100 Men Who Care, the Wilmington Chapter

One by one men amble up. Many run late. Not even close to a hundred of us. It’s not clear this is actually the official group and not just a bunch of random dudes chatting, comparing the craft beers on tap at Pour.

At this high-tech, self-service taproom in the Murchison building downtown, whose owner Brian Ballard donated the event space and the appetizers for this evening, there are dozens of taps, walls of them on two floors, each with its own little screen full of information. To get a beer, you choose, wave your rubber wristband near the screen, and pour. The space is crowded and comfortable. It’s social. Ironically, the automation gets people clumping together around the taps or the couches, striking up conversations.

The group of men does seem a bit random. That’s part of what seems so winning about the 100 Men Who Care organization starting up in Wilmington. We are just a bunch of dudes. Different kinds, different walks. At this inaugural November meeting, we are told, we are forming the only chapter of 100 Men Who Care in North Carolina at present, which feels pretty good. Take that RTP! There have been others in the state at different times—and there are hundreds of similar organizations across the country: There are 100 Black Men Who Care organizations. 100 Women Who Care is a common configuration—there’s a very successful one of these in Charlotte. There’s rumors of a 100 Children Who Care. Though all share a common mission, these organizations are different, separate, and evolving. Organizations like 100 Men Who Care are not legal entities, or tax shelters. They’re more like networks–networks of members who are interested in outcomes, collaboration, camaraderie, and the success of the region as a whole. These members bring this same sensibility to their professions, to their hiring, to their other organizations and community service.

Aaron Rovner, one of the organizers of this Wilmington chapter, says the idea was so compelling that he and his partners got the plan off the ground in minutes, got the website going a little bit later than that. When you hear about it, it just sort of makes sense, and this makes it work well—especially for people who want to contribute but want the support of a structure, who are busy, who want a way to vet their giving. It’s all not quite finished, and not quite official, not written into bylaws, not centrally managed. Instead, it’s agile, and it may be just the sort of lean, light, social structure that can channel giving the best. And be a boon for the area.

The way it works is this: Every quarter, members of 100MWC gather in places like Pour. Three members present their candidate charities to the others, describing the organization, the particular need. They answer questions. The emphasis here is not on selling the charities but on plain talk, real needs, and consensus. Once the discussion winds up and the votes have been tallied, all the members cut 100 dollar checks to the winner. That’s it. It can amount to as much as 10,000 dollars to the selected recipient (100 men x 100 dollars), and it happens every quarter.

This last meeting the three candidates were:

CFVC won handily with 40% of the votes, and is using our money to buy a box truck for shuttling volunteers and building materials to different sites affected by the hurricane. With so much need and so many pitching in to help for Florence, we voted for something infrastructural, a charity that makes other charities work better. The group raised about 2500 dollars that night (We were about twenty five Men Who Cared), and a member who couldn’t make it that night, Ross Hamilton from Connected Investors, rounded the total up to 5000 dollars!

Possibly winter Nor’easters and damaging freezes will be the focus of the next quarterly meeting in February. But there’s always need, and if you’re like me you want to figure out how to help wisely, and in the company of others who feel the same and can help make sense of it. 100MWC Wilmington is perfect for this.

As I got more into it over the course of the evening–and got close to the pour quota on my wristband–I kept asking what I came to learn were the wrong questions about 100MWC, and making the types of suggestions that I won’t anymore: We should have Powerpoints and one of these big screens, I said to Adam Fox, Rovner’s co-founder (with Jason Ashby) and the unofficial leader of the group, who goes by Fox and brought the idea from Knoxville. No no, he said, shaking his head like a giant bearded sensei, that would distract the process with visuals and fanciness, with things extrinsic from the actual need. Well, can we have the organizations themselves here, I asked? No, he said again, shaking his head almost sadly. In that case we’d be distracted from our purpose by their personalities, or their Powerpoints, or their charm, or size. You just have to get together, talk it out with a trusted group, and decide. I’m learning.

For more information on the 100 Men Who Care (Wilmington) organization, visit http://100menwilmington.org/

“NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER rent to her”: The found art of negative Airbnb reviews

We needed to flee when Hurricane Florence landed on our home town of Wilmington, NC, last month, and came upon this unhappy but perfect exchange in our searches—a dismissive Airbnb review of a cottage on farmland near Odessa, FL, a sharp reply from the host, and then an assertive personal review about the renter herself on her profile page, the only one about her.

One-star reviews 1 with real content in them—such as we pored over as we travelled in our Travato last year, looking for RV parks up ahead that weren’t too dicey—are a form of pop art without equal. You can laugh until you cry, discuss the merits of the claims, think of counter-arguments, try to piece together the story. Almost always we felt the harsh reviews made the reviewers seem much worse than the offending teen-aged receptionist or breakfast bar or RV park that didn’t let your Chihuahua shit its little turds on the Astro-turf after 10PM.

In these and in so much online writing, what you’re really often seeing is an epidemic sense of entitlement and aggrievement. You’re seeing people disqualify themselves as judges of what’s good or decent or helpful for others with their smug tones and haughty wounded-ness. The whole world is not a stupid movie megaplex for your thoughtless angry “reviews”!

