Gaming’s Self-Appointed Guardians Upgrade from Assault to Terrorism

If you don’t read “gaming news,” no one could blame you. Like any entertainment-focused journalistic niche (sports journalism, Hollywood journalism, etc.), it barely deserves the label “news.” But also like those other niche industries, the niche periodically spits out a story that matters to everyone else.

“Gamergate” is that story, and it’s a story of intimidation, assault, and, most recently, terrorism.

If you want the long-form summary, Gawker Media’s Deadspin has it here, and it’s worth the lengthy read. If you can’t be arsed, the short version is this: a ferment against “social justice” in video games, meaning essentially any content that isn’t violent and centered around male protagonists, has been bubbling for a long time on gaming-related message boards, social networks, etc. Recently, that ferment exploded into a campaign of targeted harassment against gaming industry figures.

Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist critic who put out a series of videos on the presentation of women in video games as compared to the presentation of men (unequal, dismissive, and often downright abusive, in case you were wondering), began receiving death threats and online harassment as soon as she announced the video series on Kickstarter. Zoe Quinn, who designed a video game based around struggling with depression, was doxxed, threatened, and hounded out of her home after a disgruntled ex-boyfriend alleged that she had slept with gaming journalists in exchange for favorable reviews. (The allegations, not that they would have justified her treatment in any way, were false.) And Brianna Wu, a developer who has written about the harassment of women in the gaming industry, was threatened in stomach-churningly vivid detail by someone who simultaneously revealed her home address on Twitter:

brianna-wu-twitter-threats

The language directed at all of these women on a regular basis is, by any sane definition, assault: a clearly-stated intent to do unlawful violence within the capabilities of the threatener. (You can’t meet that standard much more closely than by posting someone’s home address while stating that you are going to rape them and kill them.) And if we had a sane law enforcement system, it could be treated as such, but harassment that involves a computer almost inevitably gets kicked down the road to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, where all but the most extreme cases (or those with connections to crimes the FBI deems higher-priority, because protecting women’s safety isn’t as exciting as drug busts, natch) promptly vanish.

But maybe this one will finally get the Bureau’s attention, and inspire other law enforcement groups to start treating online threats like actual crimes, instead of the internet equivalent of playful roughhouse:

“Canadian-American author, blogger and feminist Anita Sarkeesian has canceled her scheduled Wednesday speech at Utah State University after learning the school would allow concealed firearms at the event despite an anonymous terror threat promising “the deadliest school shooting in American history.” 

Utah State confirmed Sarkeesian’s decision to cancel in a tweet sent out shortly after 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. 

University officials originally decided to move forward with Sarkeesian’s speech after several staff members received an anonymous email terror threat on Tuesday morning from someone claiming to be a student proposing “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if it didn’t cancel the Wednesday lecture.

The school later reversed their announcement after a discussion with Sarkeesian over whether firearms would be allowed at the event.”

Lest anyone consider this an overreaction on Sarkeesian’s part, it’s worth reprinting the threat the school received in its entirety:

usu-anita-sarkeesian-threat

This is terrorism, plain and simple. And it had its desired effect, which will only encourage more, similar attempts in the future.

Nor is Sarkeesian’s event cancellation the first win for gamer-terrorists — Intel, a multibillion dollar corporation, was bullied into withdrawing its advertising from a gaming news site that criticized the “Gamergate” harassers by an organized “operation” to spam the company’s public emails during peak business hours. The attack was little more than a poor man’s DDoS, clogging up Intel inboxes with thousands and thousands of e-mails criticizing the offending website, but the company pulled back rather than wade into the fray.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you that threats and harassment are part of a friendly “smack-talk” gamer culture that outsiders just don’t get. These are crimes, pure and simple, and they’re crimes that fall most heavily and most predictably on women.

Kentucky’s Troubled Relationship with the Secret Ballot

I grew up in the Midwest, where everyone knew all the dirt on everyone else, and was therefore expected to pretend they didn’t and to espouse a great respect for personal privacy — sort of a social Mutually Assured Destruction scheme reinforced with good old-fashioned Protestant guilt complexes.

