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Thursday, January 22, 2015

In the virtue stakes, reverence leaves empathy at the starting line

In France, individual citizens run a satirical magazine, the Charlie Hebdo, which publishes cartoons making fun of Muhammad among countless other current world leaders and historical figures.

In retaliation, terrorists storm the office and murder 12 people at that office, as well as five more at a kosher market. As far away as Sudan, angry mobs attempt to swarm French embassies, and people call upon the government to expel their French ambassador.

In Saudi Arabia, people are imprisoned, tortured, and even beheaded by the government for such victimless offenses as apostasy and "sorcery" on a regular basis. That same government arrests a blogger, Raif Badawi, for blasphemy and he is sentenced to suffer ten years of imprisonment and 1,000 lashes with a whip, at a rate of 50 per week.

In retaliation, Americans trickle out to the Saudi Arabian consulate in Houston and politely wave signs asking for Raif Badawi to be freed. Nobel laureates from various places around the world gather to jointly ask Saudi Arabian academics to join them in vocally condemning Badawi's imprisonment and torture.

Now, I'm absolutely not saying that we should adopt the tactics of terrorists and ransack and pillage Saudi Arabian embassies, or anything like that. I am, rather, asking the following:

Why the hell can't the West seem to muster even a fraction of the same outrage concerning the ongoing torture and murder of human beings for exercising their freedom of speech, as some Muslims are able summon concerning the fact that some people, somewhere in the world, feel that the same freedom protects their right to make the occasional joke at the expense of religion?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Watching Charlie

The manhunt for the terrorists continues.

At least three mosques in various French cities have been attacked.

News sources deliberate whether to repost the covers of various Charlie Hebdo magazines which were offensive to Muslims, unsure whether doing so would be simple news coverage, or construed as support for freedom of speech, or support for the presumed sentiments behind the images, or what. 

No matter what they choose, they will be criticized.

People argue, again, whether criticism of Muslims can be racist even though Islam isn't a race. They argue about whether the Charlie Hebdo images were/are racist. They argue about what satire means. They are argue about hate speech laws. They argue about whether enough Muslims have apologized, authentically and tearfully enough, for crimes committed by people who have no relation to them aside from sharing a religion.

They have all of the same arguments, again and again and again.

Perhaps Charb and the others would be happy these arguments are happening. Perhaps they would see it as something of a tribute toward their efforts to be irreverant, controversial, brave truth-speakers.

Perhaps they would be right.

I don't know. I just feel tired and sad, reading all of this. And yet I can't stop.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The rich and the poor alike are forbidden to stand on dogs

On New Year's Day, a group of photos showed up in my Facebook news feed. It turned out to be a
holiday greeting from Sarah Palin. "Happy New Year!" she said. "May 2015 see every stumbling block turned into a stepping stone on the path forward. Trig just reminded me. He, determined to help wash dishes with an oblivious mama not acknowledging his signs for 'up!,' found me and a lazy dog blocking his way. He made his stepping stone."

No, I'm not Facebook friends with Sarah Palin-- I don't even follow her. The post showed up in my feed because one of my friends had commented on it. I clicked over without any real expectation of finding their comment, but rather to skim the comments the other several thousand people, already by that point, had made. Because if there's one thing the internet hates, it's cruelty to animals. I wanted to see if that hatred could be counterbalanced by political and/or religious affiliation, and my answer was...yes, apparently. At least, for some.

