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 guy...as 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.]

io9.com 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?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Everything I Just Said, But Better

...was put online by David Wong, like, the day after I posted my version. The complete title of Wong's piece is 6 Brainwashing Techniques They're Using On You Right Now [mildly NSFW] - here are the relevant bits.

#4. Controlling What You Watch and Read:
Studies show the brain is wired to get a quick high from reading things that agree with our point of view. The same studies proved that, strangely, we also get a rush from intentionally dismissing information that disagrees, no matter how well supported it is. Yes, our brain rewards us for being closed-minded dicks.

So with a little prodding, the followers will happily close themselves in the same echo chamber of talk radio, blogs and cable news outlets that give them that little "They agree with ME!" high.

This wouldn't have been possible even 20 years ago. I grew up in the 80s, in a house with three TV stations. Three. We got one newspaper, the local one. You didn't get to pick from the conservative news or liberal news, back in my day you took what you got and you were thankful for what you had, dammit.

Today, I go through that many outlets a day just to get my freaking video game news.

And now, that explosion of the 24-hour cable news stations and, later, the web and blogosphere, has created these parallel universes of Right vs. Left media outlets, complete with their own publishing arms.

And for each, their favorite topic of discussion is how corrupt and ridiculous the other side's media is. They each even have "watchdog" groups that exist purely for the reason of hammering away at each other (the left has FAIR and MediaMatters, the right has the Media Research Center).

Recently Seen:
When an MSNBC interview with candidate John McCain got tense, he responded to the question by openly accusing the reporter of being an operative for the other side:

Just days later the campaign called The New York Times "a pro-Obama advocacy organization."

This technique is relatively new, but you'll see a lot more of it in future elections. The candidate will talk right past the reporter asking the questions and says to his supporters, "These guys work for the enemy, don't believe a word they say. Their lies will only poison your mind."

#1. "Us vs. Them"
...we're hard-wired by evolution to form tribes. The more stress we feel, the more we feel love and attachment to those who look and sound the same as us, and the more we feel hatred to those who don't. It's just an old survival mechanism, since the ancient guys who didn't show that kind of blind loyalty were killed off by the fierce tribes formed by the ones who did.

So today we get that petty dehumanization of everybody outside of our group ("hippies," "rednecks," "fundies," "geeks," "douchebags," "libs", "cons," "fags," "breeders," "infidels," "towel-heads," "honkies," "darkies," "players", "haters").

They can play on those old, primal urges for even the most retarded of results, such as fierce brand loyalty (the PS3 vs. 360 vs. Wii flame wars will make you claw your eyes out).

But to really make this one work, They can't just define your group, but have to define your group as the elite group, a shining beacon in a world full of weak-minded walking turds. The items on this list work best in combination, and you'll see in that the element of mockery and insulation from opposing viewpoints we talked about earlier (why listen to the viewpoints of those lesser sheeple?). Often this is combined with siege terminology ("The whole country has gone to hell, but we've got to stand up for common sense, folks! It's us against the world!")

Recently Seen:

Watch five seconds of an election stump speech. Every side does it.

In Sarah Palin's convention speech she talked about how people from small towns are totally the best ("We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity"). Earlier in the primaries the Clinton campaign did the same thing, talking about small towns as being the backbone of America where real, honest people are found. Always there is the unspoken reminder that these honest rural folk are under siege from those scary, phony freaks in the city.

When speaking to those city folk, on the other hand, Barack Obama made the infamous reference to those same small town types clinging to guns and religion, talking about them like they were savages to be studied through binoculars from a tower, with some peasant disease that needs cured by the enlightened.

Not only is "Us vs Them" the first and most important one on the list, it's the culmination and end goal of all the others. Drawing you into the right tribe is what They want most, because they can accomplish nothing without tribesmen.

(One thing Wong missed is that the 'small towns' line isn't original to Palin, but is a quotation from a long-dead American facist, Westbrook Pegler. Robert F Kennedy Jr wrote about this on HuffPo. Pelger was talking pretty explicitly about the whiteness of small towns, as opposed to cities inhabited by black Americans, by Jews and by other immigrant groups that were considered less than white at the time he was writing).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

the divided states.

