too much like musical theater, and essentially didn't think about Palmer again for the next six years.) Then, in 2011, she married the author Neil Gaiman, who is just plain famous. The relationship catapulted Palmer into the spotlight. Her approach did not adapt to meet the circumstances. Things unraveled from there.

The Dresden Dolls live at Bonnaroo in 2006

I was an early adopter of Palmer-hate. In 2010, on my blog Tiger Beatdown, I ran a piece by Annaham of FWD/Feminists With Disabilities that detailed the ugly fall-out of an interaction with Palmer. Annaham was an ardent Amanda Palmer fan herself, a fan who was disappointed Palmer’s offensive and insensitive choice to play half of a conjoined-twin duo in her cabaret act Evelyn Evelyn. (I mean, the insensitivity was not subtle: The “twins” played “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as part of the act.) Amanda Palmer responded by laughing about “disabled feminists” on TV. Amanda Palmer’s fans, meanwhile—the dedicated, compassionate “family” Palmer considers her greatest accomplishment—reacted by subjecting their fellow fan to a torrent of harassment and abuse, including instructions to “just fucking die” and “fuk u die slow.”  

Annaham’s essay was an important piece. It was by and about someone Palmer had demonstrably harmed. It was about the power celebrities wield, and their obligation to exercise that power responsibly. It deserved attention. But it wasn’t the one that stuck. It was only in 2012, after a few more years, and a few more offenses, that the mainstream press got into the idea of hating Amanda Palmer.

The actual controversies—the $1.2 million Kickstarter album; the implausible album budget which people (including some musicians) frequently suspected of concealing much more take-home pay for Palmer than the $100,000 she initially claimed; the offers to pay local musicians in beer and hugs; the spectacularly ill-conceived and ill-timed “Poem for Dzhokar,” which, by Palmer’s own admission, she did not spend more than nine minutes thinking about before posting—are so well-known it’s hardly worth talking about them. The thing to remember is the headlines. So, so many headlines: “Amanda Palmer Is An Idiot.” “Amanda Palmer Stoops To New Low.” “Amanda Palmer: visionary or egotist?” Gawker called her a “grifter” and “a deluded and opportunistic narcissist who sells rhetorical snake oil to people too full of unearned self-regard to join an actual cult.” Buzzfeed listed “7 Times Amanda Palmer Pissed People Off.” WIRED and New York magazine published lengthy pieces (“The Art of Asking Why We Hate Amanda Palmer,” and “The Amanda Palmer Problem,” respectively) that are actually not Amanda Palmer hate pieces; they represent the ultimate solidification of media consensus, pieces written about the fact that so many people had written about hating Amanda Palmer.  

Given all of this, The Art of Asking probably works best in audiobook form. It is, after all, adapted from a speech—a wildly popular TED talk Palmer delivered in 2013—and Palmer is primarily a performer. Put bluntly, there’s a reason why Palmer’s speeches and songs attract ardent fans, whereas her blog posts attract PR crises: Her prose style (uncapitalized, or ALL CAPITALIZED, with unnecessary line breaks and a heartbreaking dependence on exclamation points) frequently makes her seem more overbearing and less articulate than she probably is. Half of Palmer’s reputation as a woman who spends her day literally screaming for your attention could be fixed with some decent copy editing. But, most of all: Palmer has been portrayed so consistently as a human black hole, a sucking moral and intellectual void from which no shred of human worth can emanate, that it’s probably necessary, in some way, to be confronted with the actual sound of her voice. To hear her, to get the inflections and breaths and emotional subtext, so that you can stop reacting to “Amanda Palmer,” and start listening to a person.

