Some of you may be familiar with Tumblr, the pre-eminent microblogging platform of the decade. Some of you may have heard that Tumblr has decided to ban all adult content on its platform starting december 17.

It's a problem partly because banning adult content tends to also hurt left-of-center folks, since their political discussions and forums are frequently entangled with adult content, the desire for personal freedom necessarily involving sexual freedom. it's also a problem because it's a big hit to prostitutes, who are finding it harder to find good places online to work safely and screen their clients, and in light of the above point about sexual freedom, the market for prostitution never goes away, you can't MAKE it go away, you can only make it underground and more dangerous, like banning alcohol or Marijuana. 

(I am especially incensed that the staff decided to implement the ban on December 17, the International Sex Workers Day of Visibility. Talk about a rude gesture.)

Now, if this were any other website, the political issues would be most of the problem. 

This is Tumblr. Well-known among users for having code that breaks during every update, no moderation to speak of, and a workplace culture that is best described as "utter mess", it is not at all surprising that Tumblr would seek to pursue its ban in the laziest manner possible: a bot that flags posts.

Now, I understand that after having failed to moderate the site for year after year, to the point that Tumblr wound up hosting child pornography, a bot may have been the only way to actually get rid of the bad stuff. I also understand that moderating that sort of thing is emotionally difficult at best, considering what Facebook mods go through. But to make it go after ALL adult content, well, that's a bit different -- presumably the CEO of Yahoo thinks that the only way to make ad money off the site is to get rid of the porn, because advertisers don't like to post ads on racy websites. I always wondered why Tumblr had the stupidest and weirdest ads I had ever seen -- it may be that the site was scraping the bottom of the barrel there.

Now, if it were any other site, the banbot would presumably operate in a harsh but fair manner, as programs do -- they execute their task like a machine. See a boob? Ban it! See a dick? Ban it! And so forth. Sweep it all away all at once like a giant broom.


This is Tumblr

And the bot appears to have been implemented without any traning whatsoever. In the past few days the userbase has been howling with laughter at the seemingly random, totally nonsensical means by which the bot chooses to flag a post -- flagged posts so far include a woman wearing a brown robe, a foot, a couple screen caps from LOTR, two men kissing, two women kissing, pictures of minerals, pictures of fossils, a picture of sand dunes...and this is the best one -- Tumblr Staff's own, completely textual explanatory post about the flagbot.

Meanwhile I see someone's post of them with their tits out, and it didn't get flagged, and I post a different picture of boobs and put a very light photoshop filter over it, and that fools the flagbot. Moreover, when I reblog my own flagged post, it doesn't flag the reblog even though the reblog contains the original offending image.

It may be that the bot was released in a way that would cause it to slowly learn what was NSFW, based on user complaints. That's the scuttebutt on Tumblr, at the very least. That would constitute a horrible abuse of the userbase, a group of people that Yahoo clearly thinks is disposable and replacebale. 

In the meantime, none of my posts actually show up on my own Tumblr Blog webpage; they only show up in the feed on my dashboard. And this has been happening to everyone.

The current mood of Tumblr is that we're all laughing hysterically as the ship sinks, because the captain blew up the boiler room to get rid of the rats. 


The bot just flagged a picture of an extinct sea creature.


The bot is now flagging pictures of bread.


So, S & B.

I reply to an email and meet S in the observation gallery above the swimming pool. Their son is in his final year in a class for students with "developmental challenges." He's on his school's swim team. Their daughter is studying to be a teacher, and, at the moment, is placed in a school in a nearby town. We haven't seen each other in seven years.

I met S in first year university, back in the mid-1980s. We became housemates for our last two years, and for a year some years later. I used to joke that she grew up on a television show. Her father was a minor executive with a WASPified name, her mother stayed at home and did volunteer work, and S herself was on multiple sports teams and students council at the more prestigious of her home town's two high schools. Her brother was a jock/party animal whose friends had nicknames like "Mad Dog." In university, she hung with any number of varsity athletes. They threw these awesome parties, somewhat reminiscent of the ones you see in American college movies.

Corners of those parties, I now realize, may have resembled ones mentioned in 2018 supreme court nominee hearings. But we must put new lenses on things we only half-heard, decades ago.

We were housemates when she had her first date with B. They married, and much of the friendship shifted to B, craft beer, and movies S and my wife didn't want to see. I kept in sporadic email contact with him, even in the years we weren't seeing each other much.

Her son swims laps.

The pool gallery update is strange, as though we hadn't seen each other since school, which is not the case. It's just that she'd had recently had a reunion with classmates. I recall most of the people she mentions but haven't seen them in years.

"H? I don't think I've seen her since the month after your wedding."

"You saw H the month after my wedding?"

"I drove to Halifax and back that summer." This she vaguely recalls.

Along that way I stayed in one off-season dorm, one motel, one B&B, and surfed a few couches and guest-rooms. A couple I knew from school, then living on a military base. The Iron John guy from a recently-defunct writer's group. Carrie and her new husband. They were living on the coast then, across the street from the ocean. They owned two outsize dogs and were sitting a third. The only guest room was also the ones the dogs used. The hirsute residents accepted me as one of the pack, and I was grateful for crash space, but sleeping at the height of summer, in a house with no air conditioning, with three big dogs who have accepted me as one of the pack, proved a rank experience.

H was out of town when I passed through Ottawa heading out. I stayed on her couch on the return trip. We discussed the wedding, our new jobs, and my new girlfriend, who'd been my date to S and B's wedding. Make no mistake: the pace of life accelerates after twenty-five.

When H. was young, she had some kind of leg issue that made her walk awkwardly. It had to be corrected. One of the psychic aftershocks of her early life was that, for years, she did not consider herself attractive, even though she was staggeringly beautiful. Perhaps it explains why the person I met pushed herself in athletics and dyed her hair blonde.

"All this time," I once told her, "I was thinking you're a poised, hot, athletic blonde and you're really an awkward, unattractive brunette?"

H. and I continued to write after the summer of 1992, but less often as the years went on. We never made the jump to email, and I don't do social networking.

The big news was S's brother.

Lung cancer.

He passed quickly.

I wish I had known. I would've gone to his funeral.

His son is a private pilot for a billionaire. The private pilots form a social group, knowing if they're going to see the sights, they have to do so during their first days in Whereeverbury. They may be called at a moment's notice to set course for Nextburg.

S's father died sometime before that, when we were still in regular contact. Her mother is finally selling the house, and will move soon into a local seniors apartment, near S's family.

Lives passed between us like trading cards, nieces and nephews and second-removed acquaintances. Things that would make good fiction, but are not to be recorded here.

Her son steps out of the heated pool and onto the tile.

I think back on 1992:


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