So. A few months ago I found that my USian family thought it highly socially inappropriate to talk about atheism. There being variety in the family between the devout and the rest of us, one that was upsetting to one of the Catholic children, meant the best course was for the non-Catholics to not speak of it and to distract non-Catholic young'uns if they tried to bring up the subject right before lunch.

It probably shouldn't've taken me so long, but it took the Palin trainwreck to show me that yes, really, this is how America works: you don't talk to people about your religious and political differences. Shortly after the Palin selection, a family member and I were talking to a family friend, someone who naturally she knew way better than I did. I said something about been creeped-out by Palin asking Alaskans to pray for a $30 billion gas pipeline. Caesar. God. It's creepy, that.

Family member says to me, warningly "He's a Republican."

Um, and...?

If I'm telling someone that I think a politician has said something obnoxious, why would it matter what their partisan views are? I mean, isn't that how you have conversations rather than echo chambers? Maybe there's some sort of upside to praying for gas pipelines that I hadn't seen but Republican Guy would know about and could tell me of. I got a conversation; he said that he thought Palin would make a good advocate for disabled people in the Whitehouse, and that's something he really cares about. I asked if he knew her record in that regard - none of us did, at the time - and suggested he check up on it, just because records are firmer than narrative guesswork. (Thanks partly to Kyrias, I later did, and guess what, she halved educational funds for disabled children in Alaska).

A few weeks on, and the trainwreck has seemingly run its course; lots of flying emotions and everyone's made their mind up - her favourability has fallen to near-zero.

Last night M watched Bill Maher's TV show and I saw a little of it too. I had never seen it before. There's no analogue to the US political media in Britain (reason #3515 why everyone hates the film version of V For Vendetta, that); the best comparison I could think of was if Private Eye was a TV show rather than a magazine. Or it's a bit like Newsnight but intentionally both partisan and humorous, rather than merely misanthropic. (I have a habit of describing US TV hosts entirely in terms of how they differ from Jeremy Paxman [vid, first 20 seconds contain NSFW language]. In that regard, watching Jon Stewart softball Tony Blair on Thursday night was quite painful).

Maher, to great applause, announced that many Americans support Palin because they are too stupid.

Two bloggers I read who've posted a lot of election stuff lately are saying the following:

The frightening part of this is that everyone thinks she’s so great, so much so that it seems like more people support SP than support McCain.

For crying out loud, she’s, if not a total psychopath who is incapable of speaking the truth, a total fake. She is not compassionate, the girl next door, or someone who will look out for the average citizen.

And for those people who posted on Salon.com saying that they’re going to vote for her because her husband is hot and because she proves that women can have it all…I think you should all be taken out of the gene pool, pronto.

from Kyrias. (Admittedly Kyrias is a permanent resident of the USA rather than a US citizen. It is kinda funny that we talk about this crap so much when neither of us can vote here).

Well you know what America? You get what you deserve. I hope that when you're all cowering down in your fallout shelters after the nuclear exchange with the Russians, I hope then that you take a moment to question what your fault in all this is. I hope you ask for forgiveness.

from Combat Queer.

None of these were talking about extreme factions in the US, but about an alternate mainstream that really isn't much different in calibre from their own mainstream. As I said to Kyrias over IM later, some people have dumb reasons for voting for Obama too, such as the fact that everyone on his ticket is be-penised. Or that they believe some conspiracy theory about the US right. There are bad reasons on both sides.

So I. Do Not. Get It.

I don't get how you can assume that no one in your entire nation honestly disagrees with you - that no one simply has different priorities to you, or different feelings, that aren't any the less of yours. That their reasoning can be as good as yours and yet add up to a different result. That it's worth your time to degrade people, but not to engage with them.

It's the nonengagement that spooks me. Funny, I expect it on the internet, where everyone filters themselves via the path of least resistance into groups that are supportive and productive for them, where you don't have to constantly justify your 101s. I can understand nonengagement as a consequence of social behaviour. What I don't understand is why USians seem to hold it as an end goal of social behaviour. Why other views must be dismissed, shunned, or simply avoided just because discussion would be bad.

