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 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.

Friday, December 12, 2014

How to be more attractive to John Smith

A man who is sexist against women is also sexist against men, because he assumes, falsely, that all or most men are likewise sexist against women.

Is this a rule? I feel like this should be a rule. At least, I have not yet seen a counter-example.

This essay on Thought Catalog, non-encouragingly titled 13 Things a Woman Can Do to be More Attractive to Men, certainly isn't one. In fact, it should probably also be a rule that every such list should drop the "n" from "Men" and change it to "Me."

It's not worth bothering to take apart in its entirety, but I just want to examine one item to illustrate the sexist projection of the author, the not-at-all-pseudonymously-named-I'm-sure John Smith.
13. Stop Hoarding Guy Friends 
9 out of 10 of your guy friends just want to sleep with you anyway. Men know how other men think. The first guy that comes to comfort you after a big fight will also be the first one to say “he’s not good enough for you” in order to sabotage the relationship, and then he’ll be the first one to try to get into your pants after he convinces you that your man is a creep. It’s not about having trust issues. It’s about knowing how people act. Trust is earned, not immediately granted.
He says that 9 out of 10 guy friends just want to sleep with you, which would mean that they're not actually friends at all -- just one-night-stands-in-waiting.

Which tells you two things:
  1. John Smith is extremely unlikely to be an actual friend to a woman, but is simply a one-night-stand-in-waiting himself, and 
  2. John Smith assumes that every other heterosexual man on the planet is like him in this regard (statistically speaking, the 1/10 male friend could be gay). 
Now, sure, plenty of male friends of women want to sleep with them. But wanting to sleep someone doesn't disqualify most people from being able to be that person's friend in addition to the sexual interest. Women do it all the time, gay men do it all the time, and I'm sure straight men do it all the time as well. John Smith, apparently, does not.

John Smith is probably also insanely jealous (like hell it's "not a trust issue"), because of the aforementioned projection of his own "sex-only" motivation onto every other guy on the planet.

It's really interesting how the same people who are most likely to apply rigid generalizations to entire other groups of people are so often just as willing to apply those same generalizations to their own group. Generalizations applied rigidly are called prejudices, and ingrained prejudices are called bigotry. John Smith's bigotry against women, ironically, makes him bigoted against men as well.

Though he assuredly doesn't see it that way-- he thinks his belief that other guys see women in exactly the same way he does is just the Truth. His entire list would be more appropriately called 13 Things A Woman Can Do To Be More Attractive To John Smith. But then nobody would read it, because nobody gives a shit about what would make them more attractive to John Smith. And he probably knows that.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

So many questions about what Jim Garlow knows

From Right Wing Watch:
Earlier this week, Jim Garlow called in to the "Point Of View" radio program to discuss his participation in the Vatican's recent summit on marriage. During the course of the conversation, Garlow offered up a rather interesting argument against the acceptance of gay marriage. 
"All the people who advocate for so-called same-sex marriage ought to have to live in homes in which the plumbers who built them, or the electricians who built them, didn't understand the difference between the male and female end of piping or plumbing or of electrical as well," he said, "and see how that home works out for them." 
"It doesn't work," he concluded.
Does Jim Garlow know...
  • that plumbing and electrical outlets aren't literally gendered?
  • that while people didn't invent water or electricity, we invented the means of conveying them-- and named those means? In other words, that people precede plumbing rather than being modeled after it?
  • that people are, themselves, neither plumping nor electricity?
  • that it will always sound utterly creepy for homophobes to talk so obsessively about genitalia?
  • that countless same-sex couples have managed to make it "work" quite well, all over the world and throughout time, in our species as well as others?
  • that "Make it work" is in fact the catchphrase of a famous gay man with his own considerably larger and more fabulous congregation?
  • that if corresponding connectors and fasteners had been instead named "America" and "Gay Marriage," it would be an equally valid analogy?
  • that he has the moral reasoning skills and existential aptitude of a five year old child?
Actually on that last point I should be asking-- does this pastor's congregation know? And if they do they care?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Letter to the editor

Justice system ignored facts  
I don’t know whether to feel saddened or enraged from reading about the man choked to death on a New York City street. The sources indicate this type of restraint by law enforcement officers was banned 20 years ago, yet a Staten Island grand jury saw no problem with the outcome of the officer’s action (Dec. 4 Eagle).  
Quite a few years ago, I was hired to be the summer school librarian at an alternative high school in Wichita. An African-American student came in frequently to finish up his homework, so we began to share stories. One day he revealed that the glasses he wore were just plain glass. He said he wore them so he would look less threatening. On more than one occasion when he entered an elevator, a woman would get off rather than share the space with him. He hoped the glasses would render him less aggressive-looking.  
I have never forgotten his story. Evidently, after all these years, we haven’t made much progress in seeing past a person’s color. 
I see myself as a problem solver, but I cannot come up with a solution to the problem of a justice system that can ignore facts with such a degree of capriciousness. 
Suzanne Koch is my mom. Did I mention that my mom is amazing?

