Monday, April 12, 2010

true things about gender that you can learn from watching Avatar:

(Some of you may have seen this before; it's a belated crosspost of something I said someplace else. To everyone else, hi again! I haven't forgotten you - just not in a bloggy mood atm).

1. No matter how much more experienced, more intelligent and more educated a woman might be than a given guy, he is still going to get more honoured for his accomplishments than she is.

2. If a guy repeatedly nags a woman, oversteps her clearly stated personal barriers and ignores her 'no's and her requests to be left alone, he won't be in any way punished for this. The woman in question may then be forced to give him her time, energy and attention.

3. Women are expected to 'civilise' and to educate men, even if they don't want to.

4. Related: in any mixed-gender officialdom, low-reward educative roles will be disproportionately occupied by women. (Trufax, just ask the next female education rep you see. In any group. Anywhere.)

5a). Also related: if a woman is better/more experienced than a guy at anything, it's only so she can teach him how to be more badass at that thing. She will never be referred to as a 'stone-cold sky hunter' or whatever the hell it was, no matter how many years of experience she has at it. If it's at all technical/athletic/masculine, no one will ever say that she was 'born to' do it, even if she was.
5b). The guy will end up with a more pimping ride than her.

6. Men are expected to choose a woman to pursue from a range of possible partners. Women are then expected to say 'yay' or 'nay'. Everyone is expected to be heterosexual.

7. 'Masculine' feats are easy ways to win public belonging. Even the possibility that you might have a masculine role - a warrior, in Avatar context - offers you potential value in the eyes of the people in control of your life, who are men.

8. So-called anthropologists will ascribe rigid gender binaries to the cultures they study. If the intelligence of non-white women is recognised, it's classed as cultural/religious rather than logical/scientific.

9. You will wind up in the magical data treefridge.

... :/


I am tired of seeing that stupid story over and over. I mean (when I wasn't trying to find a way to get my giant 3d glasses to stay on my face) there were camera angles in that movie that provoked physical-based emotional reactions from me, I was really wanting to get into it, but the fucking fratboy bullshit mentality was so frustrating that, god, I reached this point about 3/4s of the way through where I literally had tears leaking out of my eyes at how stupidly racist and sexist the story was. I was wishing it was a videogame because then I could have wandered about in it and talked to all the NPCs instead of looking 'down' on them camerawise as they sat on the floor and gyrated oh god James Cameron what is wrong with you? however gratuitous and crazy Zhang Yimou is at least he gives the impression of knowing that I exist and that I have a point of view.

...So basically I just switched off after that and started msting it with some of the imaginary people in my head, and had this tremendously eerie, detached moment of looking at the massed flying dino armies, asking 'so what would you do?' and getting that 3 Daft Monkeys line in reply:
Do you think gods hang round in bars and compare armies that they've got?


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

a sorta-eco-urbanist reading of flOwer.

[fitting that my first post here in a long while is batshit fannish insane, BUT HEY.]

flOwer is an unusual videogame. It's a downloadable game for Sony's PS3, costs $10, and has a novel and touching style of gameplay, in which you direct an ever-growing cloud of petals around the game's landscapes, touching flowers on the ground to 'bloom' them and alter the environment. New colours and sounds spring up as you touch things; some flowers are triggers that alter the landscape more dramatically. A cliff might crumble, a stone circle might open, or a turbine might start spinning.

There are no words in flOwer, but its six levels provide a distinct political narrative about rural and urban environments. They're the dreams of six flowers sitting in pots on an urban windowsill.

So the game starts inside the city. We see its grey horizon out of the window, and we're given odd clips of it at the start of the levels; tall towers, traffic, feral birds. (People are never pictured in focus in flOwer, and given that it's a game about human environments that struck me as potentially troubling. But it's part of the game's aesthetic). The game starts when you zoom in on a flower and are transported from the city to a rural idyll; a landscape of hills and meadow dotted with rock formations. There are no signs of human existence here - or to put it another way, there's no technology. This dualism raises its head throughout the entire game; there's nature, and then there's tech, and they might mingle to form something that's a bit of both, but they're still portrayed as being two separate poles. Explore flOwer's nature scene, and you'll change it - open up new areas, change the direction of the wind that carries you - but there's still this sense that here, at the start of all things, the landscape is virgin, the organic whole.

This is an origin story. And oh damn am I obsessed with the Cyborg Manifesto this year:

An origin story in the 'Western', humanist sense depends on the myth of original unity, fullness, bliss and terror, represented by the phallic mother from whom all humans must separate, the task of individual development and of history, the twin potent myths inscribed most powerfully for us in psychoanalysis and Marxism. Hilary Klein has argued that both Marxism and psychoanalysis, in their concepts of labour and of individuation and gender formation, depend on the plot of original unity out of which difference must be produced and enlisted in a drama of escalating domination of woman/nature.