It’s not a system I’d necessarily recommend, but it did have some beneficial side effects, like an obsession with secret ballots. Asking how another person voted, I learned at a very young age, was both rude and an insult to our democratic tradition. People fought and died for the right to vote privately, the argument went, so don’t use it to score cheap conversational points or to stir up shit. (Iowans, even in the days before hog megafarms started exploding in geysers of burning manure, had strong opinions on the subject of shit-stirring.)

But like most patriotic lessons learned in the Midwest, that was based more on fancy than on fact. America didn’t start adopting the secret ballot for major elections until after the Civil War, and even then it took a while to catch on. It’s more accurate — albeit more uncomfortable — to say that lots of people died from the lack of secret ballots, most of them black.

alison-grimes-secretary-of-stateCue the biggest non-story out of Kentucky, the last state in the Union to adopt secret ballots for national elections: because talking about actual policy bores viewers to tears, TV reporters and anchors have suddenly become obsessed with Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grime’s refusal to say who she voted for in 2012.

This is, I kid you not, being spun as a scandal. Eager to tie Grimes to the unpopular-in-Kentucky President, political and media figures have been characterizing her refusal to say who she voted for as “evasive” — rather than, you know, how our electoral system works.

Whether we buy into the old-fashioned notion that it’s a rude question or not (it is), Ms. Grimes is currently Kentucky’s Secretary of State. Ensuring a private ballot is literally her job right now. Who she voted for in 2012 doesn’t have any bearing on how good a Senator she might make, but discussing it publicly would certainly reflect on how good of a Secretary of State she makes.

Mitch McConnell reminded viewers in a debate Monday that there’s no “sacred right” to privacy at the ballot box. That’s certainly true, in part because America doesn’t have “sacred rights” of any kind. But Kentucky, reluctant though it may have been to follow the trend, does guarantee citizens a private ballot, meaning it very much is a right until the law is changed. And it happens to be a law that Alison Grimes is personally responsible for enforcing.

 

Independent Candidate Senate Wins Would Benefit Everybody

Seal_of_the_United_States_Senate.svgWhat was supposed to be a shoo-in year for a Republican Senate takeover is shaping up to be a surprisingly close contest.

In Kansas, with the Democratic candidate officially out of the race, independent candidate Greg Orman is looking increasingly comfortable to win over lackluster Republican incumbent Pat Roberts, whose political survival now depends on getting the tinfoil-tricorn fringe of the party that voted for his opponent in the primaries to turn out for him.

Over in South Dakota, Republican candidate Mike Rounds is polling somewhat better, holding onto a measurable lead over his opponents (in part because, unlike in Kansas, the Democratic candidate remains an active and viable campaigner), but a persistent scandal is dogging his heels and dragging his numbers downward, and his independent opponent, Larry Pressler, is a former Republican with a good shot at wooing away the party’s saner, more centrist voters.

Unlikely as the event remains, a win for both independent candidates in the midterms could be one of the healthiest things to happen to American democracy in a long time.

There are already two independents in the Senate (Bernie Sanders and Angus King), but neither one has ever won election at a time when control of the chamber could be tipped by an independent’s vote. If Pressler and Orman both win in 2014, depending on what happens with other elections, we could conceivably see both major parties with under 50 seats.

For practical purposes, some of the independents would be spoken for, of course — Bernie Sanders is unlikely to cross the aisle and start voting Republican on major issues any time soon. And the GOP in particular seems determined to burn bridges with the independent candidates before election day; RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has already called the possibility of Orman caucusing with Republicans “impossible” and “ridiculous.”

But in theory, independent wins could put both major parties in the position of having to actually work for their Senate majority on votes of substance. That would be unprecedented — and it would be a vital step back toward a functioning democracy, where policy is crafted based on compromises that can win approval from a wide range of diverse interests, rather than by bare-minimum marginal victories along polarized party lines.

Could that, in turn, shift incumbent legislators’ attention away from political grandstanding aimed at winning a party majority in the next election cycle, and back toward actually legislating? Don’t let’s get ahead of ourselves — but it would be a hopeful step, and a badly needed jolt to both major parties’ institutionalized complacency.