Palmer’s TED Talk

Her voice is much quieter than you would think. It’s more level. Amanda Palmer is not actually shouting at you all the time. She laughs at her own jokes—I always thought Amanda Palmer would laugh at her own jokes, didn’t you?—but not that loudly. She laughs at herself. In one passage, she describes her band, the Dresden Dolls, with one of those trademark incredibly-pretentious-yet-overwhelmingly-dorky phrases that can spark a lifelong Amanda Palmer hatred, “Brechtian punk-cabaret duo.” But, shockingly, she does this with one of the most audible eye-rolls I’ve ever heard, as if she somehow knows exactly how silly the phrase “Brechtian punk-cabaret duo” is. Amanda Palmer sounds, in a word, normal.

There’s also the matter of what she says. For most of this book, Amanda Palmer is talking about the one thing she is known least for: Making music. How she formed her band, how she promoted her band, why she signed to a major label, why she left it.

More to the point, she has actual points about music, which I found myself agreeing with wholeheartedly: “Punk-cabaret duo,” for example, comes in the context of a story about how her label cut one album’s promotional budget because radio-play experts didn’t “hear a hit.” She says it while explaining that a Brechtian punk-cabaret duo, almost by definition, is never going to produce anything that radio-play experts will consider “a hit.” It will also not be purchased by people who want to hear hits from the radio. It will be purchased by people who want to hear Brechtian punk-cabaret albums, and the point of a budget is to find them: “We didn’t need a fucking hit,” Palmer insists. “Our audience loved us precisely for all the weird radio-unfriendly shit we did.”

Amanda Palmer, as it turns out, is arguing for the right to make very specific, potentially alienating records that some people love, rather than making very broad, very safe albums that everybody likes. This point is correct, necessary and important. Musicians should be making it. The problem is that the person making it is Amanda Palmer.

By 2012, as Nitsuh Abebe pointed out in “The Amanda Palmer Problem,” most people “[knew] Amanda Palmer only nominally as a musician.” The most shocking thing I found out in the course of researching this piece is that Theatre is Evil—the actual album part of Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter album controversy—had received some glowing reviews. Not just from Palmer’s fans, either: Rolling Stone called it one of the best rock records of 2012. I listened to it. It may not be to your taste, and it’s not to mine (“bombastic” is an understatement) but it’s also not bad. As it turns out, all of that fighting was about an hour’s worth of high-gloss, guitar-driven, Ric-Ocasek-inflected pop-punk that sounds a lot like Charli XCX, and even more like this year’s Ex Hex album. It’s funny, until you realize how incredibly sad it is that, in another world, with a different set of decisions, Amanda Palmer might be Charli XCX, or at least Mary Timony; if anyone had listened to this album, it would have been popular.

“The Killing Type,” a track from Theatre is Evil

But instead, she became Amanda Palmer. And what the album sounded like never became part of the conversation.

The other thing one learns from this book is that 2012 and 2013 nearly broke this woman. Not always for the reasons you’d think, either: She got unexpectedly pregnant and had an abortion on the advice of her doctor. She hit a rough patch in her marriage as the result of her post-abortion depression. Her best friend was diagnosed with leukemia. While on the Theatre is Evil tour, she was sexually assaulted by a fan. And, oh, yeah, she had a blog. So, in the midst of all this, and while we were wringing our hands about the insensitivity of writing a poem about the Boston Marathon Bombing, she was fielding strangers’ offers to “shove a bomb up her cunt.”

On one level, this is pure guilt trip: All of this happened to me, and you still held me accountable for my words and actions, you monsters. Throughout the book, Palmer steadfastly refuses to admit having done anything wrong; indeed, in a twist that I can’t avoid reading as manipulative, she refuses to talk about the “disabled feminists” controversy, but tells several lengthy stories about how nice she was to a particular fan who had a disability.

Yet the facts are what they are: I disliked Amanda Palmer because she was careless with her power and that carelessness resulted in someone getting harassed and told to “fucking die.” But I was part of building the media consensus against Amanda Palmer, which made hating her both common and acceptable. And at the end of that process, Amanda Palmer got abuse and death threats. Careless use of power cuts both ways, as it turns out.