Origin stories are never true, especially not when it comes to cities.

And yet, there's other moments in flOwer when technology seems to be framed more like something that arises from nature. It's exploring its own conceit, even if its tech tree is, at times, bizarre.

The second flowerpot introduces human design in the form of stone circles - rings of megaliths tilted inwards. (And I love this.) You continue to explore, opening flowers with a touch, and when you've opened the right flowers the megaliths draw apart and tilt outward - opening just like the flowers. Can you define the megaliths as a form of technology? Certainly it's a human working on the landscape that, because it is primitive, gets a pass at being flower-like, natural.

The third moves us on to wind turbines. Touch the flowers, and their arms start spinning.

Bit of a hop, isn't it? I don't know what the Civ beeline for stone circles-->wind power would be, but, it's all aesthetic anyway; the game's connecting rural idylls with pagan prehistory with wind turbines, like it's sketching out the interests of the hippie/new-age movement.

Turbines, see, are still Good Tech. They move with the breeze; they aren't affecting the empty landscape, but the landscape is affecting them. And in between these levels, we're still seeing the city in all its grim grey glory; the flowers are dreaming of this better way, far from reality but coming ever closer.

Part 4 was the one which touched me the most. It was set in night, swooping from sunset towards sunrise through a dark and lonely sky, and one of the ways in which my actions altered the landscape was to make light. The ground became luminous, and the central tech element, overhead power lines bearing lamps, started to glow.

Aside from the power lines, there were a few other signs of human activity; small, round haystacks, overturned carts, white-chalk paths, and some fences. The fences unnerved me. The game was gradually leading you back to the human race, and the designers had chosen to use the division of land as an icon to represent that journey - land that at the start of the game was entirely untouched and empty. Later, I could see the story they were telling there - a condensed historical narrative that shows enclosure leading us to industrialisation and industrialisation leading us to the cities - but at the time I felt like I was wandering the Ridgeway in the little hours again.

It was about light, this little nightscape level. The scene in the city before it began showed a streetlamp flickering; the city is breaking. At the start of the dream, the turbines we'd seen in the last level set the power flowing, and your actions then made the power flow towards the city - until the end of the level, where the lights began flickering like the one in the city, and the landscape changed into an industrial dystopia, full of smog and twisted pylons. It's dark here, but there's a blue flower blooming in the murk.

So cities are broken and wrong and can only be enlightened by your twee flower power narrative? Right. The snark, I can't help it, I detest rural idylls. :/ I love nature. I love human nature. There's as much of nature in the city as anywhere else.

Part 5 is the most grim, and the one that made me most sceptical of the game's ethos. We're close to the city, in a grey maze of pipelines, pylons and power lines, still lit by those dim orange lights. It's the only part of the game where the environment can hurt you, burning your comet of petals down to almost nothing if you brush against one of the spitting black transformers. And if you manage to open the flowers without touching any of these obstacles, what happens? These tech features untwist and become sleek and silver, they can't hurt you any more and - this is what really killed me - the orange lights are replaced with white CFL mercury bulbs.

*headdesk* Even the CCC (and I am no great fan of the CCC) urge people to, if they care about the environment, stop faffing about plastic bags and lightbulbs and start lobbying your government to stop airport expansion and close coal plants. flOwer is taking the other path, describing ecological problems and reducing them to the consumer question of which object is better than which other object and, oh, it's all down to you, you directing your cloud of flowers, you making little changes one by one. Even if you see the flower cloud as a group of individuals rather than as an avatar of a single individual player, it's still a horribly flawed way to talk about environmentalism, or even energy efficiency - they're not individualist issues, they're problems that start at the top and can only be tackled on a grand scale. And if you are going to do anything about it as individuals? I'm reminded of the woman who organised a disruption of Drax, the huge coal plant in northern England: she spoke afterwards about how easy it had been, and how few people it would take to inconvenience the place on a regular basis.

But flOwer is, itself, a consumer product; it might be odder if it didn't portray efficiency and environmentalism in consumerist terms. It's a beautiful picture of 'being the change', so long as you don't try to apply it to the real-world problem they're describing.

The fifth level ends at the gates of the city, so by the time the sixth began, I was already in full-on sceptic mode. We're in the city now. What we're changing with our actions is the city - filling it with colour, clearing out the wreckage, opening the gates. It seemed like that dualism again, the rural idyll entering on the urban dystopia and Making It Better. There are no people in the city. You don't have to worry about gentrification, or any of the other creepy human implications that creep in when you start Making Cities Better. flOwer's hate-on for the high-rise is all well and good, and you know I believe in a forest called London, but the elevation of the floral over the urban did not move me.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that I could have read it all in a more positive way, but the lack of people to centre that reading around makes it hard to do. I instinctively side with the city in all its dirty chaos. I'd ask for a game where the urban invades the rural, unravels its twists and leaves it sterile and overgroomed or not at all; but that game is called The Real World.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

continue / exit

Three quick gamer links here, because I hope to get my groove back (though, as followers of my deadjournal may have noticed, I am slightly obsessed with a certain videogame right now, so who knows?):

a) From VorpalBunnyRanch, a great look at how the nature of violence in videogames is skewed by the protagonist's gender. In a brief follow-up it's noted how survival horror breaks the general rules regarding women and violence/action - this genre also stands out among films, something noted by Randall Monroe here in Two Female Leads.