Dawkins leads charge, is startled by army

We Hunted the Mammoth is a good site to read if you don't know what the men's rights movement is. If you've ever heard the acronym "MRA" and not understood what it means, that's where I'd suggest you go (hint: the "A" stands for "activist").

So I guess it's only fitting that Dave Futrelle, author of WHtM, be the one to chronicle the fact that Richard Dawkins has never heard of the men's rights movement. And that Paul Elam, founder of MRA web site A Voice for Men and commonly recognized unofficial leader of the men's rights movement, was shocked to hear this.

Frankly I'm a little shocked, myself. See, it's not really that unusual to not know about the men's rights movement, or especially about Paul Elam, if you're the average person. But Richard Dawkins is very far from the average person in this regard. He has a dog in this fight, you see, and it's a little jarring to realize that he doesn't seem to know which dog is his.

Not only is Dawkins a self-proclaimed feminist who issues proclamations about what "true feminism" is, but he's a self-proclaimed feminist who has angered feminists again and again by making comments which are tone-deaf at best, and unquestionably anti-feminist at worst, on Twitter and in other places. He's a self-proclaimed feminist who is apparently a big fan of another self-proclaimed feminist who seems to specialize in anti-feminism these days, Christina Hoff Sommers.

Now, it seems to me that the difference between anti-feminism and MRA is a very small one, indeed. It’s as if Dawkins found himself a hole in the side of a mountain and moved into it, making friends with the bats and the blind fish and what-not, only to emerge one day and be utterly astonished when somebody asks “So Richard, what’s it like to live in a cave?”

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I'm not angry about Matt Taylor's shirt

Nope, I'm not.

Matt Taylor apologized-- apparently sincerely. Nobody I actually know is angry at him now, if they were before.

 I'm angry at the horde of people who are:
  • Shrieking on Twitter and any other social media site that he shouldn't have apologized, because he did nothing wrong and they need him to be leader of their Fuck the Feminists Who Hate Sex and Freedom parade
  • Demanding that Rose Eveleth be fired for criticizing Taylor's sartorial choices
  • Apparently totally unaware that sexual imagery in the workplace constitutes evidence-- not conclusive, case-making evidence, but evidence-- of a hostile workplace in sexual harrassment cases
  • Drawing a sharp line between people who care about scientific achievements and people who care about not sending the message that the only thing that matters about women is how they look naked, and pretending that these are two separate and mutually exclusive groups. To the contrary, most of the complaining I've seen about Taylor's shirt is that it that it marred what otherwise should've been a celebratory occasion for everyone.
  • In general, reacting, whenever feminists speak up about anything whatsoever to say "Hey, that's not cool," as if they actually said "BAN THIS IMMEDIATELY AND SEND ALL RELATED PARTIES TO THE GULAG WITH THE POWER WE OBVIOUSLY WIELD BECAUSE WE RUN THE COUNTRY OR SOMETHING"
That's what I'm angry about.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Overwatch girls

Yesterday at BlizzCon, Blizzard Entertainment's annual conference in Anaheim, Blizzard unveiled a new game.

Yeah, I know, so what? New games are announced all the time. Heck, Blizzard announces new games all the time. So what was it this time-- a new expansion for World of Warcraft? Starcraft 2? Diablo? Maybe something new for Hearthstone (a TCG offshoot of WoW in app form) or Heroes of the Storm (a multiplayer online battle arena, or MOBA game, still technically in technical alpha, based on all of the previous)?


Well, okay, yes-- new developments for many of these things were announced. But also a new game, as in an actual new franchise, and it is called Overwatch. Overwatch, to sum it up in one sentence, is a 6 vs. 6 team-based FPS (first person shooter) which takes place in various settings on a futuristic Earth, is cartoonishly-styled, and the playable characters are all....well, superheroes, basically. They're heroes with super abilities and traits, which I'd categorize as much more sci fi than fantasy (as in, mutations and rocket launchers, not dragons and magic).

In terms of character design, this opens up some huge possibilities. This is an entirely new game world which means that anything is possible, and it’s a futuristic world in which the playable characters (at least, the ones revealed so far) are—mostly—human. And a couple of robots. And one bespectacled gorilla, who is already a big favorite.