Jennifer Lawrence Decries Leaked Nudes (in Nude “Vanity Fair” Appearance)

Coming soon in the pages of Vanity Fair: cognitive dissonance that’ll make your head spin like a sulphur-crested cockatoo’s, courtesy of social media omnipresence Jennifer Lawrence. She’s furious that people looked at naked pictures of her without her permission — rightfully so — and she’s going to tell the world what a violation it was, in print, right next to the full-page shots of her naked body.

vanity-fair-jennifer-lawrence

It’s a hell of a hat trick (er, necklace trick?). The two nudities, of course, are not comparable: there’s a unsubtle difference between having stolen, private pictures published without your permission and making a consenting, contractual agreement with a magazine photographer and publisher. One set of shots may also be more revealing than the other — I haven’t looked at the leaked photographs, and can’t speak to their exact content.

The people who hacked and released her photos were bad people, in other words, committing both a crime and a serious violation of another person’s privacy and physical safety. J-Law and the folks at Vanity Fair, in putting together their shoot, were not. More power to Ms. Lawrence for continuing to put her body out there in ways that she feels comfortable with.

But still, it’s hard to get away from that lovely, water-lapped bosom juxtaposed with Lawrence’s strong sentiment that “Just the fact that somebody can be sexually exploited and violated, and the first thought that crosses somebody’s mind is to make a profit from it…It’s so beyond me.”

Sexually displayed for a profit, on the other hand, is more like business as usual in the world of celebrity glam mags, and clearly not beyond J-Law’s imagination (or participation) at all. Famously, and for decades, Vanity Fair has been in the business of selling sexy pictures of attractive actresses, many of whom also happen to be talented and have interesting things to say — in small letters, down below their airbrushed cleavage. It’s a one-two punch of titillation and “I read it for the articles” legitimacy that’s served the modern reincarnation of Vanity Fair well.

But so long as J-Law gets a cut of the action and editorial control over how bare to bare, it’s neither exploitation nor violation. It will even be enthusiastically cheered as empowering. Everything is fine, and you can ogle to your heart’s content. With her permission!

Ain’t capitalism grand?

~

A NOTE FOR CLARIFICATION: As a number of people have complained that the above post equates to “slut-shaming,” let me be explicitly clear: no one should feel ashamed for getting as naked as they like, with whomever they like, for whatever reasons they like. Jennifer Lawrence hardly needs my approval to take her clothes off for any sort of photo shoot, or for any other reason, but she certainly has it, as does everyone else. Neither her Vanity Fair appearance nor her nude selfies demand any explanation (although, since she offered one for the selfies, I wish it had been a slightly more empowering message than “It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you”).

That said, I think it requires substantial self-deception to pretend that the grindingly repetitive media presentation of female celebrities as bosoms first and opinions second is completely unrelated to a culture that thinks itself entitled to those same celebrities’ private photographs. There’s a limit to how much we can cheer actresses as “taking control of their own bodies” by taking their clothes off for popular magazines (as if that’s the best or only way to prove agency) and still be horrified when unethical people, looking for something to steal or profit off, immediately think of those same actresses’ naked flesh.

J-Law called the shot (pun intended) and chose to appear unclothed for Vanity Fair; don’t let’s try to take that agency from her. But don’t let’s pretend that VF would still exist if it couldn’t find someone’s tits to grace the front page every other month or so, either, or that it gives a platform to feminism that doesn’t come with a great rack.

And do let’s question that sales and survival strategy, and everyone — consumers and producers — that participates in it.

The “He for She” Logo Is Literally Ladies Getting Fucked by Dudes

I just want to make sure we’re all completely, 100% clear on this: whatever else there is to say about the “He for She” slacktivism campaign, its logo is a stylized male symbol penetrating a stylized female symbol.

he-for-she-logo

That’s not subtext; that’s just the text. Or in this case the graphic design. Whatever. Upward-angled Mars symbol arrow thingie goes into centered Venus symbol cross thingie, and the tip of the male symbol vanishes. It is literally a picture of hetero fucking. But, you know, iconographically.

I would probably not have noticed this myself, on account of not paying the first damn bit of attention to “He for She,” but my girlfriend (who is, like me, a feminist, and unlike me a graphic designer) had strong feelings about it. Like, bursting into the room waving an iPad and saying “look at this and tell me it’s not a picture of fucking” feelings. She’s not wrong.