Perhaps the more a story blurs the lines between violent heroes (or villains) and victims of violence, the more likely it is to have active female characters? I am, inevitably, thinking about how that works in Metal Gear, a game series in which women frequently commit acts of violence, but generally bloodlessly, or from a distance - with the exception of that one group of villain/victims/survival horror exhibits in MGS4. *le sigh*

b) From the Beeb, a survey of MMO players; 40% are female, they're more likely to put hardcore time into it than male gamers are, and - get this - female gamers are 5x more likely to be bisexual than the general population. (My guess: bisexuality is massively underreported in the 'general population', and if you did something as simple as matching gamers with non-gamers by age and perhaps social class, the difference would close significantly. Another possible explanation is that game design is inimical to straight female desires and makes straight women slightly less likely to play MMOs than gay women - gee, I wonder how that might have happened?)

[addendum:: see also some scepticism from Kotaku: "...these are the results of a voluntary study in which participants received a free in-game item for participating, so I can't really see how they can even begin to pretend that they tallied accurate results. If I was told to complete a study in order to receive a free in-game item, I'd complete that puppy so fast that I might have wound up one of those hardcore bisexual raider women. Think about that before you start fantasizing about that hot wood elf you saw running about Qeynos."]

c) Merry Christmas from VGCats!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

squees, lies, videogames.

Erm, okay, I may have lied about no more election stuff. I was seduced into giving more election links by this amazing photo-series. Just keep hitting 'show more images', it's lovely. But I have gamer-girl stuff to share too, I promise!

A little over eight months ago, Michelle Obama said to a crowd of her husband's supporters, "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country." She took a lot of flak for that statement, and was called unpatriotic, 'ungrateful', and generally accused of being a nasty strident Sapphire who didn't know her place. Yesterday two good friends of mine each said pretty well exactly that, a third (who lives abroad) said that she no longer feels ashamed when people realise she's American, and Kyrias, a long-standing US resident, is considering filing for citizenship. A lot of people at Feministe are also echoing Michelle's remarks.

With provisional and absentee ballots to sort, the last calls are still being made; Georgia was finally settled for McCain earlier today, but I'm not sure if the Senate call (it will be a runoff election, because the Libertarians prevented anyone getting 50% of the vote) has been formalised. North Carolina went for Obama by 14000 votes, again due to those pesky Libertarians; Missouri is likely McCain but still to be called - on Super Tuesday it was prematurely called for Clinton but the final count flipped it to Obama, so I guess they're trying not to make a mistake again this time. The only other outstanding presidential count is in the city of Omaha, custodian of one of Nebraska's five votes; they're busy opening the last 15000 ballots, and it's relatively likely that Obama will eke out a tiny win. This would be the first time either of the splitting states - Maine and Nebraska - have actually split their votes; personally I think it would be more fun, and lead to more engagement, if all states split their votes by congressional district.

They're also still counting in the Alaska senate race, where seven-times felon Ted Stevens has probably pulled out a win. (Nate has a post about how Alaska skewed dramatically away from pre-election opinion polls, with the Republicans overperforming by +12% in all election races, not just the Senate). If so, he will be thrown out of the Senate and Alaska will join Georgia in having a December 2nd special; I fear the seat is Ms Hun's if she wants it. It's a shame because this was the one real chance of getting a left-wing Alaskan into the Senate. :/ The Oregon Senate race has been belatedly called for the Democrats, but Minnesota is in the throes of a full recount.

Saxby Chambliss, btw, did manage to find time to get even lower and shittier right before the election. Also, I am linking this just for one great sentence: "Nate Silver taught numbers how to fuck."

Now, gamer shit: if there's one videogame movie the world really doesn't need, it's this one.

This blog post contains a PDF file of the best gaming article I've ever read. It's about people who still play Pac-Man and other old arcade games competitively, and it contains the phrases 'meditative states' and 'gamer ontologies'. I thought I was the only person in the world who cared about gamer ontologies and I am so not. That article is very long but it made me so very happy.

