Online news, like all news, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is extremely convenient and allows a diversity of content and format too flexible for newspapers and too niche for cable. On the other hand, nice formatting is often used as a shorthand in people’s minds for professionalism, leading them to accept absolute bullshit as news as long as it’s presented well.
Case in point, the cancerous tabloid Russia Today, which I have seen cited by my friends and acquaintances at an accelerating rate over the past year. I just came across this article, which claims that a U.S. federal court ruled yesterday that the protections of the Constitution do not apply anywhere within 100 miles of the coast. In fact, the actual court ruling they cite (available at ) doesn’t actually say anything about a zone of any kind. That appears to be a reference to a different policy, that of stopping people up to 100 miles away from the border to question their immigration status or search them for drugs. While also certainly a violation of the fourth amendment, it’s not one that is relevant to this case.
As this much saner article from Wired explains, the judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Secretary of Homeland Security regarding the policy of demanding that travelers entering the United States show customs agents the contents of their electronic devices without reasonable suspicion of involvement in a crime. The suit was brought by a student researching Shiite communities in Lebanon whose research included, controversially but understandably, pictures of rallies of the Shia political-party-cum-paramilitary* Hezbollah, and was dismissed on the bizarre-sounding grounds that he didn’t have standing to sue against an entire government program on the grounds of one instance of abuse.
Not satisfied to merely dismiss the suit, the judge than ranted profusely, accusing the plaintiffs of “drinking the Kool-Aid”, and explaining why exactly he thought the policy didn’t violate the first or fourth amendments.
The ruling actually says (and some of this is actually quoted from other rulings on other cases, not things this judge personally invented):
- that anyone entering the U.S. should not, in fact, reasonably expect privacy in what they are carrying;
- that no reasonable suspicion is needed to demand that a traveler show a border agent what is on their electronic devices;
- that, although further searches do have to be justified by finding evidence of wrongdoing, one of the things that counts as wrongdoing is “an itinerary suggestive of wrongdoing”;
- that you do not have the right to sue the government for policies that encourage invading your privacy unless you have a reasonable expectation that they will invade your personal privacy; and
- that proof of past invasions of your privacy do not count as reason to expect future invasions of your privacy.
I agree that this ruling is immoral and corrosive to the limits imposed on the government by the first and fourth amendments. I specifically agree that the policies encourage unreasonable searches and seizures. However, can we please try to complain about things the government is ACTUALLY doing wrong instead of what someone over at the Russian equivalent of the National Enquirer claims?
*Hezbollah is officially considered a terrorist organization, a designation with which I certainly agree, but as far as I’m aware, it really functions more like an army than like a loose affiliation of extremists like al-Qaeda.
I don’t think that the Republicans oppose people having healthcare. There’s an identity battle, not a policy battle, being fought here. Republicans have historically supported bills very much like Obamacare/the Affordable Care Act, and even now are supporting things that are already parts of the ACA even as they demand “replacements” for those same things. I suspect that they don’t generally hate the law, they just hate that it’s associated with the Democrats, whom they believe to be generically and intractably evil. Consider the primary debate between Romney and Gingrich or the general election debate between Obama and Romney last year, in which each candidate, absurdly, said that subsidies to buy private insurance are good when they do it but bad when their opponents do it.
Congressional Republicans have two goals, neither one relevant to the actual contents or effects of the ACA: they want to shrink the federal government (regardless of whether any particular method of shrinking it is actually helpful in any way) and they want to spite the Democrats in general and Obama in particular. To that end, they’ve created a win-win situation: either most of the federal government stops working or the president looks ineffective in implementing a law that the Republicans themselves actually support when his name is taken off of it. Either way, they get to declare victory regardless of the consequences. ; As Michele Bachmann put it, “It’s exactly what we wanted, and we got it.”
If you’re here, it’s probably because of this post I wrote about the Kickstarter “Above The Game.” “Above The Game” was successfully funded this morning, raising 800% of its target goal. Unfortunately, the product it’s funding, I think, was pretty repugnant.
Basically styled as a book on “how to meet women,” what the content really did was tell men how to exploit some the awful systemic pressures we put on women, to take an overly aggressive role, and never take no for an answer in order to get sex. Some of the excerpts were pretty disgusting, even in their proper context - context the original author removed when I had linked to it - and it forwards a rape culture, no matter what its proponents might tell you. Even the section which the author, Ken Hoinsky, stresses the importance of obtaining consent ends with the phrase, “wait a few minutes and try again.”