Didn't bother commenting, and didn't think any more about it until I saw this article this morning by Sarah Palin, TODAY contributor (hey, it's what the byline says):
PETA needs to chill. At least Trig didn't eat the dog. 
Where have they been all these years? Maybe enjoying a good steak when their Woman of the Year, Ellen DeGeneres, posted the exact same sweet image of a child with her dog. Or maybe they were off moose hunting when their Man of the Year, Mayor Bill de Blasio, dropped and killed a critter at a political photo op? Who knows what they were doing when their Man of All Time, Barack Obama, admitted to actually EATING dog, and enjoying it! C'mon PETA — where's the beef? . . . 
Again, I'm thankful these double standard bearers proved my entire point in that post: do they think their threats and efforts to shut me down are a stumbling block? Nah, this is a stepping stone for any American with common sense and love for kids and dogs — we just proved the haters' double standard nonsense, and, thus, their irrelevance. 
— Sarah Palin 
P.S. Should Jill Hadassah [Palin's dog] have not enjoyed Trig’s playing with her, guess it would have reminded us another important lesson – sometimes life jumps up and bites you in the okole, but you don't stop moving and baby you just Shake It Off.
"Okole" apparently is a Hawaiian word for "ass" or "butt." I had a moment of wondering why on earth Palin would use a Hawaiian word before realizing-- oh, of course. It's a way for someone who
thinks even "butt" is a bad word to avoid saying it, but be able to express exactly the same sentiments generally expressed using the word, by borrowing it from another language. I guess God doesn't understand Hawaiian.

So I looked up what Ellen Degeneres did, and found myself looking at a site called Conservatives 4 Palin, which was kind enough to host a photo which supposedly appeared on the Facebook account for The Ellen DeGeneres Show six months ago. It shows what appears to be a three (?) year old girl brushing her teeth while standing on top of a large adult labrador, accompanied by the caption "Well, that's one way to reach the sink." That little girl wasn't Ellen's daughter, btw, and the online appears to also have been largely negative.
response to the picture

Whitney Pitcher, author of this article entitled "PETA Woman of the Year Posts Photo of a Child Standing on a Dog," has the grace to note, "My post is neither a condemnation or an approval of the photos shared by Governor Palin or Ellen Degeneres." Which is good, I suppose, because presumably it would be bad form for a web site called Conservatives 4 Palin to say anything that would amount to a "condemnation" of her, even for something so obviously stupid and abusive as allowing a child to stand on the back of the family dog-- a special needs dog, who is "lazy" according to Palin (what, for not getting up when a toddler tries to use her as a stepstool?) -- and then share the photos with the world as part of an exhortation to enjoy their new year.

If Jill Hadassah the dog had in fact objected to a boy (who is now seven years old, according to Wikipedia) standing on her back, stood up, and bitten him in the "okole," what do you think the response would've been? Do you think everyone involved would have learned a lesson that sometimes "life" jumps up and bites you, but you don't stop moving and just Shake It Off? You know, "life." (Hey, they say life's a bitch...) Yeah, me neither.

So I have a few conclusions on this subject:
  • Sarah Palin, and the parents of that little anonymous blonde girl, need step stools. Many of them. In the kitchen, the bathroom, and any other place there's a counter that a small child might need to reach. Maybe a charitable organization can supply them with a couple.

  • PETA needs to stop being the banner organization for giving a damn about animal suffering. They do not speak for everyone with concerns on the subject. They're not even good at representing the cause, themselves. I seriously doubt most of the people expressing concern about the welfare of Jill Hadassah the dog on Facebook had or have any affiliation whatsoever with PETA. The internet, perhaps, is guilty of caring way, way, way too much about animal cruelty, but PETA doesn't speak for the internet in that regard. 

  • Tu quoque, also known as an "appeal to hypocrisy," is a logical fallacy. It refers to an attempt to legitimize, or at least distract from, a critique aimed at yourself by pointing out a similar crime (or endorsement of such) made by the person or group making the criticism.

    Not one word of Palin's essay on Today: Pets amounted to anything like an apology or an acknowledgment of wrong-doing. On the contrary, her standpoint is made abundantly clear: "we just proved the haters' double standard nonsense, and, thus, their irrelevance." She honestly thinks that the arguments of critics (excuse me, "haters") are proven irrelevant by her pointing out the presumed acceptance of said critics haters of a similar crime perpetrated by someone they approve of.