The one thing I found off about it is that it framed classic gaming as being so completely a matter of male homosociality. This puzzles me because one of my housemates is a classic gamer - an obsessive Dr Mario player - and I often find myself sat drinking coffee while hypnotised by her arrays of primary-coloured pills. She is not an 'adept', and rarely squeaks past level 23, and is not part of any gamer club that I know of. And I like watching people play games, even ones I suck at (especially ones I suck at). I also know a person with a basement full of consoles from long ago - Ataris and the like. Yep, she's a chick. I don't know any men who still play classic games, only these two women. The article only mentions one woman among the many gamers it discusses, adepts and audience members both, and prefers to put women in the background caring for the gamers in their lives but not partaking. I suspect that this is an old idea at work - that what men do with their free time is serious, worthy, even sacred, but women have only their tasks and their fripperies. It's not true IRL obv, only in the media.

And here at Vorpal Bunny Ranch (which truly is the best-named website ever) is another wonderful article marred by the assumption of male homosociality. It's about the role of the dandy as a male stereotype in videogames, and it has Balthier in it just to make me happy:
It is a common stereotype that we have come to expect--if a man is not muscular and cannot save the day through his forceful body or strength, then he has to be crafty, making him either a man of questionable morals or a villain himself.

... You cannot trust the man who does not use his hands for physical labor and counts on magic and deceit to achieve his goals--how loathsome.

Is it that surprising that this happens in videogames? Not at all. Consider that, in general, the dandy is a male who is considered feminized by his opposition to the male principle of power through strength.

That post makes some great points but I think it's slightly crippled by comparing men only to other men, when electric culture is really way more level about gender; it talks about Balthier as a dandy, and yes he does have a claymore-swinging foil whose story is about grappling with the male principle of power through strength...and that person is Ashe, a chick, so there you go.

Also speaking of chicks, Nintendo have been surveying DS players in Osaka. The biggest user block of all is boys aged 10-12, but the second biggest is women in their early 30s. At most ages, women are more likely than men to use a DS.

Did any of you hear about the Little Big Planet recall? A classic case of oversensitivity at work; songwriter Toumani Diabate, a Malian Muslim, included two lines from the Koran in a song he wrote for the game - something that's apparently common in Mali's music culture. When Sony realised this they went apeshit and recalled the game. M. Zuhdi Jasser, head of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, has no idea what their fucking problem was: "The fact that the music writer is a devout Muslim should highlight that at the core of this issue is not about offending 'all Muslims', but only about freedom of expression and the free market." Tycho, meanwhile, points out that Little Big Planet is a game centred on user-generated content, which - as I said re. the Hot Coffee mod a while ago - is inevitably going to cross every line the designers, censors and raters attempt to draw. It's the end user who chooses the content, not you.
No matter what this song contained, rated by some universal standard for blasphemy, the things you could do with the included toolset would make any scholar of Islam beg for the days when the holy scriptures were merely set to a jaunty beat. [...]

No-one was watching when modding became something like a gamer's right. Now, the mainstream perches in every high corner, shifting its weight like Poe's raven, positively starved for evidence that this incredible medium bears within it the dissolution of a generation.

This is why Microsoft doesn't want to get within ten miles of this shit.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

a quick note before bedtime:

CNN and other press agencies called Georgia for McCain at about 11pm; the Associated Press and Georgia's local press organs did not do so. Now we know why: roughly 600 000 early votes cast in the Atlanta area were not included in that initial count.

Whether McCain really won GA or not doesn't matter so much, but this is likely to push Saxby Chambliss into a Senate runoff or even out of the Senate entirely.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

For Every Five Tanks: an election link post

[Or, as one FiveThirtyEight commenter said a couple of days ago, 'We are all Fake Virginians now.']

I've been collecting shiny things to share with you all - expect another post soon, because this one is a special place for any and all election crap. I want this election over already; we already know who's won, so it's just another couple of weeks of unnecessary ugly.

First, the obvious: do you see the BotherVoting banner in my sidebar? Yeah? You can probably do it already - just google 'early voting [your home state]' and you should find out where and when it's available. Here's all the early voting info for GA. You can go vote right now if you live in Georgia - and next week, from Monday til Friday, the polls are open until 7pm. Whoever you're voting for, early votes benefit your candidate because the more people in your area have voted already, the less resources they'll need to put into it on November 4th.

Is Georgia a safe state for the Republicans? They think so - so much so that they're running their GA campaign out of an office in freaking Tallahassee and local Republican chairmen are accusing the campaign of 'leaving it to chance'. Nate isn't quite so sure. The answer is 'probably'. But that doesn't matter because Saxby Chambliss - the US Senate's gaping asshole - is up for reelection, and your vote against him most assuredly matters. Whoever you're supporting for the presidency - Obama, McCain, a third-party (both the Greens and Libertarians are running native Georgians this year - have they forgotten who the last Georgian president was?) or a write-in candidate - please get rid of Chambliss. His opponent, Jim Martin, even has virtues beyond not being Saxby Chambliss.

