Archive for the ‘ Media & Internet ’ Category

“More Border Security” Is Either a Misnomer or Monstrous – Take Your Pick

Since the phrase is coming up in the news a lot lately, I figured I should spell this out clearly: when you talk about “adding border security” or “making the border more secure,” with regards to undocumented immigration across the southern border of the United States, you’re either using the wrong words or advocating something truly heinous and inhumane.


Here’s the issue: right now, and for the past several months, the U.S. has been apprehending a large number of undocumented children from South and Central American countries other than Mexico. The country of origin is relevant; a 2008 law (signed by George W. Bush) says that children under 18 from countries that do not share a border with the United States can’t be deported without an asylum/refugee status hearing in front of a judge. And because qualified judges are not exactly clamoring for the thankless, depressing, and underpaid job, those hearings are backlogged more than a year out as a default.

Adding people whose job it is to seek out and arrest undocumented immigrants near the U.S. border won’t help with this problem. These aren’t adult immigrants hoping to live and work “under the radar” in the United States because the money is good. They’re kids fleeing violent countries who are guaranteed a hearing that will take years to happen once they get here and enter the system, and who in the meantime will be housed with their families in the States if at all possible (since that’s cheaper than creating government housing for them).

By and large, these immigrants aren’t trying to evade capture. In many cases they’re heading directly toward the Border Patrol or other law enforcement as soon as they get across the border. You can add as many cops (or, god help us, troops) as you like, but it’ll just slightly increase the speed at which individuals are handcuffed, and that’s really not where the bottleneck is in the system.

At that point, “more border security” means one of two things. One option is that it’s a broad term being inaccurately used to mean improving the legal system that deals with immigrants after arrest: hiring more judges, building and funding housing facilities, etc., which most people will agree is a good idea in theory, but which costs money and requires finding a lot of people to do not very fun jobs, making it a challenge in practice. (The President proposed a bill to fund the needed improvements, but the House refuses to take it up, and is preparing for a month-long recess without introducing an alternative.)

The other thing “more border security” can mean is making the actual, physical process of crossing the border harder. There are a limited number of humane, legal, and physically feasible ways to do that, and we’ve already done most of them. At the point where the infrastructure we already have in place isn’t stopping migrants, very little will.

The people coming here are generally afraid of being assaulted or murdered if they stay in their home country, meaning any physical deterrent short of that is still the better option. Getting cut crawling through barbed wire or suffering dehydration in the desert sucks, but it’s not going to stop someone who thinks the alternative is staying home and waiting to catch a stray bullet.

Border Patrol Agents Monitor US-Mexico Border

Short of shooting people in the attempt (which, in addition to the complicated legal issues of killing foreign nationals on foreign soil, would put us alongside North Korea and basically no one else in club of nations that use lethal force to secure borders during peacetime), there’s not a lot we can do to create a physical deterrent to immigration along the southern border. It’s already a rough trip; making it a little bit rougher will not stop that many additional migrants per dollar. About the only thing we can do is arrest people even faster once they make it across, which will do nothing to address the massive backlog of legally-mandated court hearings.

So if someone tells you that “the first step is securing the border” or some such nonsense, you might ask them what they mean. Because they’re either a sensible person who sees that we need more judges handling immigration cases and more permanent facilities to house people we’ve detained while they await those hearings, and would be willing to spend taxpayer money to help see the laws of the nation executed faithfully, or else they’re a fucking monster who thinks we should be shooting children on foreign soil just to prove a point.

I would like to believe most people fall into the former camp, but I’ve been disappointed before.

NYT “Chronicle” Tool Charts Use of Individual Words in Articles Since 1851

If you had anything productive to do today, stop reading now.

Otherwise, come on in and waste your time! The New York Times has opened up its “Chronicle” tool to the public, allowing users to search for individual words and phrases, and see how frequently they were used in Times articles every year since the paper’s founding.

Chronicle is available online, and allows for all sorts of interesting comparisons, ranging from the historical…


…to the political…


…to the downright obscene.


Or you can think about subtler revelations, like the shift from comparative to superlative that coincides with the advent of television, and worsens in the internet age:


So go have fun! Waste some time. Share your most interesting charts with your friends. I know I will be.


Wisconsin GOP Sues Mean Ol’ Private Business for Corporate Free Speeching At Them

If you ever wanted a close look at the cognitive dissonance that is driving the Republican party insane, look no further than my dear, sweet, home state of Wisconsin.

