A Foreign Policy Hammer in a World Without Nails

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


“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.

Wikipedia’s Erasure of Belle Knox, “The Duke Porn Star”

BELLE-KNOX (1)If you don’t recognize the name Belle Knox, you’ve still probably heard of her: “the Duke porn star,” a girl who was outed at her college as a porn star and who responded with an aggressive media blitz and a firm refusal to drop out, shut up, or in general be the tiniest bit apologetic about her work.

That being the sort of thing that upsets people, she was in the news for a while, and continues to be a presence on various TV and radio shows. She talks about sex worker rights and feminism, for obvious reasons, but also speaks on college affordability (pointing out that her porn career started as a way to pay for college).

Knox is outspoken, opinionated, and willing to trade on her celebrity to get her message out in a lot of places. She’s been in Rolling Stone, she’s been in Time, she’s been in Salon; she’s done dozens of interviews on TV and radio — and that’s all on top of a continuing porn career, which, unsurprisingly, seems to be doing pretty well.

You can find all that out (and trace the sources for it) in about five minutes with Google. Knox’s presence is real, sustained, and documented.

So why isn’t it on Wikipedia?

If you do that Googling, you will notice something missing: the inevitable Wikipedia page that always pops up in the first three or four results when you Google someone of even the most passing media presence. And that’s not because no one created one, back when Knox first hit the mainstream media; a “Belle Knox” Wikipedia entry existed as early as March 5, 2014. It was deleted later that month, and remains absent as of today (despite roughly 11,000 views of the dead link in the last 90 days, according to Wikipedia’s own tracking).


In a textbook illustration of Wikipedia’s flaws, a site admin approved deletion over a majority consensus that favored keeping the “Belle Knox” entry. The admin (male, with contributions primarily focused on military history and obscure 20th century warship trivia) based his decision on the, in his opinion, “stronger policy-grounded” arguments of the pro-deletion minority, citing by name another Wikipedia user (also male, with contributions primarily focused on the TV show Battlestar Galactica).

The two apparently agreed that Knox did not meet Wikipedia’s “one event” rule, which states that a person does not qualify for a Wikipedia page:

  1. If reliable sources cover the person only in the context of a single event.
  2. If that person otherwise remains, and is likely to remain, a low-profile individual. Biographies in these cases can give undue weight to the event and conflict with neutral point of view. In such cases, it is usually better to merge the information and redirect the person’s name to the event article.
  3. If the event is not significant or the individual’s role was either not substantial or not well documented.

(Note that Wikipedia recommends deletion only when each of those three conditions are met.)

It’s a fairly silly test in the first place, given that a lot of famous people (particularly the victims and/or perpetrators of single, famous crimes) fail. But Knox transparently passes the first bar, since reliable sources have covered multiple appearances of hers, ranging from strip club performances to interviews on CNN to adult video award ceremonies and conventions. She certainly shows no sign of remaining a low-profile individual, passing the second bar as well, and the ample documentation of the initial “outing” and response that sparked her fame passes the third.

And yet, because a couple of guys who like writing about battleships both real and fictional decided she wasn’t important, there’s still no Wikipedia page, even as Konx’s appearances and popularity continue.

There’s a feminist critique of history pointing out that “historical sources” aren’t perfect snapshot pictures of the time when they were written — and, in most cases, they were written by men with a vested interest in erasing women from any position of prominence, making them particularly unreliable where the achievements of women are concerned. Knox’s treatment on Wikipedia is good evidence that the problem is not purely a historical one.

World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor (Females Not Included)

I haven’t written about games much lately because I frankly haven’t played games much lately, but back in the day some of you knew me as quite the World of Warcraft player, in the nerdiest and least-competitive way possible.

In the intervening years I haven’t felt like I was missing much. Both the game and the story seemed to be going in directions that weren’t terribly interesting to me (more automated queues to repeat content over and over again with strangers, less incentive to socialize with players you actually knew; an entire lost continent of fuzzy ninja pandas), so I was content to let WoW do its thing while I did mine.

But when word reached me of a new expansion that went back to some of the early game lore (like “remember that illustrated booklet that came with your Warcraft II CD?” early), I started to wonder if maybe it wasn’t time to dust off the old account. Hell, they were doing a big time travel retcon to make the expansion possible — I could even bring back my old, dead character as his younger self!

And then I started looking at the promotional content.

warlords-of-draenor-homepageNotice anything missing from the big home page splash design? Don’t worry, it’s totally missing from the “Story, Heroes, and Villains” section of the website, too!


This is where we’re at in game design in 2014: of the ten “storied heroes and villains” deemed most central to the new expansion of the largest MMORPG ever, not a one has tits. (And you would know if they did, Warcraft tits being what they are.)

Blizzard Entertainment (the maker of World of Warcraft) is also releasing a series of short animated videos, one per week, as a promotional push toward the expansion’s release:

Since each video is about a “Warlord” from those heroes and villians up top, you already know the central characters are all male. But don’t worry! Two out of three videos so far have featured female orcs.

One was a chieftain’s “mate” fatally wounded by enemies so that he could finish her off and then be all ragey-broody about it, and the other was a chieftain’s mother who got weak and sick so that he had to leave the clan and guard her sleeping body from wolves. But hey — they’re in there!