It’s hard to see how this was a victory for feminism. Or for music. Or for media: The fact of the matter is, a woman in her mid-thirties wrote, performed and released an album that was musically relevant and probably her best work to date; we responded by talking about her body, her personality and who she was sleeping with. We called her too loud, too self-assured, too ambitious. We wondered why she couldn’t simply live off her rich husband’s income, as if that isn’t a question that feminism has been in the process of answering for the past five decades. We affirmed that the artist’s persona mattered more than the quality of their work, and we affirmed that female ambition or self-confidence was a crime: That if you were a loud or aging or difficult woman, and you wouldn’t let us ignore you, we would turn our attention on you full-force, in order to burn your life down to its foundation.

The hatred for Palmer was uniquely gendered. There are male celebrities who achieve something like her level of notoriety—Justin Bieber, Robin Thicke—but they tend to be both more outrageous and more famous (Thicke performed the most-played song of 2013). Amanda Palmer got dropped by her label and self-released an album, but she managed to get just as much disapproving press, if not more. For a man to be so reviled that it's considered wrong to support him—and make no mistake, it is considered quite offensive in many circles to have any positive reaction to Palmer—he usually has to be accused of a real and violent crime, like Woody Allen, Roman Polanski or Bill Cosby. Amanda Palmer, meanwhile, was mostly just accused of being annoying. The conversation was about her personality and looks (so loud! so overbearing! so needy! and those eyebrows!), with a tone of derision that even the creepiest, weirdest-looking or most irritating of male rock stars (Rivers Cuomo, Ed Sheeran, Bono) never manage to attract. It was also, yes, about the fact that she was offensive and had bad politics—but Eminem has made an entire career out of being morally and personally reprehensible, and we’re not publishing thinkpieces on “Why Everyone Hates Eminem.” Everyone doesn’t. Eminem is a legend. Palmer is roadkill.

During all this, some great writers tried to keep a focus on the real issues and point out that Amanda Palmer did and said hurtful, exploitative and flat-out offensive things. It’s true that she did those things and that they were wrong. But it’s also true that we now have almost no chance of changing her behavior: A woman who has been told, over and over, for years, that she is an idiot, a narcissist, talentless, worthless, unworthy of being paid or listened to, unworthy of being anything other than hated, will almost certainly not become more receptive to criticism. She will become hostile to it, or at least immune. She must petrify, or shatter. It’s not any one person’s fault that the signal-to-noise ratio got out of proportion, but the fact remains: We didn’t change anything by hating Amanda Palmer. Especially not Amanda Palmer, who is now giving interviews about the “violent, radical brand of feminism” that is out to get her.

The days of the Amanda Palmer free-for-all are over. Palmer controversies don’t summon the same mass outrage they did in previous years. The reviews of her book have been critical, but gently so. It’s not that she changed. It’s that we found new women to hate. We turned our attention to Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, Lana Del Rey, Lena Dunham. Some of these women are almost as infuriating as Palmer; some are more so. But they are all women; all strange, unacceptable, uncomfortable women, acceptable for us to mock in order to raise our own profiles.

Which is the question that really worried me, as I listened to The Art of Asking: When we hated Amanda Palmer, were we even reacting to Amanda Palmer at all? Was it really her that was the issue? Or was it just a matter of picking on that year’s girl?

if you like this, check out:

Read the whole story
13 days ago
Seattle, WA
13 days ago
Overland Park, KS
Share this story

The Soul of a Feminist

1 Share

Early on a Monday morning, at the end of a leafy cul-de-sac in the Amitie III quarter of Dakar, a steady stream of women files through a discreet green door. Several of them have babies swaddled to their backs, some have toddlers in tow, and many are visibly pregnant. The building houses the Keur Djiguene Yi Center (which means “a place where women gather” in Wolof), the first free, government-sanctioned public women’s health clinic in Dakar, which opened last year.

