The Ice Bucket Challenge: Not a Challenge, and Not Impressive, But Whatever Works I Guess

Doing_the_ALS_Ice_Bucket_Challenge_(14927191426)There’s a lot to be said about internet slacktivism in general (none of it good), but I have to give the ice bucket challenge credit for coming up with a way to make it even more obnoxious, narcissistic, and privileged — while simultaneously milking some actual positive effect from the phenomenon!

If you’re not familiar, the ice bucket challenge is basically a chain letter fundraiser with a YouTube tie-in: Someone “challenges” you to either dump a bucket of water over your head or donate $100 to the ALS Association, and if you take the challenge, you film the ice-dump and then pass the challenge along to someone else, who gets the same choices. (In some versions people who take the ice bath also donate $10, but that part often gets omitted, or at least not mentioned in the videos.)

And here’s the thing — it’s working. The ALS Association announced on August 16 that it had raised over $10 million in “ice bucket donations” this month alone, much of it from over 220,000 first-time ALS Association donors.

That’s a lot of money for a good cause. We can mostly be glad about that, although I’ll always have reservations about charitable giving being seen as a socially acceptable alternative to properly funding research and health services.

But “the Ice Bucket Challenge,” people, really?

Don’t let’s kid ourselves about anyone actually minding the idea of an ice bath so much that they’d pay $100 to get out of it. We’re not talking about immersion here; we’re talking about five to ten seconds of cold stuff sluicing over you and then you’re done. You can only make a “challenge” out of that if you already live an incredibly comfortable life (and have both water and the power to freeze it to waste).

The appeal of the meme is clear and ugly. It’s a way to be the center of attention and get kudos for Doing A Good Thing (and, as an added bonus, by doing the ice water challenge you don’t have to actually spend that pesky $100). All the awareness-raising! None of the personal inconvenience! And everyone watches your video!

I am comfortable balancing in my head the simultaneous realities where it is a good thing that the ALS Association is getting more donations, and yet it is a bad thing that the Ice Bucket Challenge exists and is popular. I suggest you do the same.

Because come on, now. Ice Bucket Challenge. Jesus.


Silence of the Vans – Moving Days

“Moving Day” is usually, you know, a day, but when you’re doing it in one small car that only one person involved in the move can drive, it turns into more of a multi-day affair. (Or even a multi-week affair, at the rate this one is going.)

That’s where I’ve been. That’s where I will be, until things get just a touch more settled.

For those that are curious: Chicago, near Clark and Devon, with a girlfriend and no other roomies, and no I do not have a new job. I haven’t had a real job for years, are you kidding me? I can freelance from anywhere. This one’s just for the girl.

Oh, and also: four cats, so strong allergy warnings for all potential users of our (yes we have one!) guest room. And a hedgehog, but she seems mostly hypoallergenic, as far as we can tell. Just spiky.

Regular content to resume Monday the 18th, barring disaster.

Reaganbook: Social Media for All Your Echo Chamber Needs

Do you love social media, but hate society because sometimes it has opinions you don’t like?

Never fear! ReaganBook is here, if you can get the site to load. (Currently the demand for parody accounts seems to be a little more than their servers can handle.)

ReaganBook is “Facebook for conservatives,” according to the owners, although it’s Facebook circa 2012 judging by the site design, which seems to be begging for a lawsuit or five:


In theory this will be a Facebook free of its “liberal bias.”

Given that Facebook users control their own friends lists and update feeds, I’m not sure I see the need for this product — if you’re reading a lot of political content that makes you angry on Facebook, it’s because you selected that content, and you could just unfriend a few people to get the same echo chamber effect ReaganBook seeks to create — but I realize that facts also have a liberal bias, and will presumably be just as unwelcome on ReaganBook as, um, most of the current users.

Did I mention that parody accounts make up most of the site right now? Yeah, parody accounts make up most of the site right now. And the site owners, who initially announced that user content wouldn’t be censored, started deleting both content and accounts within 24 hours of the public launch. (Which, duh. What were they thinking?)

It’ll be a fun race to see whether Facebook sues them into the ground first, or whether the owners ragequit and crawl back to their blogs to cry about the “liberal media attack dogs” that hijacked their site with all that unwelcome free-speeching before the corporate titans get there!

But seriously, what kind of social misfit do you have to be to need a safer, more ideologically comfortable space than one where you control the content you see? If you can’t find a single user or group on Facebook that doesn’t offend you, trust me when I say that Facebook isn’t the problem.

UPDATE: As of Wednesday afternoon, the site appears completely overwhelmed, and has thrown in the towel at least for now. And yes, they did find a way to whine about all those mean free-speechers free speeching things they didn’t like:


“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!


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