If you go to the He for She website and scroll down (which is clearly supposed to kinda-sorta make it run like the hybrid offspring of a slideshow and a video, but the execution isn’t great), you can even watch the image of a contemporary male advocate slotting into a black-and-white suffragette photo.

he-for-she-penetration

Bam! In he goes. At which point she vanishes, which, read whatever you want into that one. But that’s the imagery we’re going with, I guess.

Because it’s time to unify our efforts. If you know what I mean, hur hur hur.

The Endless Update Cycle

Mac_LogoAbout a month ago I finally updated the operating system on my iPhone (an old 4S model) to iOS7.

I wouldn’t have done it by choice, but there was some feature or other that couldn’t open without the new OS, and that was blocking my access to some documents by not opening. So update I did, although the “new” OS at that point was due to be replaced in a few weeks anyway.

And now it has been. And now there’s a new operating system, again. This happens at about the same breakneck pace for full-size computers, for those of us still using them — I’ve updated OSX twice in the four-year lifespan of my current desktop, and it’s still several versions out of date.

So here’s my question: do any of these updates make such substantial changes that anyone else feels they’re worth the hassle?

For my part, I’ve never noticed a particularly stunning improvement in user experience from iOS5 to iOS6, or OSX 10.5 to OSX 10.6, .7, .8, etc.

Now, when OSX itself came out — that was a jump from the old family Mac that had been running MacOS 7.something-or-other for years, let me tell you. A whole new world, a dazzling place I never knew (era-appropriate reference, natch).

But then, we’d been using that Mac for years. It lasted from the mid-90s through the start of the new millennium without ever once downloading an automatic update, mostly because automatic updates and the bandwidth to download them didn’t exist at the time.

I don’t know that I’ve gained much from the ability to update my Mac all the time. Mostly I seem to have gained the inability to use my computer for basic utility programs unless I hassle with (and pay for) a new operating system every year or so. On the phone the cycle is even quicker, although the updates at least are free.

Which would all be fine and good, if upgrading from OSX 10.8 to 10.9 or iOS7 to iOS8 were a dazzling, eye-opening experience that changed the way I use my computing devices.

It’s not.

A Foreign Policy Hammer in a World Without Nails

If ever a headline summed up American foreign policy, it would surely be this one:

us-military-battle-ebola

“U.S. Military to Battle Ebola Virus,” proclaims The Wall Street Journal, entirely without irony. One can almost see them now, camouflaged troopers brandishing their rifles at bedridden patients: “Come out of his body with your RNA up!”

The military will not, of course, actually be pointing weapons at ebola patients (we hope); rather, they will be deployed to “coordinate international aid, build treatment centers and train health-care workers” from a new command and control center in Monrovia, Liberia.

Call it a case of the world’s largest hammer looking for nails to pound. Military training can encompass a great many specializations, of course, including some that are potentially relevant to controlling a disease outbreak, but the reality is that most of our servicemen and servicewomen have rather a different focus. If their skills are relevant to a crisis like West Africa’s ebola outbreak, it is more by accident than design.

cdc-ebola-signNo fault of the military. In theory, we have other agencies to deal with health and humanitarian crises, and indeed, the CDC and USAID have personnel deployed to combat the outbreak already, with more on their way. Those are the professionals who really are — at least in theory — trained to “battle” a virus on foreign soil. It’s their job, not the troopers’.

And yet, and yet, and yet. Three thousand military men and women? Three thousand more, on top of those already deployed to West Africa.

There’s no shortage of work to be done, certainly. Setting up treatment clinics and training centers takes a fair amount of manual labor, which the military is as qualified to provide as anyone. But do we really need to send trained soldiers (with all their attendant equipment) just to put up buildings and run phone centers?

America’s reliance on the military for large-scale overseas endeavors isn’t healthy, and it isn’t cheap. Trained soldiers with weapons don’t belong in charge of peaceful aid missions, and it’s a waste of their training and equipment to have them there. If America wants to invest in foreign aid (which I think worthwhile), it should do it through strengthened aid offices like USAID, the Peace Corps, and specialized services like the CDC and USGS, not through the military.

Most overseas crises that touch on American safety, it turns out, aren’t land wars. We can hit them with our multi-trillion-dollar hammer all we like, but it won’t turn them into the kinds of nails that the military is equipped to pound.

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