Some have appointments, a few are walk-ins, but all are there to see Dr. Juliette Faye, a Senegalese obstetrician/gynecologist who just turned 30 and is herself the mother of an 18-month-old boy. She is the center’s sole physician, its medical director, administrator, and round-the-clock caregiver to 600 patients and counting. She is also a devout Muslim, a committed feminist, and, most of all, a tireless advocate for gender equality and women’s reproductive health in Senegal.

At 9 a.m. on the dot, Faye arrives and greets her patients, who wait in chairs in the brightly lit reception area. “I’m so sorry I’m late,” she says, despite being quite on time. “It was an all-nighter at the hospital, and I had five Caesarean sections, which is a bit more than usual.”

As one of a small number of female OB/GYNs in Senegal (only one in six doctors nationwide are women), Faye fills a crucial role in a nation where, until 2005, a woman could not gain access to contraception without her husband’s signed permission. “The fact remains that most men here want their wives to be cared for by a woman,” she says. Absent a female physician, women will sometimes skip prenatal care altogether; often, an expectant mother’s first contact with a medical professional is when a midwife assists during labor and delivery. Even when an acceptable prenatal physician is available, their services can be prohibitively expensive in a country where 57 percent of the population lives, by World Bank measures, in extreme poverty.

In consultation with a new patient at Keur Dijiguene Yi. All photos by Marcia DeSanctis

Statistics in the developing world are like Shakespeare’s devil and scripture: we can cite them according to our purpose. Senegal has one of the most stable democracies in Africa, and, thanks to a 2010 law mandating gender parity in government, it has the seventh highest percentage worldwide of women in representative politics. But the country’s literacy rate is one of the world’s lowest, and while 70 percent of men can read and write, only 45 percent of women can. Almost all children attend primary school, but only 32 percent of females continue on to secondary school.

At an early age, many girls are forced into domestic work or still prevalent (though now illegal) child marriages and unwanted pregnancies (nearly a quarter of women aged 20-24 gave birth before age 18). While the government is working to decrease the high rates of infant and maternal mortality by improving family planning programs, women’s healthcare remains perilously under-resourced. “The biggest needs?” asks Dr. Seynabou Ba, a prominent female surgeon and gender advisor at the Ministry of Health. “There are too many. We need more doctors, nurses, midwives, medicine. We need better education and training, and we need the equipment to do it. We’re improving, but I’m far from satisfied.”

At Derklé, Dr. Faye reviews a new brochure for expectant mothers with Sister Catherine, who runs the clinic.

Such poverty-related shortages have made the government unusually welcoming to international NGOs. One of these is American Friends of Le Korsa, which founded and finances the Keur Djiguene Yi Center and pays Faye’s salary. Le Korsa’s philanthropic works in Senegal also include efforts in education, pediatric health, and support for a hospital in Tambacounda, a poor city in sweltering hot eastern Senegal.

It was in this remote region that Faye, as a medical intern, found her calling in gynecology. At a bare-bones clinic an hour from the city, Faye witnessed a 12-year-old girl enduring an agonizing birth without pain management or medical support of any kind. “It was absolutely horrifying for so many reasons, but mostly because she herself was still a baby,” says Faye. The experience instilled in her what she calls “the soul of a feminist,” and that passion drives her today.

Even saying the word ‘sex’ is a huge taboo in Senegal

Problems persist not just in far-flung provinces; Faye says that reproductive health standards are unacceptable even in the capital city of Dakar, where she frequently sees unmarried adolescents with no sex education, who get pregnant and are at high risk for STDs. In public hospitals, a prenatal visit costs 5000 CFA, about $10 U.S.D., which is unaffordable to many women in the capital, especially single mothers who earn little as domestic workers or have no job at all. All women now have the legal right to seek contraception: IUDs, various implants, and Depo Provera injections are cheap and available. But there remains a 23 percent need gap between those who want birth control and those who have it. What’s more, information on how to use these devices, as well as on common STDs, falls woefully short. “Even saying the word ‘sex’ is a huge taboo in Senegal,” she says. “We have to start talking about it.”