It took a Democratic candidate with executive experience in the private sector to do it, but suddenly the GOP here has decided that not all corporations are good. Ever since Mary Burke, a former Trek Bicycle Company executive, became the leading Democratic candidate for governor, Wisconsin Republicans have been paying for ads attacking Trek’s business practices, especially their use of production facilities overseas.

That was already a marked shift from the generally pro-business, anti-regulation GOP, which has been merrily handing out taxpayer money right and left to business who outsource most of their jobs far away from Wisconsin. (Also to businesses that donated to Republican governor Scott Walker, who talks a lot of trash about our neighbors to the south but seems to have imported his entire administrative strategy directly from Illinois.)

trek-newspaper-adBut things got really weird when Trek, sick of being kicked around, ran newspaper ads defending the company’s business practices — and were then sued by the state Republican party for speaking up. In the complaint, the Wisconsin GOP alleges that Trek’s advertisements are in-kind contributions to Mary Burke’s campaign.

I’m not worried for Trek or the Burke campaign’s legal future here. The Republican lawsuit is DOA; Trek’s advertisements (pictured left; click to expand if you’re curious) don’t even mention Mary Burke or the election. Far, far, far more pointed campaign ads are still legally protected as “non-partisan” and run every day, all across the country.

But it’s not every day that you see a state GOP office suing to keep  those mean ol’ corporations from free-speeching at them. And it really makes you wonder how much longer the national party can keep its increasingly obvious split personality under control.

New, Female “Thor” to Face First Villain, The Strawman

If you’re a fan of superheroines with overdeveloped chests and flowing blonde locks falling around their sculpted cheekbones (and who isn’t?), here’s some happy news for you: Marvel’s Thor looks almost exactly like he has for the last 52 years, but we’re using a different pronoun now.


(And yes, boob-shaped metal armor is still silly, but as far as MtF reboots go this is about as faithful of a costume transition as you could have asked for. The first Thor pranced around in skintight, chest-defining “armor” that served no protective function too. He’s like the original, non-satirical version of all those “what if male superheroes wore costumes like female superheroes” fanart threads you see floating around the internet.)

By all outward appearances this seems like a typical “passing the mantle” reboot, and Thor is a particularly easy title for that sort of thing. In the Marvel universe Thor isn’t a Norse god, but rather an ordinary human who picked up a hammer that imbues “worthy” bearers with the power of a kinda-sorta-godlike space alien presence called Thor.

That makes changing the main character up as easy as having someone else pick up the hammer. Marvel’s even done it before — for a while in the 80s and 90s there was a horse-faced alien goofball that stole the hammer and became Thor, leaving the canonical human host powerless (spoilers, 20+ years out of date: he gets it back).

But of course, that alien was male, or at least had boobless pectorals and was treated as an equal by male characters, ergo not female as far as the comics world goes. So that wasn’t controversial at all.

Female Thor, on the other hand…well.

If a bunch of people crying in the comments of your newspost counts as bad PR, I would say that Marvel has a situation on their hands. But it’s not, and they don’t, and I’m honestly not all that worried for the new Thor line, beyond the problems that the entire comics industry is facing. Credit to the author for getting out in front of things, and for Marvel backing his line, too: “This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe. But it’s unlike any Thor we’ve ever seen before.”

Let the “Well if you’re okay with female Thor, then I guess you must hate all the male superhero titles” strawmanning begin! (J/K, it already has, on shitty blogs that you shouldn’t read and in countless nerd-tear-soaked comments; no word from any of those on how they felt about the series when Thor was, and I’m not making this up, a frog.)

Godspeed, new Thor. But I guess you kinda already have that. HEYO!

DashCon: The Social Media Convention That Didn’t Social Media

Oh, the internet. It’s just so…internet.

Case in point: I never would have known there was such a thing as DashCon happening near my old hometown (a convention, in their own words, “For Tumblr Users, By Tumblr Users. We are not in any way affiliated with or endorsed by Tumblr,”) had it not started showing up all over my social media this Sunday.

Showing up, that is, because people on said social media thought it was a total disaster. Which it was, at least in terms of social media presence.

The details are exhaustive. You don’t care about the details, unless you’re already invested in this fiasco somehow. If you want to know the details, get on Twitter or Tumblr and follow the #DashCon hashtags, or read one of the many bullet-pointed lists of utter fuck-ups provided by other blogs. It is entertaining reading, in a grim and schadenfreudey kind of way.