During the Q&A period following the reveal of Overwatch, the sole female audience member who addressed Jeff Kaplan (game designer for Overwatch) and Chris Metzen (senior vice president at Blizzard) asked about representation in character design. First, she complimented Overwatch’s diversity in terms of color, nationality, and body type of the characters introduced thus far. Then she wanted to know if skins would be available for the various characters to swap their genders around—that is, she wanted to know if it might be possible to play a male version of a character originally presented as female, or vice versa. Kaplan’s reply to this was (to paraphrase): “That’s not something we planned for—it sounds awesome, but we have no plans to do it” which means, effectively, “That’s never going to happen.”

Which is unfortunate, because the available characters for Overwatch aren’t actually very diverse, despite this being a sorta kinda stated goal. Kotaku, PC Gamer, Polygon, and probably other sites have articles up today describing a press conference for Overwatch which took place at BlizzCon, in which Metzen made comments to that effect:
"We've heard our female employees," he said. "And my daughter tools me out about it. She saw a World of Warcraft cinematic of the Dragon Aspects, and my daughter was like, 'Why are they all in swimsuits?' And I was like, 'I don't know. I don't know anymore.'" "I think we're clear we're in an age where gaming is for everybody. We build games for everybody. We want everybody to come and play. Increasingly people want to feel represented from all walks of life, everywhere in the world. Boys and girls—everybody. We feel indebted to do our best to honor that." 
He then elaborated regarding the new game:
"Specifically for Overwatch over the past year we've been really cognizant of that, trying not to oversexualize the female characters. I don't know if we oversexualize the male characters. But it's something we're very sensitive to. We want that to be part of who we are, what our brand is. I think [Blizzard president] Mike [Morhaime] talked in a roundabout way to that in his speech [at the start of BlizzCon]. It's something we're very cognizant of. We want girls to feel kick-butt. Equally represented." 
At BlizzCon, Blizzard revealed twelve characters for Overwatch, all of whom have character profiles at the game’s web site. You can see them all here in as much detail as you like, but I'm just including some images here so we know who we're talking about.

The dudes:

Now, you're thinking-- wait a minute, that's only five. I thought she said twelve total.

I left out one genetically modified gorilla (Winston, male) and one robot (Bastion, no gender). Zenyatta is also technically a robot, but I included him with the male characters because a) he's wearing clothes, male clothes, and b) he was referred to as a "he" during the Overwatch panels at BlizzCon.

Reaper and Reinhardt, first and second from the left of the dudes, are presumably human. Reaper (age: unknown) has a tiny bit of visible Caucasian skin on his arms, and Reinhardt's description on the Overwatch web site lists him as being 61 years old and previously a "highly decorated German soldier." Presumably that armored suit of his which makes him a hulking behemoth compared to everyone else is not just a suit of armor but also some sort of mech contraption-- that would also explain why each of his hands are roughly three times the size of his head.

Torbjorn, the munitions expert whom you'd swear was a dwarf if this had been World of Warcraft, is 57 years old, making him and Reinhardt the only currently known characters on Overwatch who are eligible for AARP benefits. Hanzo is a comparatively youthful 38, and Zenyatta is listed as a seemingly-meaningless-because-he's-a-robot 20 years old.

The chicks:

From left to right: Mercy (34), Pharah (32), Symmetra (28), Tracer (26), and Widowmaker (33).

That's right; the oldest of the female characters has not reached her thirty-fifth birthday.

Other things to note:
  • The only women not wearing high heels are Tracer (futuristic sneakers) and Phara (armored boots, to match her armored everything else).
  • Tracer and Pharah are also the only ones not wearing boob-shaped armor. Tracer has on a bomber jacket which was apparently molded to her exact cup size, and Pharah has...well, regular armor that happens to be electric blue. 
  • The faces of all female characters are visible, though Pharah has a helmet that she's just not wearing in this picture.
  • The racial diversity of the characters has apparently been left to the women-- Pharah is Egyptian and Symmetra Indian. None of the characters revealed yet are (known to be) black or east Asian.

Has Escher Girls seen this? 
And no, "blue" for Widowmaker doesn't count as a race, especially considering the way she acquired her color, which is-- I'm not making this up; it's on the web site-- because "her physiology was altered, drastically slowing her heart, which turned her skin cold and blue and numbed her ability to experience human emotion."

I can think of a couple of changes to one's physiology which would accomplish those things,
hypothermia and death from hypothermia, but neither of those works very well toward the end of making someone a sociopath assassin, as it did for Widowmaker. Presumably having cold blue skin makes clothing unnecessary as well, so she's wearing very little of it, and it also apparently renders possession of a normal human spine completely optional.