Wherever you are in the USA, if you have any trouble at the polls you can contact the Voter Protection Center at 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Look at the Incident Tracker at Voter Suppression Wiki to check problem reports in your area, so you know what to look out for. Robert F Kennedy's written an article about voter suppression here.

Now the fun stuff: Obama bought advertising in an Xbox 360 game, Burnout Paradise. A pretty shallow move, but a smart one; it's unlikely that any frat boys are going to abruptly hit pause and run out and early-vote solely on the strength of this one banner in this one game - but the magpies in the news media all go OOH OMGZ SHINY TECH and spend five minutes of our lives expounding on this sentiment. I don't know what an in-game banner ad costs, but I'm betting it's less than five minutes of primetime. (I'm against in-game ads - once you've bought something as expensive as a game console and something to play on it, it's irritating to have people trying to eke more money out of your gaming on top of that - but hey, that's why I don't play Xbox crap). It gets game culture talking too, not that they didn't already love Obama simply for not being Hillary Clinton - here's a collection of fan-made mockups of Obama in-game ads. Portal, oh my! (And the Metal Gear one is totally an unintended and unfortunate Dar Williams injoke. God, I love Metal Gear.)

Onto the Shiny Things: Losers Edition, starting with this: The Front-Runner’s Fall, or, Joshua Green's write-up of a batch of emails, memos and minutes he was given by staffers from the Clinton campaign following that campaign's decease. He's made a good story out of it, and the material itself is online for your perusal. Much of it is unintentionally hilarious in retrospect, not least the March 2007 memo in which Mark Penn wrote, "The right knows Obama is unelectable except perhaps against Attila the Hun," a statement that perhaps McCain should have noted before selecting Ms Hun to be his running mate.

[One quick aside about Ms Hun, while I'm here: all the blithering yak recorded here at the Beeb about her freaking $150000 fashion budget is positioning her in the same frame as Cindy and Michelle rather than John, Joe and Barack. For the love of god, why? She's being interviewed for the same job as Joe, right?]

Also about Clinton; it's months old now, but I only just read Sean Quinn's piece about how he'd flipped during the primaries from admiring and defending Clinton to feeling completely alienated by her - and how she might yet win him back. The apology he hoped for never happened, but personally I don't think it matters - Clinton's presidential ambitions were already over anyway, and I suspect they would've been either way; an apology would've been way too much ammo. Also, Quinn mentions the Jack Thompson pontificating!

Here, if you like that sort of thing, is an incredibly classy and meticulously annotated torrid rant, hosted at

...Does it worry anyone else that every right-wing debacle in the last fifty years involves the same twelve assholes? Need another example? Remember the fuckwads who put out a push-poll claiming McCain had an illegitimate black child back in 2000? The same guys McCain said had a "special place in hell"? Hell, apparently, is the McCain campaign, cause he fucking hired them.

Which I guess isn't that surprising, since McCain has changed positions more times than Jenna Jameson in a double feature. But not on important issues. Just stuff like privatizing Social Security, the Bush tax cuts, coastal drilling, ethanol, gay adoption, affirmative action, the estate tax, torture and negotiating with Cuba, Hamas, and Syria.

Okay okay, here's some genuine class from John Perry Barlow, hosted here, and yes, it too has naughty words in it. (h/t Daisy). The thrust of the piece is echoing something Sean Quinn said (implicitly) in his piece about Clinton - the internet lets you look at this sodding horserace in a close and on-the-spot way, and if you're looking through that lens you wind up liking Obama more and his opponents much, much less:

However, since God is merciful, McCain probably doesn't know what I'm talking about. He's watching the campaign on television where he's presented with an edit of reality that is far less damning to him and his campaign than the one I've been watching on the Internet. John McCain is blessed indeed to be spared the online version of himself.


If he watched the much more elaborate coverage of the campaign on the Internet, even McCain would have to be in awe of the fact that Senator Obama has shown almost superhuman dignity, humor (as opposed to sarcasm), and that quality that Hemingway defined as courage, "grace under pressure" even while being carpet-bombed, first by the Clintons and now the McCain/Palin Golem, with six months of sucker punches, lies, trivialities, the guilt of distant or even non-existent associations (often involving black people behaving ungracefully), and now, finally, the direct incitement of murderous intent in crowds spiked with many people who are insane with racial hatred, well-armed, and trained by their government in the accurate use of long-range weapons.

He would have seen the look of enlightened acceptance on Obama's face tonight when McCain fiercely declared his pride in the people who attended his rallies, including, presumably, the ones who shout "kill him" and "off with his head."