(Nora and Kyrias say there is no culture war. I can take their point on definitions, but what the hell is this, then?)

I got on this train of thought because of exchanging comments on my last post with Daisy, about the lack of deference for religion in the UK, and the expectation that such things are private. Yet in spite of that, it feels like crossing the floor to talk about God is far more common in the UK than the USA. Maybe the lack of deference means that no one is expected to be defensive about their personal opinions. (As ever, politically secular countries can be more religiously fervent and deferential than those which have established churches. The US and France have that in common).

And politics? People disagree. People are apathetic. There are partisan splits between rural areas and cities, between the English and the rest of 'em, between the rich and the poor. Some people pick a side and keep to it, others don't. There is a dinky yellow safety valve for when your side pisses you off. But everyone is equally subject to question, and all politicians are equally targets for mockery, having their record examined, and Jeremy Paxman. Brad Hicks thinks that there is some fundamental difference in terms of how moral codes are applied between the US right and the US left. I can't imagine such an idea being voiced in the UK.

And the idea, the one that Bill Maher was applauded for on the TV, that the people in your country who don't vote the way you think they should are just inferior to you? It's just plain ugly. What's really crazy there is how the US is so up its own ass about patriotism, and yet wont to applaud the degradation of half its people. Either half, any half, depending on the situation.

[fact: I totally did not understand some of the attitudes about presidents and the presidency in the USA until I read something, perhaps on CiF - CiF! - that said it's easier if you pretend that Obama and McCain are competing to become the Queen. That works. Totally. In a 'this place is on crack' way. It explains why no one pied the Shrub when he went to the Olympics, for instance. And maybe why Stewart wimped out on Blair.]

Finally, a few words I read on LJ earlier, related to that study that said that people disagree with each other because of their PHYSIOLOGIES, ohnoez!:

A moment to rant, because I'll never let something like this go by without a comment:

When you are part Cherokee Indian, and have German Jews in your bloodline, you get a bit sensitive when people start tossing about studies that show a genetic difference, an inferiority, in the people that they don't like.It's been used too many times to justify genocide. I don't buy the excuse, that it's a REAL study, with REAL results, or that you were doing it in all innocence. People have been known to FIND whatever they are looking for, if they skew the results enough.

[Kracken, qwp.]

Saturday, September 13, 2008

a pile of things:

So, Bridge Troll was fired by Cardone Industries UK Ltd for making a blog post that mentioned the company's religious workplace policies, and his atheistic response to same. He's put the whole story on Lj for the world to see, along with some thoughts about increasingly controlling relationships between employers and employees.

Ben Goldacre is no longer being sued by Matthias Rath, an HIV denialist in the vitamin pill industry. Goldacre's article covers the weakness of evidence used to make claims in the supplements industry as compared with other medical research, and the readiness of people in that industry to shut down debate by means of lawsuit. The Grauniad has more details about Rath's activities in South Africa, where he took out newspaper advertisements claiming that people with HIV do not need ARVs.

Kyrias is investigating Landmark Education, an organisation some describe as a psychotherapy cult. (I believe that much of psychotherapy is more of the occult than the scientific - and I value the occult highly, you know? - but these guys sound truly special).

Aishwarya is all in favour of book burning. The blonde one thinks there's nothing 'ironic' about loving knitting and baking. And Kiya is on the warpath, with love.

Friday, September 12, 2008

that campaign finance graph in full:

The Beeb has all the numbers, but the key facts are:

a) Obama has raised over twice as much as McCain; $401 million to $171 million. It's very rare for a campaign to lose with such a huge funding disparity, though it has happened - the UK election in 1997 is an example, but it's notable that the rich losers in that election were long-term incumbents.

b) almost half of Obama's funds came in small packages, under $200. McCain raised only $50 million in that smallest category of donations and a comparable $50 million in the largest, $2000-and-over; at $75 mil, Obama's proportional gains from this group are notably smaller.

