tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2030-12-18 02:14 pm

How to post comments if you don't have a Dreamwidth account

I request that you read my comment policy before commenting, especially if you don't know me offline.

If you have a LiveJournal account and want to leave comments on my journal, you can do that without giving Dreamwidth a password or any personal information except an email address. You can follow these instructions (with slight modifications) if you have an account on a site that provides OpenID credentials, too. (For example, any Google or Google+ account should work this way.) Here's how:

  1. Go to the main Dreamwidth page
  2. Follow the "Log In with OpenID" link
  3. In the "Your OpenID URL" box, put yourusername.livejournal.com. For example, if I wanted to log in with my LiveJournal account, I would type "catamorphism.livejournal.com".
  4. Click Login.
  5. Click "Yes, just this time" or "Yes, always" when LiveJournal asks if you want to validate your identity.
  6. The first time you log in, you'll see a message "Please set and confirm your email address". Click the "set" link and follow the instructions.
  7. You'll get an email from Dreamwidth containing a link. Follow the link to confirm your email address.
  8. Follow the instructions. You should now be able to leave comments.

Edited to add as of February 26, 2013: There have been intermittent problems with using OpenID to log in to Dreamwidth. The most reliable way to comment is to create a Dreamwidth account, which is free.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2017-01-19 10:11 am
Entry tags:

Don't kiss the ring

This article is important:

"This is not going to be a free and fair exchange of ideas. This is going to be a fight. If you have not absorbed that fact yet, you are already losing."


And I want to talk about false equivalences between Trump and Obama, or between Trump and Clinton.

We could have a free and fair exchange of ideas with Obama. That's why he pardoned Chelsea Manning. He's someone I have serious political disagreements with. That's why he didn't pardon Leonard Peltier. Still, he is a person who uses facts and reason to draw conclusions, and operates based on the rule of law.

We could have a free and fair exchange of ideas with Clinton. That's why she changed her way of talking about racial justice from "All Lives Matter" to acknowledgment of systemic inequality after she met with Black Lives Matter activists. She's someone I have serious political disagreements with. That's why she continued to talk about law and order and in favor of building up the military-industrial complex. Still, she is a person who uses facts and reason to draw conclusions, and operates based on the rule of law.

Trump operates based on power, domination, and violence, not a free and fair exchange of ideas. We've seen how he models with that with respect to women's bodies, his business relationships, and reporters who criticize him. His words and actions are the words and actions of a fascist, a totalitarian, an authoritarian.

People say to assume good faith, so within the scope of this post, I'm going to assume that people saying things like, "Some people thought Obama was the antichrist, and that's just the same as some people thinking Trump is a fascist", or things like, "It would be partisan to not meet with Trump when we would meet with Clinton" sincerely believe that.

You're still allowed to conclude, based on the evidence available to you, that Trump is a fascist: that his words and actions meet the definition of fascism. One definition of fascism is "an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization." Words have meaning; it's okay to be part of a shared understanding of what words mean even though no word has "objective" meaning and language is subjective.

You're still allowed to conclude, based on the evidence available to you, that when one party is a fascist party, it is neither morally nor tactically wrong to be partisan. If resisting fascism makes me partisan, then I am partisan. I don't see what's wrong with that. Being partisan means I have beliefs. I don't see what's wrong with holding moral and ethical precepts.

Even if some people say that vaccines are dangerous, you're still allowed to vaccinate your children against polio if you believe those people are wrong.

Equating disagreement within an aspirationally democratic framework with disagreement about democracy is worth aspiring to is the epitome of a false equivalence. When the person expressing these thoughts believes them, it means they need to think harder and more critically. When the person expressing these thoughts does not believe them, that's called propaganda: information distributed not to express a person's point of view but to influence action.

We may be in a post-truth world, but that does not mean your own thinking needs to be post-truth. We need every bit of your intellect and discernment right now. You do not need to set your own intellect on fire to keep fascists warm.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2017-01-18 10:47 pm
Entry tags:

REVERSED.

Nóirín Plunkett died a year and a half ago. At the time of their death, their ex-spouse Michael Schwern was busy abusing the court system to terrorize Nóirín, suing Nóirín because their friends (of whom I am one) talked online about Schwern's arrest for domestic violence. (Yep, somehow it was Nóirín's fault that Schwern got himself arrested and that other people copied/pasted the link to his arrest record into tweets.)

Who is Schwern? Well, he's the kind of guy who can't stop trying to extort money from his ex even after they're in the grave, and he continued his lawsuit, targeting Nóirín's father. His attorney, a charming fellow named Bear Wilner-Nugent who defends rapists for fun and profit, was happy to go along for the ride. This type of lawsuit is known as a SLAPP lawsuit, because its goal was to silence and intimidate victims who talk about their experiences with sexual assault in public.

Nóirín not being around to talk about it further, there's no one alive who can say for sure that Schwern raped Nóirín. It would be understandable if other people looked at the possibility of being sued for $30,000,000 for telling the truth, and said nothing. What we can say is that Schwern was indecent enough not only to sue his ex-partner for (allegedly) talking about it, but to continue the lawsuit after that person died. You can decide for yourself whether Schwern is a rapist or just somebody who thought suing a corpse was a good way to rehabilitate his reputation.