If you've time, be sure to watch the six-minute video Barlow points out - the original dialogue between Obama and Joe The Plumber. 'You will see a presidential candidate stop and take the time to explain more and in more respectful detail about his tax program to a single plumber from Ohio than McCain has ever explained anything - besides misrepresentations of Obama's resume - to the entire American public during the length of this campaign.' I think that it shows the flipside of the yay-internets line Barlow's pushing here; an intelligent, nuanced policy explanation, given entirely off the (rolled-up) cuff there, got edited into a ridiculous bogeyman about socialism. These powers can be used for both good and evil, and we should not take them for granted.

Any and all McCain rants draw from the original and greatest, that one Rolling Stone knifing. Very long and, if there's one thing the last fucking year has proved it's that you can write a thorough character assassination on anyone. Just read those 2007 Penn memos about Obama. But hey.

(It remains strange that McCain hasn't pressed what is, in pure common-sense terms, Obama's one great policy weakness - the ethanol subsidies. Dear gods, are you trying to cook our seas and starve us all to death? Are Iowa's seven EVs worth that much to you? *le sigh* I guess this is what happens when you keep having to cast votes for politicians but, as Ford Prefect said, 'if they didn’t vote for a lizard, the wrong lizard might get in.')

Finally, here's that one photograph Colin Powell was so touched by. Take a look.

Monday, October 13, 2008

when he said 'rely on' he meant 'totally f*ing ignore'

I want this election to be over. It seems like the far-right limbo bar is dropping by the day; how low can they go, I ask? Did they reach their limit yesterday? No, they did not! How much further? They have, what, another three weeks in which to remain in the hole and keep digging.

So let me regale you with a quickly-buried weekend news incident, one which sank almost as fast as the Troopergate report. Its timeline goes something like this:

August 15th: in those Rick Warren religious-test-for-public-office interviews of McCain and Obama, McCain and Obama are both asked 'Who are the three wisest people that you know, that you would rely on heavily in an administration?'

McCain names General David Petraeus, John Lewis and Meg Whitman.

October 11th: John Lewis releases this statement:

As one who was a victim of violence and hate during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, I am deeply disturbed by the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign. What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.

During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.

As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all. They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy. We can do better. The American people deserve better.

Here's the McCain response:

Congressman John Lewis’ comments represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale. The notion that legitimate criticism of Senator Obama’s record and positions could be compared to Governor George Wallace, his segregationist policies and the violence he provoked is unacceptable and has no place in this campaign. I am saddened that John Lewis, a man I’ve always admired, would make such a brazen and baseless attack on my character and the character of the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events to cheer for the kind of reform that will put America on the right track.

"I call on Senator Obama to immediately and personally repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments that are so clearly designed to shut down debate 24 days before the election. Our country must return to the important debate about the path forward for America."

And the Obama campaign's response to the McCain response:

Sen. Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies.

But John Lewis was right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric that John McCain himself personally rebuked just last night, as well as the baseless and profoundly irresponsible charges from his own running mate that the Democratic nominee for president of the United States 'pals around with terrorists.' As Barack Obama has said himself, the last thing we need from either party is the kind of angry, divisive rhetoric that tears us apart at a time of crisis when we desperately need to come together. That is the kind of campaign Sen. Obama will continue to run in the weeks ahead.

I first read about this on this 538 thread. Several older commenters there said they believed that the comparison between Palin's rallies and Wallace's rallies was a valid one.

Friday, October 03, 2008

good news for geeks

Jack Thompson has been permanently disbarred from practising law in the state of Florida, and I gather that means he'll have a hard time lawyering anywhere else either. To which the world says: about damn time. Thompson described himself in his most recent news release as "nationally and internationally known by virtue of his effective and successful opposition over the last 20 years to the broadcast, marketing, and sale of adult-rated entertainment to children". He also calls himself a 'faith-based activist' and 'Christian lawyer'. (The National Institute on Media and the Family, however, which normally loves this stuff, have told him to please stop mentioning them because he has a 'negative influence' on their reputation and work).

an aside for non-gamers who read here: this is why Hillary Clinton has such a fuck-awful reputation among gamers. There are many gamers who hold as that their one voting metric Anyone But Hillary. I mention this because I've recently seen this universal antipathy gamers have to Clinton cited as evidence of misogyny in gamer culture - ffs, if you want evidence of misogyny in gaming, there is no shortage of it to be found, but a desperate wish for your special lady to never be president ever is not it. To someone who plays a lot of games and doesn't care too much for politics, a desperate wish for your special lady to never be president is a perfectly logical opinion, and telling them they should believe otherwise because she's such a nice woman will just cause them to file you in the 'stupid' folder.

Thompson's got cosy with a fair few politicians over the years, including Rick Santorum and Joe Lieberman, but it's Clinton who fell for it the hardest. It was Clinton who he sucked in to the ridiculous Hot Coffee drama, somehow making her forget that the average gamer is well above voting age and would regard her as absurd for grandstanding over something so petty, and of incredibly poor judgement for listening to Thompson at all.