Faye’s mission is to give all women—married, single, poor, Christian, Muslim—the medical care they deserve and agency in their own reproductive destiny.

When the Keur Djiguene Yi Center opened, Faye was just beginning her practice at a public hospital. Through an acquaintance who worked for Le Korsa, Faye began to volunteer in her free time at Derklé, a Catholic clinic for women and children. When she arrived there, Faye—the rare female physician who treated women—became almost too popular for the small clinic to handle. But it was the nuns’ reluctance, based on Catholic teachings, to address the subject of contraception that sparked the idea for a free center dedicated to women’s health. There are no such proscriptions against birth control in Islam. “Nowhere in the Koran is contraception forbidden,” says Faye, an important fact in a 95 percent Muslim nation such as Senegal.

Keur Dijiguene Yi’s discreet exterior in a quiet neighborhood of Dakar.

The center was conceived as a place for women to get pregnancy and post-natal care, as well as treatment for all manner of gynecological problems, regardless of their social standing. Some of her patients are beggars on the streets of Dakar. Here, an appointment costs about one dollar, and often, Faye covers the cost out of her own pocket. She is their physician, but also their confidant, friend, teacher, and contemporary. One woman, 28, is pregnant with her first baby, and this is her first visit ever to a gynecologist. The patient is visibly nervous, and Faye explains the obligatory blood tests, the necessity of taking iron and anti-malarial pills, and the importance of sound nutrition. “If a woman has no money, she won’t do any of this,” she says. “Everything comes back to poverty.”

Each pregnant woman gets a free sonogram at every appointment, which is a rarity in Senegal. As she scans another patient’s belly, Faye relays the news of the baby’s sex to a mother who wished for a daughter but is carrying a third boy.

“Your baby looks perfectly healthy, and this is what’s important,” she says.

The ultrasound machine was donated by one of Le Korsa’s partners, Project CURE, a Colorado-based NGO that donates used, expired, discarded or extra medical equipment and supplies to the center. A container just arrived that morning, and Faye is eager to see what the Americans have sent her way.

Such badly needed shipments, however, are now at risk of ending. In January, two days after President Trump was inaugurated, the administration reinstated the so-called global gag rule, which first took hold under President Reagan and has since been revived and repealed under alternating Republican and Democratic administrations. The rule denies foreign aid to any organization unless they disavow any mention of abortion in matters of women’s health (abortion is illegal in Senegal except in emergencies, when two doctors sign off on the procedure) even if the facility serves other healthcare functions. The current version will withhold an estimated $8.8 billion in aid, so NGOs will be unduly pressed to seek outside partnerships and donations.

A container of donated supplies and equipment from Project C.U.R.E. in Denver arrives at a warehouse in Hôpital Fann, Dakar, most of which will be trucked over to Keur Dijuguene Yi.

“The global gag order endangers the most vulnerable populations that American foreign aid aims to help,” says Le Korsa director Allegra Itsoga. Under the rule, Le Korsa is disqualified from receiving any federal funding for their programs, even those in the field of education, agriculture or children’s health. The outrage over this, as well as the Trump administration’s decision to defund the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)—the agency for family planning and reproductive health—is, at present, reverberating through the many non-profits that serve Senegal.

“We work in six prisons with women who are the poorest of the poor, often imprisoned for abortions or infanticide,” says Molly Melching, the founder and director of Tostan, a non-profit which is best known for its groundbreaking work in reducing the incidence of female genital cutting (FGC) in Senegal. “We were being funded by the U.S. Embassy through UNFPA, and were just told that we would get no more money.
These women are extremely vulnerable.”