This is an example of the form, sort of. Seems like this girl, Jenny, rents out the Odessa cottage—which looks lovely and seems to have attracted nothing but really neat renters up until now because of the care the host puts into it, its charm, its chickens. Then the girl throws the kind of giant rager party where you pile furniture, install black lights, stamp hands at the door and admit packs of under-aged drinkers. This is in the back yard the cottage shares with the host’s own home. Then, when it comes apart Jenny leaves this flippant, tiny comment—which is the kind of thing that can tarnish an Airbnb host’s reputation and rental income:

Be sure to triple confirm if you’re throwing a party and advise if people will be outside.

The nerve of that host, Laurel, not letting her cottage be trashed at a party Jenny was printing flyers for and didn’t show up at!

Response from Laurel:
I want to respond this review because her comments are bold-faced lies. They were not having a graduation party. First, she NEVER told me that she was having a party. Two teenagers showed up and I asked them who they were. They said they were here for the party. I called Jennifer and she told me that they were having a family get together. Well that family “get together” turned into a RAVE. They were charging money and stamping hands at the door . They had removed all my furniture and piled it on top of each other in the bedroom and bathroom. They removed all my lightbulbs and replaced them with black lights. And the most disturbing thing was that they were serving alcohol to minors (beer from a keg in my refrigerator and shots – all the liquor bottles were strewn around the house). The new wood floor was soaking wet. I asked two of the teenagers who were standing outside how they knew the people who rented and they said that they didn’t know them. The party was posted on Instagram and kids from all over the county were there. II made them leave because IT WAS ILLEGAL ACTIVITY, How dare Jennifer say that it was a family get together and children were outside!!!!! SHE NEVER EVER SHOWED UP AT THE PROPERTY.

And over on Jenny’s profile, Laurel posts this TKO as well. Read on. I think I’m fully on the side of Laurel and the chickens.

This was the most upsetting experience I have ever had with my vacation rentals. I have been renting for over 4 years and nothing like this has ever happened. Jennifer instant booked and I had not communication with her about her stay. (Be careful about instant booking). The day of “her” arrival, two teenagers were sitting in my driveway in a truck. I asked them who they were and they told me that they were renting my house. I asked where Jennifer was and they said that Jennifer’s husband was coming to stay. Then they said they were having a small graduation party with family and a few friends. I called Jennifer and told her that she should have told me about the party. She said it would be very small. I saw kids and older people early in the evening and it seemed harmless. At around 9:30pm I went to let my dogs out. There was a full-blown rave going on in my house. An “adult” who said he was a friend of Jennifer’s husband was stamping KIDS hands and using a black light to see if they had paid. YES PAID!!!! I went in the house and all the furniture was gone from the livingroom/kitchen. Black lights had replaced all my lights bulbs. There was a keg in the refrigerator. Liquor bottles and shot glasses were strewn around. The wood floors were wet. All the furniture was tossed on the bed in the bedroom. The bedroom furniture was in the bathroom. I almost had a stroke. I called Jennifer who was at home sleeping. I told her what I thought of her and her disrespect. I talked to one of the kids and asked how they knew the graduate kid. They said that didn’t know him. They said that someone had posted on Instagram that there was a club party at my address. Strangers from all over the county were there. I shut down the party and made the “guests” leave. Fortunately the graduate and the adult friend stayed to clean up. Soon after Jennifer’s husband arrived and helped clean also. I didn’t call the police, but in hindsight I should have. UNBELIEVABLE. This woman is he most disrespectful liar I have ever met. NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER rent to her.

From Odessa, FL · July 2018

Notes:

  1. One of the common tropes in this medium is that the reviewer ‘would have left zero stars’ but needed to leave at least a star to tell others how terrible their experiences were

Watson Dialectics

An idea for a new Watson service/application

What if you could convene a conversation with people you have strongly disagreed with, or find it difficult to exchange facts with, people with whom you have been driven you to stridency and name-calling, and have Watson help keep that conversation on the right foot? What if Watson could ensure that the tone of this conversation remains dispassionate, its participants receptive, and its assertions verifiable in real-time?

Two services, Watson Tone Analyzer and Watson Discovery, are the tone- and fact-checking engines, respectively, in a new application, Watson Dialectics, which monitors conversation in real-time through a mobile application and a microphone.

If as you try to make your point your tone starts to overcook, Watson will stop the conversation and gently suggest a reframing, or a retreat back to the ground that had been coolly agreed upon. If your conversational partner says something like “50% of American males own fire-arms,” Watson will go verify this fact in the background and politely countermand if necessary. Human debate monitored and enhanced by artificial intelligence.

Watson Dialectics also uses IBM’s Mobile First platform, speech-to-text, and a couple of other services to create a system for real conversation (as opposed to the Conversation service that developers use to build chatbots, that is to enable “conversation” between humans and software).

It’d be great! You could bring it along to your kids’ cafeteria Lincoln-Douglas competitors, to the water-cooler chat at work, or to that Thanksgiving dinner table.