All you need to know for the purposes of this discussion is that the hashtag is out there, and that it is full of jokes about what a disaster the convention was and how this sad little ballpit was not an acceptable substitute for the acts the organizers promised and then failed to deliver:


I’m sure there will be lots of back and forth on nichy little sub-blogs that no one reads (like this one!) in the coming days about who scammed who. Front and center of the whole blow-up, the convention apparently begged its own attendees — the ones who’d already paid the $65 admission price — to crowd-fund $17,000 in one night to pay the hotel where the convention was being hosted:


(That’s screenshotted from one of the convention admin’s tumblr pages, mind you, since the official convention tumblr scrubbed it. But you can see the source there in the screenshot if you’re a stickler for accuracy and all that.)

And currently, Lord only knows where that money went or if it was even required in the first place because (and this brings us to the main thrust of our article, here) the staff of this convention — this Tumblr-celebrating, social media fandom convention — has no social media presence.

I’m not even kidding. People started getting weird vibes and posting using the #DashCon hashtag on Twitter, Facebook, and of course Tumblr on Friday, July 11. It’s now Sunday, and there are no relevant updates from the official convention staff on any of those. Not only is there no official statement, there have not even been short, small updates acknowledging that there is some sort of problem.

The last post on Facebook is from July 8:


Twitter contains nothing but scheduling notices and general well-wishes for convention panels:


And the Tumblr feed (remembering, of course, that this is a convention about all things Tumblr) hasn’t posted anything but cheery updates about panelists and the game room, most recently this one:


The convention website is similarly blank, and for that matter doesn’t even have a space where a statement might go, although if I were making suggestions I’d throw “right on the goddamn front page with a huge headline in bold text are you even kidding me?” out there as a possibility.


I don’t know how this happened. I mean, I’m willing to forgive a lot of administrative screw-ups, but to screw up and then not communicate via social media, as negative feedback spirals out of control on social media, at a convention that is all about social media?

It left the field wide open for mockery, parody, and fake staff accounts that actually updated, all of which have helped spread the bad press even further.

So my sympathies to the con staff and all, but: why? Why was no one riding Twitter? Why were there no statements on the Facebook page or the official convention website? Why, for the love of god, weren’t you using Tumblr, at a convention all about fucking Tumblr, to respond to questions and concerns?

For actual con-goers there was an explanation panel this morning (in which they begged critics to stop using the #DashCon hashtag), but apart from some wobbly video taken by an unaffiliated attendee in the audience there’s no official record of the convention’s position out there for the rest of the internet that is so avidly watching.

A good, sword-falling statement was called for at least 24 hours ago, and as of Sunday still no sign.

You would think that for $17,000 in crowd-funding they could have paid someone to sit in a room with a laptop and keep an eye on the social media feeds, and maybe get out in front of this crap. Yeah, it’s not the most fun job in the world, but pay someone to do it — or don’t hold conventions based on a mutual use of the social media that you’re not fucking using.

Lesson for all of us here: if you’re seeing your own name, or your organization’s name, in a Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook/whatever hashtag more than once or twice in a given day, pay someone to get a reply to that shit on your official account ASAP. You cannot afford to DashCon.

RNC Wants to Turn Voters Off Of Hillary…And There’s No Turn-Off Like a Used Fursuit

So that was a thing that happened over the weekend:


The Republican National Committee — which, let’s be clear, is the party’s official leadership organization, not an unaffiliated group of fringe supporters — broke out an orange squirrel fursuit to demonstrate against Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

(There is no Hillary Clinton presidential campaign yet, of course, but there’s no such thing as six foot tall orange squirrels, either, and you don’t see that stopping the RNC.)

There is no Clinton-squirrel connection that we know of, other than the “nuts” joke, which seems more like a Bill Clinton joke from the Monica era because balls, he liked putting his dick in stuff, hur hur hur etc.

But hey! The goal is to make voters feel uncomfortable about a Hillary presidency, and nothing makes people feel uncomfortable like a fursuit on a hot, sunny day.

Oh, wait. Make that a used fursuit on a hot, sunny day. Apparently that thing’s been gathering sweat at the RNC headquarters since appearing in anti-ACORN spots in 2008. (Remember ACORN? The squirrel connection slowly becomes clearer.)

Its whereabouts between 2008 and 2014 are unknown, but I think we can all guess.

Did you guess “wrapped around Reince Priebus’s flop-sweating body in a back alley behind FurCon?” Of course you did.