It’s hard to ignore Washington’s influence on the health of women and children in a country like Senegal

Even on a hectic day at Keur Djiguene Yi, it’s hard to ignore Washington’s influence and reach on the health of women and children in a country like Senegal. Last summer, Faye traveled to the U.S. and France with Le Korsa to help raise money to pay a pediatrician to work at the center two days a week, and today is her first day. “My work doesn’t end when the baby is born,” Faye says. “It’s hard to raise a healthy child when you have nothing.”

For most of her patients, Faye is nothing short of a godsend. Maïmouna is a poor young mother from southern Senegal who lives alone in Dakar. She is Muslim, but the father of her six-month-old is Catholic, and wants little to do with both mother and son. She is unemployed and has no living family. Faye gives her clothes that her own son, Papi, has outgrown, and through the center, gives her money for food, transportation, and medication. “Everything she does, she does with her heart,” says Maïmouna, who just got a housekeeping job through Faye. “She has helped me in ways I can’t even count.”

Mid-week, Faye and her nurse Monique begin to sort through the haul from Project CURE. The center’s kitchen is packed floor to ceiling with cartons of catheters, blankets, speculums, surgical gloves, and hundreds of other supplies. Faye opens the boxes herself, and checks the expiration date on literally every package. “I’d still rather be here than in a big hospital,” she says, hoisting a stack of IV solution bags to a shelf upstairs.

Dr. Faye does everything at the center, including sort through hundreds of cartons of donated supplies. “I can sleep later,” she says. “I love what I’m doing too much.”

With her almost 24/7 work schedule, Faye takes little time for herself—even to sleep. She lives with her mother and two younger sisters in the home she grew up in, where she dressed up in homemade doctor costumes, complete with hand-made stethoscopes. Her husband works for UNICEF, presently in Yemen, and is often deployed for long stretches of time. This week, her son has complications with asthma, so Faye is juggling patients, hospital duties, and a new program she is leading for midwives with trips to the doctor in her silver KIA, listening to Senegalese rap as she battles Dakar traffic.

“It’s rare in Senegal to say you’re a feminist, and it’s also difficult,” she says. “A woman has to be at home, has to do the cooking, take care of the children. This just has to stop.” Faye maintains that even within her family, it can be hard to defend the ideas she battles for every day but in an email, her husband begs to differ. “I’m happy that her feminism is positive. She is always focused on empowering women to take charge of their reproductive health,” he writes.

Faye’s work remains tightly bound to helping Senegalese women making their own decisions about their bodies and their lives. “When things turn around for women, they turn around for the whole society and the whole economy,” she says. “This is why we need to educate women and why we need family planning. We need to help them rise.”

The post The Soul of a Feminist appeared first on Roads & Kingdoms.

Read the whole story
21 days ago
Seattle, WA
Share this story

Culture Gaming

1 Share

One of the key problems for roleplaying games is figuring out how much interaction with the broader society in your setting matters or doesn’t.

To give a simple example – if you’re playing a modern supernatural game – does your vampire have to hold down a job? Do they have to interact with the landlord?  How about their family or friends from before they got turned into a vampire?  Or is it all “Politics of the Night Court” and fighting werewolves and such, and we don’t think about the rest?

This question ends up being one of the places where people feel lost when they first start getting into gaming and you give them D&D or a sci-fi game – you need to have an idea of what the fictional society is like and how your character fits into it, if you actually are to roleplay out that interaction.  A knight, a nomadic clan warrior, and hired muscle for a criminal merchant all might fit the “Fighter” class but they certainly will approach the world very differently and be treated quite differently, depending on where they are.  Without specifying that context, it takes a few sessions to even figure out how the world works in the broadest sense for the characters.

This not only is critical in terms of setting up your characters for roleplaying – it sets up what values they hold, what things they’ll fight for and so on.  It gives people options for negotiation – status is a critical thing people struggle for and use as leverage every day.  It creates ties and relationships between player characters and NPCs – and also ties the players into the desires of those NPCs in ways that are reasonable and consistent.