Thankfully, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of freedom of speech, in favor of victims, and against Schwern and Wilner-Nugent's meritless lawsuit; you can read the decision (PDF) for yourself, but a content warning for graphic descriptions of rape applies. The decision also misgenders Nóirín, whose pronouns are they/them.

None of this will bring my friend back to life, but in these times, it's good to see justice done.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2017-01-16 12:10 pm
Entry tags:

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

'We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.'

-- Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", 1963
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2017-01-05 08:31 am
Entry tags:

Tolerance is relational

I think Yonatan Zunger's essay "Tolerance is not a moral precept" is mostly right-on (and I'm amused to see my friends' bicycle club/radical agitprop collective The Degenderettes in the featured photo), though I wish we'd been listening to the Black women who have been saying similar things for years (decades, maybe?)

I don't agree with the essay's framing of war as justifiable, since war is generally not a matter of self-defense but of offense to enrich capitalists. ("War ain't about one land against the next / It's poor people dying so the rich cash checks." -- Boots Riley.) What I do appreciate about the essay is that it calls attention to the existence of fundamental conflict of interests between groups that can't just be resolved through peaceful negotiation. I think radical redistribution of power and wealth is a better solution than war, but of course, some people might think the opposite.

That said, I agree with the central point that tolerance is not an absolute moral law, but rather, conditional on others' behavior. Zunger phrases this as a social contract, but I would phrase it instead in terms of relationships. As your roommate, it's wrong for me to leave my dishes in the sink every night if you always clean up your messes. But it would also be wrong for me to berate you about leaving a cup in the sink one night if normally, you do most of the cleaning (and that's not part of our explicit relationship agreement).

Tolerance is not about what I'm allowed to do to you, but rather, an emergent property of the relationship between you and me. It must arise from a relationship with back-and-forth and reciprocity. It is not given for free.

Almost 3 years ago, I wrote "Against Tolerance", for which I also chose a deliberately provocative title. My take there isn't so different from Zunger's. I was describing a situation like the "war" scenario that Zunger describes: the question of whether homophobes can lead diverse companies is ultimately about a situation in which somebody has already declared war on you. Brendan Eich declared war on me when he started paying politicians to strip away my civil rights. Under those circumstances, I had, and have, no obligation of tolerance towards him. In Zunger's phrasing, my primary priority becomes self-defense.

As I said, I dislike leaning on war metaphors, since they legitimize state violence (which is very different from the violence that individual oppressed people or small organized groups of oppressed people may use in self-defense; by definition, states are not oppressed), the basic principle is the same. Tolerance is not the operating principle when you're under attack, nor should it be.

In fact, I'm inclined to scrap "tolerance" altogether as a counterproductive word (like the phrases "pro-life" and "political correctness", which mean the opposite of what they superficially seem to) than to rehabilitate it as Zunger tries to do, but he provides a helpful framing for those who don't wish to abandon the signifier completely.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2017-01-04 11:17 am
Entry tags:

There's no such thing as "just asking questions"

In engineering we ask what-if questions all the time, for example: "What if the datacenter loses power?" This is a descriptive "what-if" because it's trying to identify a scenario that might happen. Further, you're probably asking this in a group of people who share a common goal: keeping a service running. And finally, you're willing to take "it doesn't matter" for an answer: if you're running on a managed platform where somebody else takes care of failover to another datacenter, and someone tells you that, you'll say, "OK, cool, we don't need to care."

In politics, what-ifs are much more likely to be prescriptive. Consider:
"What if women lie about rape?"
"What if women are biologically predisposed to be uninterested in science?"
"What if there's no discrimination against Black people in tech job hiring, and the absence of Black people in the field is solely due to inadequate education?"
"What if resources are scarce and there's not enough for everyone to meet their basic needs?"

People ask these questions, and others like them, because they want to influence how power gets distributed -- in other words, to have a political effect. They don't ask them in order to be prepared for something, they ask them in order to make something happen.

Asking about the datacenter doesn't make power failures any more likely. But asking whether women lie about rape has a direct effect on whether women report rape. Merely asking the question changes reality. Likewise, asking whether women are biologically predisposed to be uninterested in science has a direct effect on whether women choose to follow their interest in science as well as on whether male scientists believe "women shouldn't be here" and feel empowered to harass female colleagues. Asking whether there are no qualified Black candidates for engineering jobs has a direct effect on whether your colleagues see Black candidates as qualified. Again, merely asking the question changes reality, even before hypothetical answers get discussed.

The questions we ask have a direct effect on how we allocate resources. (Also see: [CW: anti-Semitism] Are Jews people? Find out after the break on CNN.) "I'm just asking questions" is not a "get out of thinking of the consequences of my speech, free" card.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
2017-01-04 09:28 am
Entry tags:

Lowering the bar?

I want to remember to quote these tweets from Samuel Sinyangwe from now on every time someone opens their mouth about "lowering the bar." To wit:

"Of all the facts I've tweeted #onhere, trolls seem to direct the most vitriol at those re: how obscenely white and male US institutions are.

These facts, I'm convinced, are the most challenging to white supremacy.

Because to acknowledge that white men make up nearly 90% of the governing party brings you to one of two conclusions...