I was upset because this is a really grotesque, upsetting thing being funded on a platform I am bonkers for. So I posted that thing calling for people on the internet to speak to Kickstarter and ask asked for it to be taken down, and holy crap when I woke up and my post was everywhere. Currently at around 7K notes, my second most popular post has 8 Notes, and is a man in a Food Court wearing a Batman t-shirt, seen below:
So all day people have been reaching out to me for comments and questions and telling me to link this thing or that thing and do I have screenshots and telling me I’m overreacting and giving me some degree of either praise or harassment.
One of the groups of that reached out to me was, in fact, Kickstarter.
I e-mailed them earlier in the day, expecting fully for that e-mail to hit some poor community manager who had no idea this was what they were waking up to, and for a simple thanks for your input we’ll look into it or to not hear anything back at all. Instead they got back to me. And after a long day of “one second, we’re still discussing this,” they sent me a statement, the relevant bits I’ve pasted here -
This morning, material that a project creator posted on Reddit earlier this year was brought to our and the public’s attention just hours before the project’s deadline. Some of this material is abhorrent and inconsistent with our values as people and as an organization. Based on our current guidelines, however, the material on Reddit did not warrant the irreversible action of canceling the project.
As stewards of Kickstarter we sometimes have to make difficult decisions. We followed the discussion around the web today very closely. It led to a lot of internal discussion and will lead to a further review of our policies.
This is a huge bummer, it’s a bummer that they allowed this project to be funded, and it’s especially a bummer in light of this statement. Because the statement, “Based on our current guidelines, however, the material on Reddit did not warrant the irreversible action of canceling the project.” is intensely problematic when you look at the guideline I’ve posted above. Because given what the author said, and given that this material was advertised as part of the final product - the author’s Kickstarter was to provide a published and expanded version of the material on Reddit - and they find it “abhorrent and inconsistent with your values as people and as an organization,” how is this not offensive? And then, how does it not violate that guideline?
I suspect that, had the material on Reddit been part of the initial Kickstarter pitch and video, it never would have even been approved. While the material on Reddit ostensibly was what was being Kickstarted, it is admittedly unreasonable to expect for whoever vets these projects to read what amounts to a manuscript for every book that wants a Kickstarter. It’s not feasible for them to approve all content that could POTENTIALLY flow through this channel - to say nothing of books that are unwritten. So we can’t expect Kickstarter to be proactive on everything except from every piece of writing that might appear in something funded through their site.
But we all pointed it out to them, at which point, they chose to allow it to be funded.
Hoinsky - knowingly or unknowingly - found a loophole in Kickstarter’s guidelines. By hosting the truly offensive material outside of his pitch, people were unaware that it existed until it was too late, and it was too complicated an issue for a multi-million dollar business to do anything about. And I am completely disappointed, because while Kickstarter is a huge company concerned about maintaining policies and setting precedent, I am just a dude concerned about someone getting $16k for creating a manual on how to sexually assault women and concerned about, jeeze, I don’t know, the nobility of crowd funding?
So I understand that this was probably not an easy decision for Kickstarter to come to in a short periord of time (I discovered the content 10 hours before the Kickstarter ended, 6 hours of which were sleeping time for reasonable people). And to me, the result we ended up with was not the moral one.
Here are kind of my final thoughts on this -
1. Don’t let anyone fool you, This Book Is A Rape Manual
I heard a lot of people telling me that I was taking some of those quotes out of context or that “JEEZE when he said take your dick out she was already making out with you!” Well, fuck you. Because acquaintence rape is a real thing. Because a girl kissing you or letting you do SOMETHING does not mean you get to do ANYTHING. And by creating a book whose leitmotif (YEAH FUCK YOU PRETENSION I WENT TO FILM SCHOOL FOR A FEW MONTHS) is “be aggressive, and do what you want because women like that,” you are telling people to rape. Not everyone who’s going to read the book is going to be a rapist, but I promise you - someone who read this book will rape someone. And they might not even know they did it, because you told them the woman wanted it that way, you human nightmare. The whole thing is a boiling cauldron of rape culture, and you are not going to convince me otherwise any more than you could convince me the sun has been replaced by a bran muffin.