c) Obviously Obama far outstrips McCain in most professional categories, because he has twice as much money. This is not true of retired people, the oil/gas industry, the insurance industry, real estate or 'misc finance' (and he's only just ahead in 'misc business' and 'commercial banks'). The truly vast gaps in Obama's favour are among medics, educators, the entertainment and tech industries, and lawyers. Yep, lawyers. There's a detailed Black Agenda Report article expressing bad feeling about this, which is interesting but includes a lot of weasel words and no mention of the fact that the same people are McCain's second biggest donors (the retired are by far the biggest, and are narrowly Obama's second biggest).

d) In spite of lots of recent wittering about the real, 'small-town America', the non-coastal states are not actually giving McCain a lot of money. Even Texas is even-handed in its donations. (538's state profiles mention fundraising, and they've covered four so far where McCain has raised more money than Obama, but these are usually tiny margins and they just aren't giving nearly enough to add colour to the Beeb map. Incidentally, 538 disagree with the Beeb about Florida being a 'key battleground'; see their 'Tipping Point' list).

[addendum: I've just discovered OpenSecrets, which has some wonderful break-downs of data. If you love graphs as much as I do, check out their donor demographic and industries/selected sector breakdowns.]

I've not seen a whole lot of public politics in GA. The day we drove to South Carolina we saw an abundance of signboards, I guess because they had a lot of local election stuff going on at the time. I've seen no signs in our neighbourhood, though there's someone up the road who has a Gavel bumper sticker; one home on the route between here and the nearby highway has a McCain sign, and no one has driven over it yet. We laugh when we pass Ron Paul signs. There are some Senate and Congress signs by the highways, but not a vast number (that the Democrats only picked a Senate candidate a couple of weeks ago might be part of the reason for that). Disturbingly, I've seen more ageing Bush/Cheney04 bumper stickers lately than ones relating to the current election. (Still not many though. The most common political identity emblems you see on cars in GA are firstly the icthos, secondly the Confederate flag).

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

on privacy: a comment I made elsewhere.

[Elsewhere being Alas, specifically. I'd wondered about making a post about the whole Palin circus, leaned towards 'no' simply because I believe that Bristol Palin, though she is breathing for two, is not a valid recipient of media oxygen other than when the McCain campaign decides to start lighting matches, which I am sure it will. But then Mandolin posted that roundup about privacy and its connection (or lack thereof) to reproductive rights, and I found it a good topic for some thinking out loud.]

One thing I’d say is that Bristol Palin’s privacy is not a reproductive rights issue; she deserves privacy because she’s a young woman who has never asked for the world’s media to be on her doorstep. She deserves privacy for the exact same reason all the other candidates’ children deserve privacy. We do not need to interrogate Bristol Palin, ever. Whenever the McCain campaign makes propaganda use of her, talks about what a wonderful choice she made, we need to interrogate the McCain campaign and slam them for their hypocrisy and their inhuman anti-choice values.

It is interesting to see who gets the privacy and who does not, though. The Obama daughters have been regularly paraded on stage because so many people in the media, and allegedly in the US at large, had a nervy, perverse fascination with the idea of a black first family, and the Obama campaign felt forced to respond to that. Because America is a racially unequal society those young black girls don’t get the right to privacy.

And now there’s a young mother-to-be in the spotlight; I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard the name of her fiancĂ©, nor read anything related to him. I also don’t know the names of any male children of anyone involved in this election. That Obama and Clinton don’t have any skews that, I’m sure - but I don’t even know if McCain, or Edwards, or most of the VP-possibles have children at all. The only people whose children have been talked about are Obama, Palin, and (to a much lesser extent) single father Biden (and there’s Chelsea Clinton, who was known to us from her father’s time in office. Quick, Britons, what’s the fastest rail route between Bristol and Chelsea?). I haven’t heard the names of Biden’s children. I don’t know anything about McCain’s children, not even how many he has, other than that he has at least one adopted child.

In other words, if you’re a white guy, your family gets more privacy. (Barring extremely odd circumstances like Biden’s - and if I may make an aside, I feel that the single father family I grew up in got too much privacy rather than too little; as Amanda wrote, privacy can be a shield for abuse, and also just for plain poor parenting. Single father families are far interrogated far less than single mother families, even given that they outnumber us by 10 to 1).