And now you feel disgusted, which is just what the RNC wanted! Maybe they’re smarter than the giant orange fursuit campaign strategy makes them look.

Then again, that wouldn’t be hard.

The YA Readers Doth Protest Too Much

slate-ya-articleLet me start with a bit of irony for you all: almost every time an article about reading and literature goes viral on the internet, the lede references a book that’s been recently made into a movie.

Roll that one around in your heads for a minute before we dive into Slate’s recent critique of YA literature and the adults who read it, and the furor it sparked.

We can make a compelling case for America’s staggering illiteracy without ever touching on the nebulous concept of “young adult,” is all I’m sayin’ here. But touch on it Slate did, and was there ever a backlash! If you want to read essays vehemently defending not only the right of adults to read whatever they want (which no one ever disputed) but also the inherent nobility of adults who read YA literature, help yourself: JezebelThe Atlantic, Bustle; pick your poison.

This strikes me as overreaction.

The arguments boil down into one of two camps:

1. Reading is fun, and people should read whatever they think is fun to read.

2. YA books can be challenging, significant works of literature.

If you believe #1, you’re done here. Given the premise that reading is fundamentally a leisure activity, and that the pleasure it brings is the best measure of a book’s value, then of course YA literature is just as valuable as anything else, so long as the reader enjoys it. Slate‘s concerns about the superficiality of the themes and attitudes in YA books don’t matter, because you’re not reading to think about themes. You’re reading to have fun.

The problem is with #2. Once you feel the need to defend YA literature as not just entertainment but as a tool for intellectual challenge, you’re inherently accepting the premise that literature derives value from more than just the entertainment it provides. And that’s a test most YA books — and most books in general, for that matter — fail.

The vast majority of YA books are crap for making you think about the world in deep or significant ways. They just are.

Sure, there are exceptions. But we’re talking about books for teens, here. If serious emotional or intellectual complexity makes it in there, it’s because an editor wasn’t paying attention, not because that’s what publishers think teens want.

That one really moving YA book by an up-and-coming author that made you think in ways you never thought before (and that you’re going to mention in the comments) isn’t what pieces like Slate‘s are talking about, and you know it. They’re talking about the hundreds of other books on the YA shelf that are treacly, simplistic crap, and you can’t pretend those books aren’t there, in vast quantities.

It's not a f*ing cause.

It’s not a cause, and you don’t need a button.

Now, if we’re being fair, we shouldn’t give adult fiction a pass here, either. There’s no real superiority of a Tom Clancy thriller to Twilight in terms of emotional complexity or intellectual challenge, beyond requiring a little more familiarity with the structures of adult life. And mindless entertainment makes up the bulk of adult book sales, too.

The difference is mostly that publishers can and do publish challenging fiction for adults, while they actively shy away from doing so under the YA label. So if you’re one of the few people who really is looking for something intellectually stimulating in your reading, you’re much more likely to have success outside the YA shelves.

And if you’re not looking for intellectual stimulation, why do you care if someone else thinks your summer reading isn’t intellectual enough? That’s not what you’re reading for! Their arguments do not apply to you! Go about your life in peace!

Life’s too short to worry that someone else thinks you’re not getting enough out of your reading. But if you’re worried that you might not be getting enough out of your reading…then yeah, it’s time to move beyond the YA shelves, and don’t shoot the messengers for saying it.

Gun Crimes Have One Common Factor, and It’s In the Name

Here are some things that other developed nations have:

    • people with untreated mental illnesses
    • social stigmas against seeking help for depression, alienation, etc.
    • violent video games
    • violent movies
    • public spaces where people, by law, may not carry guns

Here are some things that no other developed nations have:

    • virtually unrestricted access to all kinds of firearms
    • our insanely high rates of gun killings (by an order of magnitude or two)

It’s not actually that complex.

Freedom-Loving Comic Artists Sure Do Miss That CCA

Even for The Wall Street Journal, this was a weird op-ed: two comic book artists complaining about how moral relativism and political correctness have ruined the comics industry, and lamenting the loss of the industry’s long-standing, draconian, and much-reviled self-censorship guidelines.