    Of course, we don't even know whether PETA even saw, much less approves of, the photo posted on The Ellen DeGeneres Show's Facebook wall. We don't know whether the people who criticized Palin's New Years wishes post on Facebook ever saw it, much less approve of it. Or de Blasio supposedly shooting a dog. Or Obama supposedly eating one. We certainly don't know whether everybody who thinks it's wrong to allow a seven year old boy to stand on a dog's bag and post "cute" photos of it on Facebook has seen and approve of those things. 

    And if we did, that still wouldn't make it okay. That's what tu quoque means. 
Sarah Palin, take a logic class. Everybody else, class dismissed. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Things you should read

The NYPD's 'Work Stoppage' Is Surreal. Matt Taibbi describes the strange twist of New York's Police Benevolent Association (which becomes a more and more ironic title by the minute) deciding to start making arrests "only when they have to" in order to try and stick it to Mayor Bill de Blasio by depriving the city of needed revenue.

Is this considered abuse? Leelah Alcorn (the chosen name of a transgendered teen formerly called Josh who committed suicide at age 17 on December 30th by stepping in front of a truck) started a Reddit thread asking for help two months ago. Some good advice and comfort was offered, but it obviously wasn't enough.

On Nerd Entitlement. Laurie Penny's patient, compassionate, but also poignant and pointed explanation to Scott Aarsonson of what it's like to be a bookish, awkward, nerdy girl in response to his depiction of being a bookish, awkward, nerdy boy, and how the latter does in fact have privilege in comparison to the former.

Dollree Mapp, 1923-2014: “The Rosa Parks of the Fourth Amendment." It's interesting that when we consider the hallmark cases in which the rights outlined in the Constitution were asserted and argued in front of the Supreme Court, it isn't always an immediate realization that for any violation of rights you can name, members of minority underclasses have experienced it more. That when it comes to civil rights, overt racism (for example) isn't the only indignity people of color in America have to face. Institutionalized bigotry means that every violation of rights felt by the privileged classes is felt more by the non-privileged. But Dollree Mapp fought hard for her right to be secured in her person, house, papers, and effects-- and for all of our right to the same-- and should be remembered for this.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Odds and ends-- blog redesign/freeze peaches for sale

So, two things to mention here.

First, hey look! New blog design. I've been wanting to change it for quite some time to something more clean and minimalist, and am pretty happy with how things are now. Though I do talk about personal issues from time to time, this isn't Livejournal and I wanted to veer away from that "diary" appearance where the set dressing can distract from the performance. Please let me know if there are problems with the font style (although I really like Calibri and would hate to change) or size in terms of readability.

Second, I have finally placed freeze peach pendants for sale on my Etsy store. In fact, they're currently the only thing for sale on that store-- I'm hoping to add new items in the next month or two. At Skepticon 7 in November people really seemed to like them, which made me resolve to go back home and make more. But December was fraught with holidays and travel and financial issues, as always, so it took a while longer than expected to get my stuff together. But now it is-- kinda. Anyway, we'll see how they sell and if they're popular enough I'll make more batches. Here's what they look like:


They're all made individually, so each one is unique-- the peaches face different directions, sometimes there are small bubbles, etc. But each comes in a one inch "ice" cube of cured epoxy resin, with a cadmium/nickel bail on the back attached to a 17" black rubber cord with a molded clasp. That's a length I like-- not too long and not too short-- but you can swap it out of course for something else if you're so inclined. This is so that if you're just dying to wear your freeze peach the instant it arrives, you can. Hope you like.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How many fallacies can one shirt hold?

Let me count the ones I see.

1. Obey the law, and you have nothing to fear.
2. Break the law, and you deserve to be tortured to death.
3. Rules #1 and #2 are applied equally to all Americans.
4. Police never break the law themselves.
5. When they do, they are never protected in ways civilians wouldn't be.

Oh wait, I get it...this shirt is for police officers!

Breathe easy, cops-- and hey, don't break the law. But if you do, and murder one civilian after another in horribly gruesome ways, breathe easy...you won't suffer the fate they did.