Either you believe racism exists or you think white men are so uniquely qualified for nearly every position and nobody else in America is."


There's a dialogue in tech companies that often goes like this:
A: "We need to recruit more diverse candidates."
B: "How can we do that without lowering the bar?"
A: "I'm glad you ask! You see, we're going to hold 'diverse' candidates to the same standards and... [1/937]"

I would like to see it go like this:
A: "We need to recruit more diverse candidates."
B: "How can we do that without lowering the bar?"
A: "Your question is ill-formed, because the purpose of recruiting more diverse candidates is to raise the bar: to improve the quality of our staff by hiring people on the basis of their qualifications rather than because they look the same as existing staff."

B's question is inherently racist. You cannot ask that question without a base assumption that the explanation for the paucity of Black people in tech is that Black people are less competent than white people.

We need to stop justifying why women could be competent, why Black people could be competent, why Latinx people could be competent and instead: (a) call out the assumption of incompetence as unshared (B asks this question because they assume A shares their prejudice, and in the first dialogue, A neglects to make clear that they don't share it); (b) demand evidence for a competence gap rather than rushing to provide evidence against it.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2017-01-03 10:14 am
Entry tags:

"Assume Good Faith" Considered Harmful

"Assume good faith" -- ancient liberal proverb

"Treat every poisoned word as a promise." -- Liel Leibovitz, "What to Do About Trump? The Same Thing My Grandfather Did in 1930s Vienna" (2016-11-14)

"Should I encourage my employer to take a public stand against creating a Muslim registry? I don't know. Of course I wouldn't knowingly participate in the creation of a registry. But Trump wouldn't really do that, would he? Sure, he said he would, but it's such a ridiculous plan. Doesn't he know that? He must. He must have only said that to get votes; surely he couldn't really want or intend to do it."

This is what some of my fellow workers in the tech industry have been saying. Sure, everybody thinks the idea of creating a Muslim registry (or substitute any one of a number of other seemingly-ridiculous Trump campaign promises) is abhorrent, but we also think it's silly and impractical. Why bother taking a public stand in favor of something that's not going to happen?

"Assume good faith" is something that gets taught to white, middle-class Americans. Not all white, middle-class Americans internalize the message, and we're not the only ones who absorb it. But it's most present in those who have enough privilege to be able to suspend vigilance temporarily, while lacking the privilege needed to suspend vigilance for good. We are taught to assume the most charitable interpretation: when interacting with our family members, partners, co-workers, friends, or neighbors, we're taught to not jump to assuming the worst, to assume the other person means well and that if you perceive them acting in a way that's threatening or hostile towards you, to question your own assessment before you take defensive action. If your roommate never takes out the compost, maybe it's because you've never told them that you prefer the compost not to pile up in the kitchen -- to greet them when they get home from work one day with a cry of "Take out the goddamn pile of rot!!" would be unfair. If you get left off an email about a meeting to discuss the project you're leading at work, assume it was a typo rather than a plan to exclude you. And so on.

And in interpersonal relationships, that's often a good principle. That is, assuming good faith, as a personal practice, is a good principle; telling other people when they should assume good faith is a bad one (more about that in future work). The reason is that to the extent that you can choose who to live with, work with, and sleep with, it's a good idea to choose people you can trust. If you trust people, then it's not helpful to assume that they're out to get you. And if you don't trust the people in your life, you have to either work on your own ability to trust or get them out of your life, depending, before you level accusations. That's just common sense, right?

But "assume good faith" is very bad advice when dealing with fascist dictators. If your neighbor says something that sounds offensive or threatening to you, it's probably a good idea to at least make sure you heard them right before you call your lawyer. When a fascist dictator -- someone who's both inclined towards using violence to get what they want, and who has the power to act on that inclination -- says something that sounds offensive or threatening, it's a safe bet to assume that whatever the worst possible interpretation of their words is, that reflects the dictator's intent. That might be a bad way to operate in your close relationships, but is a good way to protect yourself and prepare for violence.

Treat every poisoned word as a promise. When a bigoted blusterer tells you he intends to force members of a religious minority to register with the authorities—much like those friends and family of Siegfried’s who stayed behind were forced to do before their horizon grew darker—believe him. Don’t try to be clever. Don’t lean on political intricacies or legislative minutia or historical precedents for comfort. Don’t write it off as propaganda, or explain it away as just an empty proclamation meant simply to pave the path to power. Take the haters at their word, and assume the worst is imminent.
-- Liel Leibovitz (ibid)

"That's just ridiculous." This is a comforting thing to tell yourself and others. Denial is one of the most powerful tools humans have for tolerating the intolerable. If you think the worst might happen, saying it won't happen will protect you against it, right? It's worked up until now, right?

"That's just ridiculous." Overreacting runs the risk of shame: of being told "you're too sensitive" or, worse, "you showed insufficient chill in the face of something that turned out to be no biggie." We face two possible futures. In one, we're all still alive and I've lived to be seen as someone who overreacted to the threat of a violent, xenophobic rapist with access to nuclear weapons. In the other, we're all dead, but my gravestone says "He had enough chill." I prefer the first one.