A commenter named StingRay02 on Polygon’s story created the following image of the silhouettes of all twelve characters:
Sexual dimorphism wasn't the goal; it was the starting line
Pictured: "Cowboy Man," "Katana Man,"
and "Tattooed Enormous Belly Man"
The slight, very similar-looking frames on the right are all of the female characters. The highly varied and significantly chunkier figures on the left are the males (with the two on the extreme left being robots Zenyatta and Bastion).

So the take-away here is that if you're a female character you must be young, thin, conventionally
attractive, and dressed to accentuate your figure (unless you're Pharah), but if you're a male character none of these things must apply. In the poster for Overwatch currently for sale on the Blizzard store, there are three additional "mystery" characters which haven't been introduced. All three are male, all are relatively large, and two are completely covered in armor while a third standing behind them is less so-- and also apparently hugely fat.

In the comments from the Polygon article I saw the following exchange:
I call shenanigans anytime a character has high heels in a combat setting. That is pandering to the male gaze, not crafting a cool character. Window maker is the worst with her broken spine, but Mercy and Symmetra are also doing that popped hip pose every time I see them. Tracer isn’t so bad, still tight clothes, but that is not inherently a bad thing, but more combat sensible poses, practical footwear….she and Pharah look more practical and combat ready.
They may be taking steps…but they are also still indulging in a little creative sexism.

"I call shenanigans anytime a character has high heels in a combat setting."
I think that’s a design choice to distinguish it’s a woman more than anything. I don’t look at heels and get a boner. I look at heels and think of them as something a woman would wear instead of a man.
My two cents.

I can see your point, but high heels are specifically made to accentuate leg muscles. I think if you want me to take your female characters seriously from a design standpoint, you need to leave the thighhigh boots, heels, and weird boob-exposing outfits on the cutting room floor. Any time I see a female "knight" wearing a breast plate that basically accentuates boobs instead of looking like actual protection, I die a little inside.
I mean, you can design your female characters however you want. I just reserve the right to think they’re stupid when you’ve got your female fighters trying to do shit in heels.

There’s an ape running around in a mech suite. I don’t think anything in this game is meant to be taken seriously.

No, it doesn’t need to be realistic, but I also appreciate when design choices are made that don’t pander to the male gaze. Pharah isn’t realistic at all, but by god she looks like she is ready for battle, doesn’t she? That’s what I want. Sell me that this person is geared for a fight. Not a real fight in the real world, but a fight all the same.

Fair enough. I personally don’t give two shits either way. Difference in opinion.
In case it needs to be pointed out, the "ape in the mech suit" is not sexualized. T_K85 has missed the point rather spectacularly, but pictor and Mr_McGrumpypants managed to nail it. Perhaps because they do give two shits (or maybe even more) about having options for playable female characters in a game which aren't limited to a very conscribed range of variations on a fashion model holding a massive gun.

To return to that Chris Metzen quote: "Specifically for Overwatch over the past year we've been really cognizant of that, trying not to oversexualize the female characters. I don't know if we oversexualize the male characters. But it's something we're very sensitive to." I wonder which "we" he's talking about there, and whether it includes himself. Presumably not, because how could you be "very sensitive" to not oversexualizing female characters, but then a) do it anyway, and also b) not know whether you oversexualize male characters?

Let me just answer that question: No, Blizzard does not oversexualize its male characters. It barely, if ever, sexualizes them at all. To sexualize a character is to make it look as if it is one of that character's primary goals to be sexually attractive. I can't think of a single male character in any Blizzard game who fits that description. It's hard to think of a female character who doesn't fit it. Okay, yes, Pharah (who originally, according to either Kaplan or Metzen-- I don't recall which-- was a male character called "Rocket Dude").

Why does any of this matter? Why am I harping on this so much?

Well, for the same reason that Metzen gave-- representation is important. It might not be "serious," but important and serious are not the same thing. If you want "girls" to feel "kick-butt," then it's important. If you want to honestly say that this new game reflects diversity for both men and women. then it's important. And as I stressed at the beginning of this post, the reason it's important when it comes to this game, Overwatch, is because Overwatch is a brand new enterprise.

Literally anything is possible-- there's no style precedent which has to be matched, the game is still very much in the design phase, and the game is set in a futuristic version of Earth which I don't think it's crazy to imagine would be more progressive than the one in which we live, right now. So why not design it to be? Why not assume that the characters which inhabit it would be more progressive, especially considering they're, you know, superheroes?

Well, some of them are-- some of them have apparently turned to the dark side and become mercenaries. Maybe they could be the backwards ones who think that men can do awesome things whether they're thin, fat, nerdy, thuggish, young or old, but women can only be pretty. And the heroes could reject that nonsense.