We can't know what drove Clinton to listen to Thompson. A bit of background vetting alone would've showed him to be way lacking in the reasonable human being department. There is so much batshit it's hard to know where to start, but these three fantastic paragraphs from (yes!) Wikipedia convey the flavour of the man, at least:

In October 2007, Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno sealed court documents submitted by Thompson in the Florida Bar case that depicted "gay sex acts." Thompson's submission prompted U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan on to order Thompson to show cause why his actions should not be filed as a grievance with the court's Ad Hoc Committee on Attorney Admissions, Peer Review and Attorney Grievance, but the order was dismissed after Thompson promised not to file any more pornography. [...]

In February 2008, The Florida Supreme Court ordered Thompson to show cause as to why it should not reject future court filings from him unless they are signed by another Florida Bar member. The Florida Supreme Court described his filings as "repetitive, frivolous and insult[ing to] the integrity of the court," particularly one in which Thompson, claiming concern about "the court's inability to comprehend his arguments," filed a motion including images of "swastikas, kangaroos in court, a reproduced dollar bill, cartoon squirrels, Paul Simon, Paul Newman, Ray Charles, a handprint with the word 'slap' written under it, Bar Governor Benedict P. Kuehne, a baby, Ed Bradley, Jack Nicholson, Justice Clarence Thomas, Julius Caesar, monkeys, [and] a house of cards." Thompson claimed that the order "wildly infringes" on his constitutional rights and was "a brazen attempt" to repeal the First Amendment right to petition the government to redress grievances. In response, he sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, referring to the show-cause order as a criminal act done in retaliation for his seeking relief with the court.

On March 20, 2008, the Florida Supreme Court imposed sanctions on Thompson, requiring that any of his future filings in the court be signed by a member of The Florida Bar other than himself. The court noted that Thompson had responded to the show cause order with multiple "rambling, argumentative, and contemptuous" responses that characterized the show cause order as "bizarre" and "idiotic."

But his best moments have been his infamous altercations with Gabe. First, the famous phone call, then the $10000 pwning and subsequent allegation of 'criminal harassment' (second post onward), and finally he accused Penny Arcade of 'collaborating to commit racketeering' with several other gaming websites.

[edit: I totally missed this before, but Thompson's disbarment occurred on Gabe's birthday. Aaaaw.]

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

1s, 0s, Xs, Ys

Drama tiem: truly epic internets delivered by the central clique of Wikipedia. If you want a cosier telling of the story, one of the chief victims of the associated flamewars tells their story here.

Short version: 19 different Wikipedians, including several moderators and administrators at several different Wikipedia-related projects (Wikiquote, Wikisource, Wikinfo, Wikipedia Review), turn out to be all the same person [link goes to ED, you know it's not worksafe, or any other sort of safe]. Yay sockpuppeting, and added drama because;
a) the most major sock wrote on a lot of sex-related topics, and was heavily involved in 'Wipipedia', a fetish wiki I'd never heard of before now;
b) many of the socks used photographs of very attractive, often scantily-clad, women to represent their identity, something which had apparently bought favour in previous edit wars;
c) the IRLer who runs these socks presents as a cisgender guy. His sockpuppets got caught out due to complaints from the partner of one of the women whose photos he was using.

h/t Seth Finkelstein.

What Seth sees as the key thing here is the collision between the perceived significance of the work the Wikipedia social circle is doing - the Shiny Happy Website - and the very human drama it's spawned. The same applies to a lot of online enterprises, especially the ones which make embarrassingly large stacks of money from human beings socialising with other human beings; they give us a place to put words, and we use words to build places, homes, stages for ourselves, and these places are not reliably honest, they are fragile to destruction from a large number of threats, and are never owned and governed as common public spaces. (People on Brad Hicks's site are talking lately about how MMOs are starting to dispense with public forums, which makes it hard for users to pass on complaints and suggestions. I am sure they do this because people are impossible).

But, couple of other things jumped out of me:

Gender variance is, as ever, being punished. It's that image of gender as being some mile-high wall that must be patrolled rigorously because for someone to walk straight through it as if it's not really there would be simply the most awful thing ever. It's the idea of gender variance as being an act of 'deception'. [edit: Lisa Harney, in comments, points out that I am conflating trans people with gender-variant people in this post, when IRL the two are different categories. I suck at framing things about how much other people make sucky assumptions.]

The person who instigated this drama lives a day-to-day life as a man, but usually presented on the internet as a woman. To be misled, especially by someone you've personally placed an emotional stake in and supported in times of trouble when you would not have done if you'd known more, is very hurtful. But that's not what happened on the Wikipedia Review site. I am so not linking, but I read a few pages of their reaction to all this, and they are referring to this person as 'thing' and 'it'. I've heard this one before. It's not genuine upset, it's personal embarrassment (and I don't even get why it's embarrassing, but hey, I bat for both sides so what would I know?) of a form which we know can be easily turned into murderous hatred, and which is already speaking the language of that hatred. It is transphobia.