Especially if they're black.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

When doxing is okay

Doxing (from dox, abbreviation of documents), alternatively spelled doxxing, is the Internet-based practice of researching and broadcasting personally identifiable information about an individual. -- Wikipedia
In some cases, this "research" involves simply looking at the email address from which a message came, and including it rather than expunging it when you publish ("broadcast") the content of that email. Many bloggers have a stated policy of doing this-- if you email them, you accept that the content of your message and the email address might be made public on their blog.

Alanah Pearce, an Australian video gamer reviewer (via video blog), recently gained international attention by tracking down and contacting the mothers of the frequently underage boys who were sending her rape and death threats via email, Facebook messages, Twitter, etc.

I'm okay with these things.

I think what Pearce is doing is awesome, actually. Frequently when I see someone saying horrible things on the internet, I wish there was a way to find out if their loved ones could see it. Whether they know that their family member is, in their spare time, using that time to harass people, espouse bigotry, and in general be a despicable human being. I feel simultaneously a sympathetic horror for what this woman is going through, and a desire that couples generally would hang out in the same sorts of internet spaces as their spouses, and parents as their children.

But I would never try to enforce such a thing, because sometimes privacy and anonymity are very important and must not be violated. If you've been following Gamergate, you know that quite well. You might know that Felicia Day's personal information was published on the internet shortly after she wrote an essay expressing concern about that exact thing. You might know that Brianna Wu and Anita Sarkeesian have both fled their homes after internet harassers published their home addresses and expressed an interest in paying a visit.

Some people refrain from even sharing their names online, because they are whistleblowers or fear other kinds of recrimination from their employers, because they are trans or gay but not openly so, because they are atheists but not only so.....there are all kinds of reasons why a person might not be doing anything wrong, but not want every aspect of his or her identity made known.

That's why doxing such individuals is wrong.

Rebecca Watson, noted skeptic and feminist who has been experiencing harassment and threats online for years because of these things, published an essay on Friday entitled Why I'm Okay with Doxing. That's not the type of doxing she was talking about.

The type of doxing she was talking about is the kind I mentioned earlier-- publishing the name and/or email address of people who made this information available themselves in the process of insulting, harassing, and threatening others.

The distinction seems quite clear to me, but perhaps that's because I actually read her essay. Several other people seem to have not made it past the headline.

Ken White of Popehat had an amusing exchange on Twitter with such a detractor, also on Friday, which I summed up thusly:
Accuse someone of breaking the law. When questioned, scramble frantically to find the law you accuse someone of breaking, which you didn't know existed when you made the original accusation. When questioned further, admit that it's not against the law. When asked for a moral basis for condemnation, scramble frantically to find one of *those*. Fail completely. Take ball. Go home.
The detractor charmingly and repeatedly referred to Rebecca as a cunt, which prompted the following tweet from Ken:

Which really addresses the crux of the issue.

Rebecca is talking about publishing the names and/or email addresses of people who are sending insulting and threatening material to her. Threatening people, whether over the phone, via email, in blog comments, via Twitter, etc., is not only immoral but also illegal. In spite of this illegality, going to the police about these threats is frequently a worthless and even counter-productive pursuit, which means that publishing the information of these people is, effectively, the only thing she can do.

Let me repeat: making the identities of people who harass and threaten her public, in the hopes that the public will become more aware of these threats and people making them, is really the best tactic at the disposal of people like Rebecca Watson. It is, arguably, the only tactic at their disposal.

I wouldn't have thought that "disclose your identity to someone in the process of threatening them, and you cannot morally or legally expect them to keep this information private" was such a hard line to take. It seems stupidly obvious to me. But apparently it isn't, and that's why I'm writing this post.

Doxing is sometimes okay. Such as when someone is harassing you, actively reaching out and sending messages to and about you which are libeling and/or threatening you, and you respond to them by publishing their name and/or email address, contacting their family (especially if they're underage), etc.

Doxing is sometimes not okay. Such as tracking down personal information of someone who is not harassing you and publishing it in detail, including contact information such as a home address which give the impression that you either intend or wish to encourage others to take physical action against this person.

Context, for chrissakes.