2. People are way more amazing than awful.
I got tons and tons of e-mails and tweets and Tumblr messages of support and all the reblogs and all of this shit basically saying that women should not be treated this way and people who say otherwise are assholes. And saying good on me for speaking out. And that felt great, to know that the internet - which I find is most often represented by shit like Penny-Arcade and Reddit - is not as bad as I thought. Also, please consider that the VAST MAJORITY of “Thank you for saying this” messages I got were from women the next time you think that maybe this shit isn’t real.
3. This is probably in HUGE PART because I am a man.
All of my photos are pictures of me, and I have a awful (just awful) beard and am clearly not a woman. I think this curbed the abuse I got from the internet EXPONENTIALLY. A few of the awesome women in my life IMMEDIATELY messaged me about blowback this morning, because they had ALREADY RECEIVED HARASSMENT JUST FROM RETWEETING ME, where at that point in the day I had received NONE. They asked me first thing if I was being harassed because that is what the world does to them if they talk about this stuff, and this awful book furthers that attitude. The worst harassment I got - and one nice message, to be fair - was clearly because I have a gender neutral name and they thought I was a woman.
4. I still love Kickstarter, and will keep using it.
They made a really bad call. Straight up, this was a bad call to allow this to be funded. But it’s undeniable that they had not a lot of time to make that call in, and a weird confluences of loopholes in their policies. Big companies move very slowly, and they had to act fast, so you know. They made a bad call. That does not mean it’s a bad platform, or they’re bad people - in fact, they seem pretty upset about the whole thing, and I hope that they re-examine some of the policies that led to that call now that they have more than a few hours to breathe.
I still think crowdfunding in general is the internet’s way of fighting back against the monopolies on entertainment, and Kickstarter specifically is a pretty special tool. My friends have followed dreams because of this, they’ve made games and prank apps and children’s books and burnt giant guitars. It’s awesome. And I find it inevitable that I’ll launch one of my own one day. I hope that more projects like this being funded doesn’t cause that inevitability to fall away.
This project is funded, but make your voice heard by signing this petition someone started over at Do Something - http://www.dosomething.org/petition/kickstarter - Hopefully they’ll know that if projects like this that forward a culture of violence against women or any oppressed group continue to be funded, we’ll stop just stop using it. And as I’ve made clear, I would like to continue using it!
5. Fuck Not Saying Something
I am super burnt out on everything in my life being about rape. I’m a video game designer - so I have to deal with people like Penny-Arcade, or the people that harass the outstanding Anita Sarkeesian. I’m a stand-up comic - so I have to deal with the endless hordes of angry white dudes telling me it okay for them to talk about how funny it is for them to be raping a girl on stage, and how if I say otherwise then I am censoring them. And I love the internet - and here we are. I am sick. and tired. of rape.
But I probably have no capacity to even understand how sick and tired women are of it.
I have an amazing friend who I go to whenever I’m totally lost of this stuff and once I said, “I just am so frustrated with talking about this shit, I am going to just NOT THINK ABOUT IT FOR A WHILE.” and he replied, “Okay, but just so you know, being able to not think about it for a while is the definition of privilege.” Oops.
I don’t want to deal with this shit. I have a ton of amazing women in my life - the funniest comedians I know are women, the strongest writers I know are women - and I don’t want them to have to deal with this shit. But I guess the only want for people to not have to deal with it anymore is by dealing with it as loudly as I can and hoping you guys signal boost some more. So that hopefully people like fucking Ken Hoinsky and his nightmare kingdom of sub-Reddits will shut the fuck up.
And then, finally, when no one has to deal with these morons being the dominant voice in the culture, we can all stop talking about rape.
huerca zafada: Steubenville's Jane Doe asked people to do something... -
I’ve never asked anyone to reblog anything before, and I probably won’t again. But I am now - because this matters.
The Steubenville rape victim, when offered money for her legal expenses or counselling, asked that people donated to a shelter for abused women and children in her county, Madden House, instead.
Her attorney spoke in a local news article on why the family wanted this, and said they hope very much that “the attention … can help other people that have been victimized by this type of crime,” Fitzsimmons said, “and give them some strength and some assurance that people are there to help them when that happens.”
You can donate as little as $2 via your Paypal account to Madden House. (You can also navigate their website from that link, to be sure it’s a charity you can also believe in.) When I donated back in January, they had a message up that said, “Every single cent says, ‘We believe you, and we care.’” They had to remove it almost at once. I’m sure you can deduce the reasons why, in a case where even her status as “victim” was challenged before the trial.