"That's just ridiculous." The more you call an idea ridiculous, the more ridiculous it will be, and the less likely it will be that anyone will act on it, right? Kids regulate each other's behavior with words like "you're being silly" -- the same strategy should work when we as citizens level it against a tyrant-in-waiting, right?

It's not ridiculous. It is scary. It's hard to face fear. No one who has power to do so is stopping a fascist from taking control over the United States. That's a scary situation to be in.

Many people associate this kind of fear with childhood, and remember when their parents or other adults would step in and let them know the monsters under the bed aren't going to eat them. Now that we're adults, it's comforting to assume that some benevolent authority figure is going to step in and tell the fascists they have to respect the rule of law. But there are no adults, except us. Denial, shame-avoidance, and dismissal are tools for surviving a situation in which you're powerless. But we still have power.

It's psychologically safer to laugh things off than to admit you're scared. But if you're so concerned with saving face, with protecting your self-image as a chill person who doesn't freak out over nothing, that you put up no resistance in the face of a violent, repressive regime, then how do you think you'll be remembered -- assuming there's anyone left to remember you?

tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2017-01-02 07:15 pm

PSA: Switching to Dreamwidth?

I'm glad to see that more people are using Dreamwidth because of the concerns over LiveJournal's data governance, or lack thereof.

I want to remind people that when evaluating the safety of a particular data storage and/or hosting provider, there's (a) no such thing as absolute safety and (b) how you decide who to trust with what data depends on a lot of factors.

People are concerned about LiveJournal, for example, because data that are physically stored on servers in Russia are vulnerable to inspection by Russian governmental entities, whereas data physically stored on servers in the US are much less likely to be compromised by governmental entities other than the US government.

How much you trust the US government, or Russian government, etc. is a matter of personal opinion, but it's fact that the expectation of privacy you have changes based on what country or countries the server or servers storing your data are physically located in.

When you store your data with either LiveJournal or Dreamwidth, you're trusting everybody who has superuser access -- at either organization -- with your secrets. Maybe you don't have any secrets because all your posts are public and you never comment on non-public posts. Then you have less to lose, but you still don't have zero to lose. Again, who you trust is a matter of opinion. But it's fact that by storing your data with a particular storage provider, you're granting access to it to anybody who has superuser access on their systems.

The same is true when you store your data with, for example, Google. Full disclosure: I work for Google. This post represents my personal opinions. As someone who works at Google and has access to various kinds of personal data, I can tell you with confidence that if I accessed that data without a valid business reason, I would be fired. This doesn't protect you from -- say -- someone who's so determined to violate your privacy that they're willing to sacrifice their job over it, but it does give you protection that you don't have when you store your data with a small company or small organization.

Neither LiveJournal nor Dreamwidth enables HTTPS-by-default. That means: you can go to either https://dreamwidth.org/ or http://dreamwidth.org/ and if you explicitly choose the first one, your connection is encrypted. If you explicitly choose the second one, it's not encrypted. There are some technical and logistical reasons not to enable HTTPS-by-default, but it exposes users to risk. Less technically: it means that anybody with access to any of the intermediate servers that your data passes through on the way from your computer to Dreamwidth's servers can see what you're sending. Because of how the Internet is designed, that means that to be sure your non-public Dreamwidth posts or comments don't get read by someone you don't want reading them, you have to trust people at many different organizations, and neither you nor Dreamwidth controls which organizations they are. Sites can make things safer for their users by automatically turning all accesses to http:// URLs into accesses to https:// URLs, which means that data getting sent back and forth are encrypted and it would be very difficult for an eavesdropper -- even someone with superuser access at one of the intermediate organizations -- to read.

I also see no reason to believe (given the above) that either LiveJournal nor Dreamwidth encrypts data at rest. That is, regardless of whether you put in an https:// or http:// URL when you access Dreamwidth, the data on their servers are stored in plaintext -- somebody who was able to physically get one or more of their storage disks would be able to access any data stored on those disks with no special knowledge. I don't know this for a fact, but I believe so because: (a) neither org has provided any reason to believe otherwise; (b) there isn't much point in encrypting data at rest when you don't encrypt it in motion.

What does this mean for you?

When deciding where to put your data, you have to ask yourself: if I care who reads this, who do I need to trust if I'm going to believe that only the people who I want to read it will get to read it? With respect to Dreamwidth, you need to trust the US government (since law enforcement can access any unencrypted data they want to, and small companies don't have the legal resources to challenge federal government legal threats) as well as everybody who works for Dreamwidth and has superuser access. But because of how they store and transmit data (and again, this is no worse than how LiveJournal does it), you also have to trust anybody who can snoop on connections or get physical access to their servers and disks. This isn't everybody, but it's potentially a lot of people.

The other question you have to ask yourself is: if my trust gets violated, what happens? What are the consequences? This is why, personally, I'm comfortable posting about my sex life in friends-only posts on Dreamwidth. If any of those posts were exposed to a different audience than the one I chose, it would be embarrassing and uncomfortable for me, but I don't feel it would be dangerous for me. On the other hand, if I was the kind of person who was likely to engage in unlawful political action, I would not post about it on Dreamwidth, even in friends-only posts, because the risk is too high.

Each person has to make these decisions for yourself -- what level of risk you're willing to tolerate is a personal decision. While the decision is personal, many of the facts that go into that decision are objective, and in this post I've tried to explain a few of those facts.