And maybe some day, if we’re very good, Blizzard will make a movie featuring a female character who’s actually standing on her own two feet. But we’re not there yet. Forget the low bar of “wearing armor and carrying a weapon;” they literally haven’t made it to “women who aren’t lying down” in three weeks of expensively produced video advertising. (Or to women who aren’t the mothers/wives of the title characters, for that matter.)

There was also a fully animated “cinematic trailer” for the expansion, featuring, you guessed it, zero women (although it does feature a massive scaly demon of indeterminate biology but clearly masculine voice):

Regarding previous Warcraft lore in the new expansion, we’ve already been told that the most prominent female orc from the existing game (another wife/mother, natch) won’t be there because the story of this expansion is “more of a boys’ trip,” at least according to Blizzard’s senior story developer Chris Metzen. She gets to stay at home and raise her precious orc bebbies, like ladies do.

And the most prominent female from the human half of the game’s storyline has been semi-officially decreed a mental incompetent because she’s angry at the orcs for blowing up her city and isn’t interested in negotiating a peaceful settlement with them (after they blew up her city — women, so irrational, amirite?) Until a few days ago, when a change was made in response to pressure from the director of Warcraft’s largest unofficial resource website, a new in-game flavor item referred to her as “crazy:”


Violence and war and seeking revenge on the evil-doers who slaughtered your people: it’s 100% what this game is about, except when a chick does it, in which case she is cray-cray.

Even the loading screens between world zones each have the females outnumbered five to one, except of course in the new zone, where they’re completely absent:


All of which begs the question: why does the titular world of Warcraft look like this? This is an original, from-scratch story. Gender roles and gender balance can be literally whatever the writers want.

And right now, Blizzard wants two women in the 20 faction leaders and “big bosses” that make up the new expansion’s most prominent characters. The new lore, it seems, is made up of dead wives, dying mothers, and men.

This is not a small oversight. These are not a couple of aesthetic issues that need tweaking. This is the product of a design culture that is utterly, top-to-bottom male-centric, and that has no interest in telling stories about female characters.

It makes you wonder what sort of players are going to respond positively to this kind of advertising — and that, in turn, makes me really not want to play the new expansion with the kind of people it’s going to attract.

Democracy’s Depressing Results

There are days (and not just election days) when democracy can get depressing.

Not the process, so much, although a lot of how we do that in this country is broken, too (and there are obviously plenty of people with direct oversight of the process who have an active interest in breaking it further).

It’s the results that get you down sometimes. Some of these people we send to Congress, have you seen them? I mean — this is Congress we’re talking about. National office. The very highest levels of government.

And we elect people like Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA):

dana_rohrabacher“Just so you know, global warming is a total fraud and it is being designed by—what you’ve got is you’ve got liberals who get elected at the local level want state government to do the work and let them make the decisions. Then, at the state level, they want the federal government to do it. And at the federal government, they want to create global government to control all of our lives. That’s what the game plan is. It’s step by step by step, more and bigger control over our lives by higher levels of government. And global warming is that strategy in spades.… Our freedom to make our choices on transportation and everything else? No, that’s gotta be done by a government official who, by the way, probably comes from Nigeria because he’s a UN government official, not a US government official.”

He’s on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, because of course he is. For that matter, so is Paul Broun (R-GA), who you hopefully all remember as the “lies from the pit of hell” guy:

Paul_Broun_Congressional_Portrait“God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior. There’s a lot of scientific data that I found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I believe that the Earth is about 9,000 years old. I believe that it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says. And what I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually. How to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all our public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason, as your congressman, I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.”

(To be fair, Broun is on his way out in November — but it’s because he gave up running for re-election to run for the Senate instead, not because voters in his district got tired of him.)

And yeah, it’s kinda funny to pull those quotes and make a caricature of the whole right wing, but seriously, these people are Members of Congress. Which is terrifying on a practical level (their insanity actually plays a role in making the laws you and I have to live by), but also on a patriotic level: what does it really say about our country that, in some parts of it, these guys can get a majority vote?

I mean, think about that. Somewhere in the US, a fairly significant population is more than half on board with the lies from the pit of hell guy. And the global-government-UN-official-from-Nigeria guy. And an assorted host of lesser nutballs, dingbats, and loonies, all of whom are now at least partially in control of your life.

Where do we find those voters? How have we fucked up, as a country, that there is a single county anywhere within our borders that can cough up a majority for the “lies from the pit of Hell” guy who thinks the Bible is all he needs to know about voting in America? You shouldn’t be able to get a majority of parishioners at a church basement social to agree that that’s a good way to run the country, much less a voting majority in a Congressional district.

But you can. And these guys do. And then they help run the country.

And that’s why, some days, democracy feels pretty damn depressing.

American Christians, Not Actually the Only Christians

Hecklers sometimes happen at political speeches. There will always be moments when one or two malcontents stand up and shout until security hauls them off, no matter what you’re speaking on or who you’re speaking to.