In “How Liberalism Became Kryptonite for Superman” (yes, really), Chuck Dixon and Paul Rivoche bemoan the sad state of affairs brought about by shocking comic book storylines like Superman renouncing his American citizenship. As they put it,

…today’s young comic-book readers are being ill-served by a medium that often presents heroes as morally compromised or no different from the criminals they battle. With the rise of moral relativism, ‘truth, justice, and the American way’ have lost their meaning.

comics-code-authority-cca-sealThey then promptly go on to bemoan the weakening and eventual abandonment of the Comics Code Authority, the infamous self-censorship guidelines that kept American comic books from depicting anything but simplistic, black-and-white, good-versus-evil storylines for the latter half of the 20th century.

Among other things, the CCA banned presenting “policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions … in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority,” required that “crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal,” and outlawed any mention of “sex perversions” or “illicit sex relations,” which yes of course included homosexuality and did you even have to ask?

Basically everyone who works in comics today recognizes that this was a terrible idea, except apparently for Messrs. Dixon and Rivoche, who seem entirely sincere in complaining that

The 1990s brought a change. The industry weakened and eventually threw out the CCA, and editors began to resist hiring conservative artists. One of us, Chuck, expressed the opinion that a frank story line about AIDS was not right for comics marketed to children. His editors rejected the idea and asked him to apologize to colleagues for even expressing it.

This seems like as good a moment as any to pause and point out that Chuck Dixon’s big claims to fame are helping to create Bane, the psychotic supervillain who cripples Batman by snapping his spine over one knee, and a lengthy stretch of work on The Punisher, a comic about a brutal, gun-toting vigilante who uses torture, kidnapping, and murder a-plenty in his one-man war on crime.

But those guys never talk about AIDS, so, you know. All cool.

It’s the impassioned cri de couer at the end of the op-ed that really makes you ears ring with cognitive dissonance, though:

We hope conservatives, free-marketeers and, yes, free-speech liberals will join us. It’s time to take back comics.

Yes. Because nothing says “free speech” and “free markets” like a return to industry-imposed censorship of creative content. Those were the good old days, when men were men, women were cheesecake, and enough critical thinking skills to maintain basic ideological consistency throughout a half-page op-ed were apparently not needed to get a job in the comics industry.

“Not an Enemy” Isn’t the Same Thing as “an Ally”

It’s amazing just how much friendly advice social justice advocates can get about keeping the people unaffected by a given injustice happy.

Mention any sort of structural inequality in the status quo on your social network of choice, and you’ll see more than you ever asked for:

“Don’t offend your potential allies.”

“Just because people have privilege doesn’t mean their needs aren’t important too.”

“It’s hard to be part of a movement that insults you just for existing.”

We’ve all heard ‘em. (Well, I use the term “we” loosely. Some of you have said them, rather than hearing them.)

Here’s the thing about “allies,” though: Allies are part of a fight.

They’re involved. They’re active. They’re potentially at risk themselves. That’s why we use a word with some weighty, military associations. (Which I’m unfond of, peacenik pacifist that I am these days, but there you are.)

If you are a straight person who is cool with gay relationships, that’s great! If you are white and don’t consciously think that non-whites are inferior, good job! If you’re a male who’s never threatened a woman with sexual violence, keep up the good work! You are all successfully maintaining a minimum level of “Decent Human Being.”


Here, have a cookie.

But you know what?

That’s all those things get you. They get you “not deliberately causing new problems.” They get you “not an enemy.”

They don’t get you “ally.”

And that’s fine. It’s a free country. No one is obligated to speak out, to organize, to vote, to volunteer, or to do anything else for the benefit of people that aren’t them.

You can walk past the collapsed building. You can drive by the wreck. You can hear screams and not look out window. People make those choices every day, and you know what? They’ve got their own shit going on. Maybe there are good reasons they didn’t get involved. Maybe there aren’t, and that’s still their choice.

But don’t expect anyone to think you’re a hero just because you heard the screams, or saw the wreck, or walked by the building, and didn’t do anything to make it worse.

You are not an “ally” if your main contribution is doing no conscious evil.

And again, that’s fine. You don’t have to be an ally. But don’t get huffy when it seems like a movement you’re not involved in doesn’t take your needs and feelings into account.

No one owes you a thank-you for not exercising your “being a dick” potential to its maximum. That’s between you and your basic self-respect.

The structural injustices you’re sick and tired of hearing about will not be changed by passive not-enemies. They will be changed by active, aggressive challengers attacking the status quo in direct and meaningful ways.

If that ain’t your struggle, fine. Move aside. But don’t whine about feeling excluded, because that was your choice.

You can pick up a shovel and join the trenches any time you decide it’s worth your while.

And then you’ll be an “ally.”


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