Comments disabled; I'm happy to try to answer any questions I have time to answer over email ( tim_dw@youwere.cool ).

Edited to add: HTTPS:// everywhere is a browser extension that automatically changes non-secure requests to secure requests when possible. Like all security tools, it reduces harm; it doesn't eliminate it. Because you install it on your own computer, it only affects browsing that you do on that computer. It doesn't eliminate the threat that arises from one of your friends who doesn't have this browser extension installed accessing your data insecurely.

Edited to add (2): Mary Gardiner's post about LiveJournal's server move is useful reading, especially the point she makes about how LiveJournal forces secure connections to be insecure (Dreamwidth does not do this).
tim: A bright orange fish. (fish)
2017-01-02 07:09 pm
Entry tags:

Admin: Linkspam on hiatus

Weekly linkspams are currently fitting into my schedule poorly. I'm going to stop doing them for now. Pretty much everything I bookmark on Pinboard is public and you can see the current-events-related links at https://pinboard.in/u:mappings/t:fascism/ (you can also read my overall Pinboard feed, though that's hard to navigate since I have it set up to bookmark every link in a tweet that I favorite.)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2016-12-30 08:01 pm
Entry tags:

Admin: No longer accepting Patreon donations

Mostly of interest to people who supported me on Patreon, though I'm also posting this here since the links in past posts to my Patreon page won't work any more (and I don't know of a quick way to edit them to reflect that.)

I've reverted my Patreon account to patron-only status and will no longer be accepting donations via Patreon. Having a Patreon was a good experiment and I'm glad I tried it; with this year's regression in US politics, I've decided that my limited time for activism should be spent primarily on things that aren't writing. I don't intend to stop writing blog posts, but I also don't intend to keep writing at a rate that justifies having a monthly Patreon account. In addition, I just passed my one-year anniversary working at [big company] as an engineer, and (unless something changes) don't have any immediate plans to leave. This both affects the amount of time/energy I have for writing, as well as my comfort level being paid regularly for my writing regardless of how much I produce.

It means more to me than I can say to have people recognize my work in this way, so if you supported me at some point during the past 13 months, thank you. If you're looking for other creators to support instead, I recommend Amy Dentata, Katherine Cross, Sarah Sharp, and Sophie Labelle (creator of the Assigned Male comic strip).

I believe that nobody will be charged for January, but if I'm wrong about that, I will donate all proceeds to charity (as I did for December).
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2016-12-30 07:03 pm
Entry tags:

Got money?

If not, you can skip the rest of this post, unless you want to pass the suggestions along to your friends who do have money.

It's almost the end of the year, so you're probably doing what I'm doing: making sure to max out your corporate gift match, if your employer has one.

If you don't know where to donate, here are the groups I donated to just now.

1. Partners In Health - providing direct health care where it's needed most and advancing social justice, on the principle that everybody should have access to the same kind of health care you would expect for yourself or for a friend or loved one. I've been a supporter for years ever since I read Tracy Kidder's book _Mountains Beyond Mountains_ (about PIH founder Paul Farmer). They have a matching fund drive on until 12/31, so anything you donate today or tomorrow will be at least doubled, or tripled if your employer matches funds!

2. TGI Justice Project (TGIJP) - a small community organization based in San Francisco that advocates for incarcerated trans women of color.

3. Scarleteen - reality-based sex education for youth. Shout-out to the amazing work of Heather Corinna and her dedicated volunteers (including [personal profile] ranyart!)

4. National Network of Abortion Funds - I've been supporting them ever since the murder of Dr. George Tiller in 2009. In the US, it's illegal for public funds (e.g. Medicaid) to be used to pay for abortions. NNAF helps make up for that by directly funding abortions as well as campaigning for legislative change. With the incoming regime being what it is, their work is more important than ever.

5. United We Dream - advocating for immigration reform in the US. (Note that if you go to the donate link from their main home page, it goes to the legislative/lobbying 501(c)(4) organization, which probably can't be matched by your employer if that's a concern for you, though you should still support them anyway. I donated to the 501(c)(3) organization so it would be matched.)

6. MPower Change - a network of grassroots groups led by Muslim Americans. (Donations are administered by Citizen Engagement Lab, so look for that organization when you request donation matches.)

7. Southern Coalition for Social Justice - a North-Carolina-based group that has several focuses, but one of them is voting rights; given that this past election outcome was largely the result of long-term efforts by Republicans to suppress Black people's right to vote, their work is important right now.
tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
2016-12-19 08:39 am
Entry tags:

Russia, far-right propaganda, and 4chan

I wanted to pull out so many quotes from The Hidden Author of Putinism
How Vladislav Surkov invented the new Russia
, by Peter Pomerantsev for the Atlantic (from 2014) that I thought this deserved its own post:


The brilliance of this new type of authoritarianism is that instead of simply oppressing opposition, as had been the case with 20th-century strains, it climbs inside all ideologies and movements, exploiting and rendering them absurd.