Madden House and the Family Violence Project helps anyone, men included, but they have a strong focus on families, and on low-income women, especially those from the African-American population.
The best way to show you support Jane Doe is to make a donation, however small and leave a Paypal note when you do saying “In the name of Jane Doe, Steubenville.” They are telling her how many people donate in her name so it’s a direct way of letting her know. Even if all you can afford is a dollar, a thousand Tumblr users donating that is a thousand dollars for abuse victims. And it’s also a thousand people telling her directly that they, unlike the likes of CNN and her erstwhile “friends”, care about her, support her, and believe in her. It’s what she has actually asked people to do. In a case where she has been so effectively silenced and sidelined, I think acknowledging she’s been heard is particularly important.
I think it says so much about this girl and her parents, that when met with offers of serious money they immediately asked that it went to a charity that helps other victims of violence instead. They are extraordinary people in my opinion, and that’s why she had the strength to come forward. Images of two other girls, naked and face down on that basement carpet, were found on a phone. The boy insisted he’d never seen them before, and had no idea who they were of. Jane Doe may well not have been speaking up only for herself. She has very possibly saved others with her courage. She deserves so much more respect than the mainstream media have given her.
If you can’t donate, I really do understand. I’ve been broke before too. But please, do reblog. Get the message out. There is a genuine, positive way to support the victim, in the way she has asked for, and this is it.
Sorry it’s so long. There are so many scams online that I wanted to provide ample links, so there can be no doubt this is legit. Please, if you can, donate/reblog. Show Jane Doe what you think of her.
Ghastly H. Crackers: Fascism and the right to bear arms. -
There have been a lot of people lately saying the only thing standing between freedom and fascism is the right of the people to bear arms. The argument is a fantasy of people who like to imagine themselves as heroes in the glorious freedom revolution that will sweep away everything they hate about…
Tea Party Friend provided this chart of gun ownership vs. murder rate, to put things in perspective. He put it forward to support his claim that gun ownership reduces murder, but I disagree. The chart shows that the vast majority of countries are low on both murders and gun ownership, although some countries (e.g., the U.S. with its famous “gun culture” and Switzerland with its famous universal conscription) are outliers in the high-gun low-murder direction. Tea Party Friend asserted that the three extreme outliers on the high-murder, low-gun branch of the chart all have gun bans and are also all deeply impoverished. The poverty part is true, but only one has a strict ban. Found via some quick Googling:
In Côte d’Ivoire (56.9 murders/100k people), although information is frustratingly hard to find, it appears that he’s right on this one as far as a gun ban — possession of gunpowder in general is (apparently?) illegal, and from what I can piece together from the French text of the actual law (singular) regarding guns, I think it might be illegal to own any kind of gun without the individual approval of the government through some unspecified process. However, since the country has had two civil wars and numerous riots in the past decade, I suspect that political violence accounts for a large portion of the country’s consistently high murder rate, and that easier gun ownership would not have helped the situation.
On the other hand… in El Salvador (69.2 murders/100k people) and Honduras (91.6 murders/100k people), gun laws are not very different from the U.S., actually. There is a licensing system, not an outright ban, and the specific kinds of guns civilians may own are not very different than the ones Americans can. Gang violence is extremely common, and probably explains a lot of the murder rate. To its credit, Honduras appears to limit the definition of “assault weapons” to fully-automatic weapons and military-style sniper weapons rather than the bizarre and inappropriate U.S. definition I previously linked to.
Although gun ownership does not appear to be the cause of murder, especially in the U.S., it is also not a cure for it. Canada is demographically and culturally similar to the U.S., and also has a relatively high gun ownership rate. Japan, which I often only half-jokingly accuse of trying to be more American than Americans are, has an outright ban on civilian gun ownership and a murder rate of only 0.4 murders/100k people. There’s something totally un-gun-related going on and we need to examine the causes of violent crime in general (which I suspect are mainly effects of living in dense, poor cities) and try to correct them if we want to reduce murder instead of just come in after the fact to punish the guilty once murders have already happened.
Three more articles to consider:
1. Why reviving the assault weapons ban is not a good idea.
2. Why licensing is a good idea.
3. Why improving the safety features of guns themselves is an even better idea.
I’d like to share some particularly thought-provoking links shared by friends on Facebook in the last couple of days, regarding contributing factors to the shooting.
1. “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother”, a piece on what it’s like to raise a child who is clearly disturbed and violent, and lamenting the lack of good mental healthcare in the U.S.