Back when I first blogged a bit about anonymity and identities on the internet I mentioned The Strange Case Of The Electronic Lover. This was another instance of someone who lived as a man presenting online as a woman, and engaging in flirtatious and sexual behaviour online before being 'found out'. Joan/Alex, unlike the socks in the Wikipedia drama, sought out women as partners rather than men. There is a temptation to regard the upset of the people who believed they were building a sexual connection online with a cisgendered woman differently when they're women to when they're men. Partly it's because of the whiny strictures of 'masculinity'; the twinned homophobia & transphobia, the bullshit insistence that sexual contact with something other than a cis woman is a breaking of those strictures, makes a man weak, a target for ridicule - that's the supposed reason that wall between genders must be maintained.

And partly it's because women are accustomed to fearing sexual assault by men.

At Wikipedia Review, there is some talk of the 'real victims' - the women whose intimate photos the sock made use of. Nothing has been heard from them personally about how they feel about this violation. There's a wonderful recent Shameless post called Private Parts vs Private Places that notes that the dangers you attract when you put personal information on the internet are framed as threats of theft and trespass if you're a man, threats of beatings and sexual assaults if you're a woman.

This is crappy media framing. Most media trepidations about the truths we tell on the internet are. The real dangers on the internet are the same as the real dangers IRL - you can waste your time, break your heart, lose your soul, hit a rut, meet God amid the ones and zeroes, quit caring, or move on. In a purely physical sense it's safer than IRL. And yet, that media bias Shameless is writing about is also reflective of the way women really are treated on the internet. Like these women whose bodies were appropriated by this mad puppeteer. Shit, back when I was a bbs mod we once had to deal with a stalker who was posting topless photographs of one of our female members.

Then there's this, which happened to me about a year ago (click image to see it in a readable size):

Perhaps I've been lucky, but it was only time this has happened to me since I was a 15-year-old AOLer. I'd say it's not so much down to chance as architecture - I shared the lulz with some other folks online, and one (a straight cis far as I know) said that he'd been hassled for netsex by men on Limewire; perhaps filesharing and chatrooming lend themselves to solicitation more than other forms of online communication. Soulseek's profile settings serve to make it chattier than other such programs; the twunt originally said he'd IMed me because I'd listed the Nine Inch Nails under 'I like'. (I deleted that immediately after).

I reacted to all this in a predictable fashion; became both pissed-off and very amused, and sought Revenge. I screencapped the lulz; I banned him from downloading from me; and I went to Soulseek's FAQ to see if there was any comment on how to report abuse and annoyance. There wasn't. Sure, each internet banana republic creates its own standards, but having no harassment policy is the sort of oversight that may not be so common if they weren't all run by guys. It's due to Wikipedia's poor response to abuse reports that it took two years from the first complaint about that sock's use of intimate pictures of unconsenting women until this ban, now; they simply have no system in place to respond to this problem.

Friday, September 26, 2008

FMT: an intriguing new fail.

As I've already said, at great length, I take great exception to the way male sf/f/h writers get so hung up on sex work. And if most or all of the women in their story are sex workers, that's a really bad sign. But this, this is interesting, I dare say not good, but at least original in the realms of failure.

[Both the links in the next paragraph rate a warning for talk about rape/SA in abstract & imaginary situations.] has this piece up on what it describes as 'zombie feminism'. Basically it's a horror movie trend that's very like r&r in 80s fantasy fiction. They've written about three zombie films with unusual implications for women, but it's the second that pinged the FMT radar - Zombie Strippers:

This flick features porn star Jenna Jameson as a stripper bitten by a zombie infected by a government drug to keep soldiers fighting after they die. The more zombie-fied she gets, the more the clientele goes crazy for her. Even when she drags men into the back room and rips their throats out and bites their dicks off. Soon, the other strippers are begging to be infected too, so they can make more in tips.

Before long, nearly all the strippers are infected, and they've got a giant basement room full of all the reanimated, mutilated men they've been gnawing on. None of these strippers are being raped or murdered by men — they're just dealing with standard-issue stuff like objectification and the dangers of working in the sex industry. And yet it's hard not to see their undeaths as a kind of revenge on men who treat women like objects. These guys come to the strip club to "get some meat," and then they're turned into meat themselves.

The problem here is that the men actually like it. Their favorite strippers are the zombies, and the women have gained "power" only by becoming monsters. Just as our girl in Deadgirl can only fight back because she's a monster. So is the message of zombie feminism that a strong women is always a monster? That she must die and return as a ghoul in order to fight back against rape and less violent forms of sexism?