[describing a novel apparently written by Surkov] 'Egor is described as a “vulgar Hamlet” who can see through the superficiality of his age but is unable to have genuine feelings for anyone or anything'


Like liberals working for Fox News, the new Russian authoritarians use compartmentalization and cognitive dissonance in order to live with their own complicity:

When I asked how they married their professional and personal lives, they looked at me as if I were a fool and answered: “Over the last 20 years we’ve lived through a communism we never believed in, democracy and defaults and mafia state and oligarchy, and we’ve realized they are illusions, that everything is PR.”'


"Everything is PR" is similar to the phrase "virtual signalling" as used by white supremacist: the propaganda that no one holds sincere beliefs and anyone who appears to do so is just performing or trying to make you think they have beliefs:

'“Everything is PR” has become the favorite phrase of the new Russia; my Moscow peers were filled with a sense that they were both cynical and enlightened. When I asked them about Soviet-era dissidents, like my parents, who fought against communism, they dismissed them as naive dreamers and my own Western attachment to such vague notions as “human rights” and “freedom” as a blunder."


Who does the next paragrah remind you of? If his first name rhymes with "Kylo" and his last name rhymes with "Viannopoulous", you might be right.

'Surkov himself is the ultimate expression of this psychology. As I watched him give his speech to the students and journalists in London, he seemed to change and transform like mercury, from cherubic smile to demonic stare, from a woolly liberal preaching “modernization” to a finger-wagging nationalist, spitting out willfully contradictory ideas: “managed democracy,” “conservative modernization.”'


If this sounds like 4chan or rationalism, then you're right too:

"Surkov’s genius has been to tear those associations apart, to marry authoritarianism and modern art, to use the language of rights and representation to validate tyranny, to recut and paste democratic capitalism until it means the reverse of its original purpose."


I think the antidotes to the destruction of meaning and morality are science, math, engineering, emotional self-awareness, genuine art, earnestness, sincerity, vulnerability, relationships, and queer sex (and as a friend said, all good sex is queer to some extent). There is no divide between science and art, only a division between intellectual fields that suffer under toxic masculinity and ones that have a little more individual and group balance in terms of gender.

And that part about the description of Surkov's novel jumps out at me. Hipsterist detachment and irony as a direct path to inhumanity; 4chan's in charge now, not because they're fascists but because of their use of irony to evade the imperative to take moral stances. Shitposting is not a good system of government.
tim: Solid black square (black)
2016-12-19 08:38 am
Entry tags:

[Linkspam] Rumours of linkspam (week 5)



"Everything in my life that I love
Could be swept away without warning
Yet the birds still sing and the church bells ring
And the sun came up this morning"
-- Billy Bragg, "Rumours of War"


  • Michigan Supreme Court Slams The Door On Jill Stein’s Recount Case, by Daniel Marans for the Huffington Post (2016-12-10).
    "Only five of the Michigan Supreme Court’s seven justices considered whether to hear the appeal. Chief Justice Robert Young and Justice Joan Larsen recused themselves after Stein questioned whether they could decide the case independently, since President-elect Trump had put them on a list of preferred candidates for the U.S. Supreme Court."


  • Trump proposes stripping citizenship from political protesters by Ian Millhiser for Think Progress (2016-11-29): "But once a person’s voting rights can be made contingent upon their beliefs, or their silence, then elections become increasingly meaningless."

  • The biopolitics of desire and neo-nazi fashion icons, by Flavia Dzodan (2016-12-06). On the connections between media coverage of "dapper Nazis" and eugenics.

  • The Electoral College is Great for Whiter States, Lousy for Cities, by Emily Dreyfuss for Wired (2016-12-08).
    "In the sweep of American history, this is Alexander Hamilton versus Thomas Jefferson flipped on its head. The Framers designed the Electoral College to make sure that smaller states were not ruled by the tyranny of the majority. Today, rural voters wield disproportionate Electoral College power compared with population centers, while cities preach decentralization as a way of keeping a check on the executive branch....

    At the forum, critics proposed two different ways to sink the Electoral College: abolition by constitutional amendment or an agreement among states that their electors will side with the candidate who wins the national popular vote. But the chances of either happening are slim to none, since the party that has now benefitted twice from the Electoral College system in the past 16 years controls both Congress and the White House (not to mention a majority of state governments)...

    "For eight years, Republicans accused the Obama administration of executive overreach. Now its Democrats warning of too much power in the hands of one president—a president that this time around most voters didn’t even choose."


  • Love Deez Nutz, or Why Van Jones Is Wrong and Maybe Even a Bit of a Bullshitting Magical Negro, or Happy Friday from My Corner of Trump’s America–Whatever You Like–I’m Tired, by Michelle R. Smith (2016-12-08).
    "I can work with white people without exploding my antipathy for the worst among them all over the rest of them. I can teach white people without exploding my antipathy for the worst among them all over the rest of them. I can share public space, transact business, cooperate with, and socialize with white people without exploding my antipathy for the worse among them all over the rest of them.

    And so can millions of other black people. So do we all. Because if we ever did explode–whenever we do explode–we get eviscerated or incarcerated or fucking eradicated.

    And since we do it, and white people rank themselves as better than us–they make all these adamant claims to superior intellect, morality, discipline, and wisdom–they should be able to do it, too. They should be able to interact with us without exploding their supremacist bullshit all over any of us, even if they fantasize about doing it the entire time."


  • Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America, by Lauren Duca for Teen Vogue. I couldn't pick a quote to pull from this -- it's all so good.

  • Diving deeper into Russia's role in the US election (clearer news has come out since these stories were published):


  • A post about coming out as queer in mid-life, by Molly Wizenberg (2016-11-30), the co-host of my favorite podcast, Spilled Milk, and from what I can see, an all-around awesome person.

  • A couple links about systemic racism and why Trump's surrogates don't have worse opinions than him, they represent him:

    • Steve Bannon’s disturbing views on ‘genetic superiority’ are shared by Trump, by Laurel Raymond for Think Progress (2016-11-28)
    • Trump's Proving that Those who Called Clinton 'The Lesser of Two Evils' Didn't Know What Evil Looked Like", by Damon Young for VSB (2016-11-18)
    • Why So Many Liberal White Guys Just Can't Admit the Election Was about Race, Explained, by Damon Young for VSB (2016-11-29):
      "Where can you find them? Trader Joe’s parking lots. Inner-city bike lanes. Jason Derulo listening parties. Giving TED Talks about couscous. Writing for Slate. Producing feminist porn....

      Liberal White people, however? You’d think someone told them their favorite gluten-free bakery has been using wheat.

      ...their steadfast refusal to acknowledge the role race played in the election makes it seem as if they’re playing some sort of devolved, pre-racial game of Taboo. Of course, there was Mark Lilla’s “The End of Identity Liberalism” which I assumed would be the pinnacle of this train of thought — the fuckshit thinkpiece to end all fuckshit thinkpieces. But a few days later, Mother Jones (perhaps the crunchiest major platform on the Internet) published Kevin Drum’s plea for us to be “careful with the White supremacy label.” Here, Drum defines and limits White supremacy to “people believing non-White people are inferior“; ultimately failing to realize that whether they believe we’re inferior doesn’t matter as much as the effort to ensure White dominance. Which is why the White Supremacy label fits. (It also must be said that Drum’s piece was a defense of Crunchy Jesus himself, Bernie Sanders, who also attempted to minimize the value of identity politics.)"



  • Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy, by Moira Weigel for the Guardian (2016-11-30). Long, but has so much in it:

    Every time Trump said something “outrageous” commentators suggested he had finally crossed a line and that his campaign was now doomed. But time and again, Trump supporters made it clear that they liked him because he wasn’t afraid to say what he thought. Fans praised the way Trump talked much more often than they mentioned his policy proposals. He tells it like it is, they said. He speaks his mind. He is not politically correct....

    Trump and his followers never defined “political correctness”, or specified who was enforcing it. They did not have to. The phrase conjured powerful forces determined to suppress inconvenient truths by policing language....

    There is an obvious contradiction involved in complaining at length, to an audience of hundreds of millions of people, that you are being silenced. But this idea – that there is a set of powerful, unnamed actors, who are trying to control everything you do, right down to the words you use – is trending globally right now....

    If you search ProQuest, a digital database of US magazines and newspapers, you find that the phrase “politically correct” rarely appeared before 1990. That year, it turned up more than 700 times. In 1991, there are more than 2,500 instances. In 1992, it appeared more than 2,800 times. Like Indiana Jones movies, these pieces called up enemies from a melange of old wars: they compared the “thought police” spreading terror on university campuses to fascists, Stalinists, McCarthyites, “Hitler Youth”, Christian fundamentalists, Maoists and Marxists.

    Many of these articles recycled the same stories of campus controversies from a handful of elite universities, often exaggerated or stripped of context. The New York magazine cover story opened with an account of a Harvard history professor, Stephan Thernstrom, being attacked by overzealous students who felt he had been racially insensitive: “Whenever he walked through the campus that spring, down Harvard’s brick paths, under the arched gates, past the fluttering elms, he found it hard not to imagine the pointing fingers, the whispers. Racist. There goes the racist. It was hellish, this persecution.”

    In an interview that appeared soon afterwards in The Nation, Thernstrom said the harassment described in the New York article had never happened....

    But soon enough, the term was rebranded by the right, who turned its meaning inside out. All of a sudden, instead of being a phrase that leftists used to check dogmatic tendencies within their movement, “political correctness” became a talking point for neoconservatives. They said that PC constituted a leftwing political programme that was seizing control of American universities and cultural institutions – and they were determined to stop it.

    The right had been waging a campaign against liberal academics for more than a decade. Starting in the mid-1970s, a handful of conservative donors had funded the creation of dozens of new thinktanks and “training institutes” offering programmes in everything from “leadership” to broadcast journalism to direct-mail fundraising. They had endowed fellowships for conservative graduate students, postdoctoral positions and professorships at prestigious universities. Their stated goal was to challenge what they saw as the dominance of liberalism and attack left-leaning tendencies within the academy.

    Starting in the late 1980s, this well-funded conservative movement entered the mainstream with a series of improbable bestsellers that took aim at American higher education. The first, by the University of Chicago philosophy professor Allan Bloom, came out in 1987.
    "The responses that the conservative bestsellers offered to the changes they described were disproportionate and often misleading. For instance, Bloom complained at length about the “militancy” of African American students at Cornell University, where he had taught in the 1960s. He never mentioned what students demanding the creation of African American studies were responding to: the biggest protest at Cornell took place in 1969 after a cross burning on campus, an open KKK threat."
    By making fun of professors who spoke in language that most people considered incomprehensible (“The Lesbian Phallus”), wealthy Ivy League graduates could pose as anti-elite. [ed.: Emphasis added. Sounds familiar? Trump = posing as "anti-elite."]