Getting booed off the stage by a substantial portion of the crowd, however, requires some serious misjudging of your audience, and all-pro chess star Ted Cruz managed it Wednesday night, telling a gathering of Middle Eastern Christians that “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.”

He also assured the audience that sometimes it’s okay to call pretty much everyone in the Middle East that isn’t the state of Israel “evil,” including groups that draw support from some Arab Christians:

“ISIS, al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas, state sponsors like Syria and Iran, are all engaged in a vicious genocidal campaign to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East. Sometimes we are told not to loop these groups together, that we have to understand their so called nuances and differences. But we shouldn’t try to parse different manifestations of evil that are on a murderous rampage through the region.”

Turns out that not everyone in the audience thought that was very nice of Sen. Cruz!

Saint_Abo_of_TiflisWhich brings us to the important issue underlying this moment: American evangelicals do not have a monopoly on Christian thought.

Most Christians in the world do not have a strong theological opinion re: the political state of Israel at all, much less the raging hard-on for it that our native fundamentalists love to fondle. And in the Middle East specifically, many Syrian, Lebanese, and other Christian minorities that have been in the region since the first centuries of Christianity see the official Israeli state as an existential threat and even an oppressor.

But you wouldn’t know that from most of the coverage of Cruz’s little oops moment, and I’m not just talking about the internet comments here. Most authors covering the crowd’s angry reaction don’t mention the difference between Cruz’s Christianity (evangelical, millennialist, and drawn from a school of thought that originated in England and the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) and the audience’s Christianity (pre-evangelical, and for that matter pre-Roman Catholic, and developed for most of its history as a minority faith under Islamic rule).

These are not groups that are going to see eye to eye. And on the balance, when you’re talking about how to help Christians in the Middle East who are threatened by the Islamic State (ostensibly the subject of the little get-together), I tend to think that we can assume a greater authority and more informed perspective from, you know, Christians in the Middle East, who do not usually see the Israeli state as being particularly invested in their well-being.

Good luck telling that to Ted Cruz, though. I’m sure he was thrilled by the opportunity to show his strong support of real Christians: the white, English-speaking ones, not those ones who’ve been studying Christ’s teachings in Christ’s homeland since the time of Christ.

Techbro Harasser Gets Called Out; Offers World’s Flimsiest Lie in Defense

At least when someone starts lying about what they did, it’s a sign that they know they’ve screwed up, right?

That’s the small comfort we can take from the behavior of Pavel Curda, a tech advisor and “angel” investor (scarequotes wholly justified) who got publicly outed on Gawker for harassing multiple women at industry conferences.

At 1:20 PM on Tuesday, Gawker posted a screenshot of a (thoroughly unsolicited and decidedly unwelcome) e-mail from Curda’s account to a female tech entrepreneur he’d met at a conference reading “Hey G. I will not leave Berlin until having sex with you. Deal?” By 4:30 the same day, he had this up on Twitter:


Oh, those rascally hackers. Not only did they hack his account, they cleverly planned to get laid vicariously by telling pretty ladies that Pavel Curda wanted to stick his weener in them! No doubt they also hacked the hotel cameras in hopes of making a sex tape, because everyone loves Pavel Curda’s sexy body, obvs.

So good job, hats off, etc. to this latest specimen of techbro douchebaggery, for providing us with yet another reminder that yes, workplace sexism is still a thing, and also still a thing that you pretty much have to be a spineless failure of a human being to participate in.

You, sir, are the worst, at lying as well as life.

EDIT: Oh god it gets worse. Wednesday morning, tech blog The Next Web (to which Curda has been a frequent contributor) published a creepy, harassing, non-apology from Curda:


Suffice it to say, this is more of the same shit, and The Next Web ain’t doing themselves any favor by volunteering their platform for it.

When a Political Party Finds Enrolling Voters “Disgusting”

ballot-boxIt’s hard to imagine how anyone can oppose the enrollment and engagement of more voters while still claiming to be a political or philosophical adherent of democracy.

And yet, in the midst of civil unrest in Ferguson, MO, the executive director of the state’s Republican party finds it “disgusting” that local residents have set up voter registration booths near the center of the protests:

“In an interview with Breitbart News, Missouri RNC executive director Matt Wills expressed outrage about the reports [of voter registration booths].

“If that’s not fanning the political flames, I don’t know what is,” Wills said, “I think it’s not only disgusting but completely inappropriate.”

Let’s be clear here. The top GOP official in the state is offended by the idea that members of a community with abysmally low voter registration and turnout might, in the face of civil unrest and street violence, urge their peers to get registered and channel their frustrations at the ballot box rather than taking to the streets.

This comes, of course, in the greater context of a nation-wide push by the GOP to increase barriers on voting, largely in the name of combatting “voter fraud” that almost never occurs and that wouldn’t be prevented by the measures proposed anyway. But it’s an especially stark example of a party that has, collectively, decided that democracy works better when only the right people vote.

Any sane politician would be lining up to help staff the registration booths right now. The alternative is already on display in the streets of Ferguson. People will vote, one way or another, and it’s in everyone’s best interests to make the process of voting with ballots rather than bricks as streamlined and accessible as possible.

Shame on Matt Wills, and on the state organization he heads.


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