2. “The Problem of Illegal Gun Trafficking”, giving examples to the effect that it’s not so much more gun control that’s needed, but better enforcement of existing laws in order to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
3. “ASAN Statement on Media Reports Regarding Newtown, CT Shooting”, a press release from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network rebutting suggestions by media outlets that the shooter’s Asperger’s Syndrome caused the shooting.
To head off everything everyone is about to say about the shooting…. And no, I am not arguing about the Second Amendment. It’s a terribly-phrased, outdated relic. I am arguing about what the law SHOULD be, not what the law IS.
If we make any dangerous item X illegal, people will find illegal ways to acquire X. What needs to be done to actually reduce the amount and danger of X is to convince people that X is unacceptable whether it’s legal or not, and to place barriers to the acquisition of X that make it very difficult for X to reach the black market in the first place or to pass through legal channels into the hands of people who should not have X.
Consider motor vehicles. They, like firearms, have some legitimate uses and some disastrous uses. They have a minimum age for supervised use in a training setting, then a higher minimum age at which a person may pass a test in order to show that they should be allowed to use them. I propose that guns be treated the same way, with perhaps an allowance for a lower age for minors learning to hunt, analogous to the lower driving age for farm equipment.
Now, the problem here is that weapons are by definition intended for the specific purpose of inflicting harm, unlike vehicles, which are merely capable of causing harm incidentally. This is even more true for those weapons intended specifically for military use… machine guns and rocket launchers are obvious examples. In order to secure these from being obtained by anyone who cannot be trusted with them (would-be mass shooters, gangs, terrorists, etc.), some weapons (the cutoff to be determined later, since I’m not sure myself where exactly it should be) should be classified by federal law as suitable only for military use and tight controls should be placed on the companies that manufacture and sell them.
I realize that this raises the issue of maintaining an armed public which can rebel against the government if necessary. To achieve this, I propose that the National Guard be returned to the control of their respective states with no condition under which the federal government may take control of them, and that any and all weapons used by the federal military be available also to the states. Further, military personnel in the U.S. would adopt the same policy as Switzerland and keep their regular arms at home, since they have received the proper training and discipline to use them with discretion.
Back on the topic of civilian use, though, I find it eminently reasonable to insist on background checks and licensing enforced on people who purchase guns, and restrictions enforced on sellers of guns.
I honestly can’t think of a conclusion… Sorry. Maybe I’ll have more to say about this later.
In the wake of Hurricane (or, “Superstorm”, as the media keep calling it) Sandy, New York conducted audits of the utility companies that operate within its borders to figure out why power was not restored in blacked-out areas as quickly as they had anticipated. The results? Their leadership is distant and incompetent. As my local paper, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, puts it:
"Key units went from 20 employees to three or four — because, auditors found, Spanish executives believed utilities in New York state, susceptible to fierce blizzards and powerful hurricanes, could get by with the same workforce as their units in Spain, where weather is somewhat more serene."
This is exactly why I believe utilities should be public and local. Under the people’s ownership in some form of another (either the government or as a co-op), decisions presently made by executives on the other side of the Atlantic would be made by residents who have a good grasp on their region’s particular needs. They would be less willing to cut positions to cut costs because they would understand the impact it would have on them to do so. Places with more dramatic weather need more people to maintain their infrastructure, and this is understood best by the people who live there, not the owners of some company who are not affected by the fallout of their decisions in any way other than how much money they can make off them.
For example: Syracuse, NY, where I went to college, is the snowiest city in the U.S., and accordingly has a large and dedicated fleet of snowplows. The roads remained clear and drivable even through an unusually heavy week of continuous lake-effect snow two years ago, when the city got four feet of snow in the span of four days. Gaithersburg, MD, where some of my cousins grew up, does not have this infrastructure, because snow is very rare. If Syracuse’s city government made its snow-plowing decisions based on the assumptions of the government of MD, it would be helplessly encased in snow. And, the other way around, Gaithersburg would experience a giant waste of resources it would almost never use if it were run like Syracuse.
But, of course, since our private sector is geared towards profitability, not quality of service, it makes sense to the previous owners’ so-called “rational” self-interest to take a utility that is necessary to the well-being of the people of New York and sell it to a foreign conglomerate that doesn’t understand the needs of New York. So what if it leads to confusion, understaffing, and prolonged blackouts? It’s good for the investors!