The 3 Questions

What is your role in society, what is expected of you, and what can you request or demand and reasonably expect to receive?

The 3 questions form the basic set up of what you need to know for how things operate in your setting.  Of course, these questions are the sort of thing you could write whole anthropology courses on, so it’s not so much about detailing every possible space, but giving sufficient direction that people can have a good idea and the negotiation/question and answer at the table during play is short and easy.

Specified Roles

Some games handle this by limiting players to specified roles in society – Dogs in the Vineyard, Legend of the Five Rings, Pendragon, Paranoia, for example, all work on the idea that the player characters are from a specific group for the most part, which means the answers to those questions are mostly the same, and the players then create their characters within that space.

This turns out to work pretty great for the sake of getting people into play quickly, and also reliably hitting certain aspects of play.

Massive Setting and Negotiation

Another design strategy is to give a wide setting with a lot of different possible answers and the group having to pick a society/space to focus on and narrow down the roles from there.  Glorantha, Shadowrun, D&D campaign settings, and most of the White Wolf games fall into this category.

While this does provide a lot of options, I have found the process of groups negotiating down to the actual scenario and characters is rarely quick or smooth unless the group has already done a lot of pre-negotiation about what they’re looking for.  A lot of the hurdles start with, “But did you read ALL of this setting material?” and then happen into, “And how did you interpret those ideas?”

Fuzzy Outlines & Negotiation

D&D is the game that exemplifies this design choice.  In baseline D&D, you get some features of things that exist in the setting – dwarves, clerics, deities, but it doesn’t tell you how society really works – are dwarves normal people? Are they discriminated against? Respected and treated with awe? Are clerics rare and amazing like saints? Can anyone get their broken leg healed at any local temple? Do deities demand prayer, blood offerings, incense, what?  It’s really fuzzy for the most part.

So, as a group, you have to either take these elements and form them together yourself, or leave it open and then find bumps when you discover that one player expected one thing and another something completely different.  (“Wait, I’m a cleric, shouldn’t people treat me with respect?” “Wait, people treat half-elves poorly?”)

This choice often has complications, since a lot of the assumed expectations usually will be what someone is drawing from a previous campaign or a setting or series of books and so on, and without clarity, the disconnect can be quite steep.

Practices and Meaning – pre-loading vs. in play

Consider someone doing something insulting without using words.  What do they do? Do they spit on the ground?  Scowl?  Chuckle?  Throw an object instead of handing it over? Bump your shoulder? These things are meaningful, and the context of the situation and culture are what make them hold that meaning.

Since most RPGs are set in fantastical and futuristic settings, far from whereever you happen to be, the meaning of practices might be very different, and the question is how much is this going to matter for your game, and how do we, as a play group, get to a shared understanding?

You can pre-load all of that with lots and lots of chapters of expected behavior to read up on.  Or you can, as a GM, explain as you go what the implications are (“They kneel, but it is only about a second before they look up to you.  They’re respectful, but clearly in a hurry.”)

I’m fairly certain that this language of culture and implication are why game groups seriously invested in a setting-heavy game, tend to have a slow recruitment and deeper investment in long term play – the time it takes to learn this and fluently apply it in play, can take months or years.

If you find my blog entertaining and valuable, consider supporting me on Patreon.

Filed under: setting

Read the whole story
24 days ago
Seattle, WA
Share this story

Mad Marx: The Class Warrior

3 Comments and 14 Shares

Read the whole story
30 days ago
Seattle, WA
31 days ago
Share this story
3 public comments
31 days ago
Karl Marx of the Wasteland headshotting Ayn Rand is the single most beautiful thought I have ever been gifted with.
31 days ago
So true! All of the world's problems could be solved by Marx(ists) killing more of their opponents.
Falls Church, Virginia, USA
31 days ago
Your irony game is so strong.
31 days ago
I'd watch it
Next Page of Stories