    ....As Black Lives Matter and movements against sexual violence gained strength, a spate of thinkpieces attacked the participants in these movements, criticising and trivialising them by saying that they were obsessed with policing speech. Once again, the conversation initially focused on universities, but the buzzwords were new. Rather than “difference” and “multiculturalism”, Americans in 2012 and 2013 started hearing about “trigger warnings”, “safe spaces”, “microaggressions”, “privilege” and “cultural appropriation”. [Emphasis added]

    ...As evidence of the “hegemonic” influence enjoyed by unnamed actors on the left, Chait cited two female journalists saying that they had been criticised by leftists on Twitter.

    ....The anti-PC liberals were so focused on leftists on Twitter that for months they gravely underestimated the seriousness of the real threat to liberal discourse. It was not coming from women, people of colour, or queer people organising for their civil rights, on campus or elsewhere. It was coming from @realdonaldtrump, neo-Nazis, and far-right websites such as Breitbart...

    First, by talking incessantly about political correctness, Trump established the myth that he had dishonest and powerful enemies who wanted to prevent him from taking on the difficult challenges facing the nation. By claiming that he was being silenced, he created a drama in which he could play the hero.

    Second, Trump did not simply criticise the idea of political correctness – he actually said and did the kind of outrageous things that PC culture supposedly prohibited.

    'We should not underestimate how many Trump supporters held views that were sexist, racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic, and were thrilled to feel that he had given them permission to say so. It’s an old trick: the powerful encourage the less powerful to vent their rage against those who might have been their allies, and to delude themselves into thinking that they have been liberated. It costs the powerful nothing; it pays frightful dividends....

    Trump drew upon a classic element of anti-political-correctness by implying that while his opponents were operating according to a political agenda, he simply wanted to do what was sensible. [Emphasis added]


    That last part? Basically the fascist playbook: people talking about how much they hate politics and they don't have an ideology are usually trying to subvert the political process in the service of fascist ideologies.

  • 6 Ways Spiritual Thinking Can Reinforce Oppression and Racism, by Virginia Rosenberg for Decolonizing Yoga (2016-11-26). Not explicitly about fascism, yet highly relevant to the strategy of using words to denote the opposite of their actual meaning (a tool in the fascist toolkit):

    Discussing events as “an illusion of the material world” keeps you in an unhealthy illusion that you don’t need to be an agent of change. Retreating to your safe personal cave of “inner peace” can too easily be used as a method of hiding....

    Visualizing world peace is great. What’s even better taking concrete steps toward building that vision in real time.


    I feel that way when white liberals invoke MLK, Jr.'s "arc of justice" line without mentioning the amount of blood that was and continues to be shed trying to bend that arc.

  • Why We Must Protest, by Masha Gessen for Literary Hub (2016-11-21):

    Posting guard is a reasonable and measured response to a clear threat. When a neighbor threatens to poison your dog, you secure the fence. When an aggressive power threatens to invade, a state arms and fortifies its borders. And when an autocrat-elect threatens your liberties, you post guard around them. As constitutional-law scholar Garrett Epps has written, “there is hardly a provision of the Bill of Rights or later amendments [Trump] did not explicitly promise to override, from First Amendment freedom of the press and of religion to Fourth Amendment freedom from ‘unreasonable searches and seizures’ to Sixth Amendment right to counsel to Fourteenth Amendment birthright citizenship and Equal Protection and Fifteenth Amendment voting rights.” He has not only promised to begin his work of undoing democratic institutions on his first day in the Oval Office—he has already begun, by insulting the protesters and by denying access to media. Waiting to post guard would be foolish and irresponsible....

    The number of people in the streets is very close to being our only hedge against Trump’s power....

    Finally, protest is a powerful antidote to helplessness and confusion. Autocracies work by plunging citizens into a state of low-level dread. Most of the powers commandeered by the autocrat are ceded without a fight, and the power of imagination, the claim to a past and a future are the first to go. A person in a state of dread lives in a miserable forever present. A person in a state of dread is imminently controllable. The choice to protest, on the other hand, is the choice to take control of one’s body, one’s time, and one’s words, and in doing so to reclaim the ability to see a future.


    I really like the idea of protest as trauma recovery.

tim: Solid black square (black)
2016-12-06 09:50 am

What went before can come again.

[CW: violence against women]

27 years ago today, 14 women were killed in an act of sickening violence at the École Polytechnique engineering school in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. They were targeted for being women and for being engineers.

Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

The man who murdered Bergeron, Colgan, Croteau, Daigneault, Edward, Haviernick, Laganière, Leclair, Lemay, Pelletier, Richard, St-Arneault, Turcotte, and Klucznik-Widajewicz said — before he killed himself — “I am fighting feminism”.

More
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2016-12-05 11:03 pm
Entry tags:

[Linkspam] The trouble with linkspam (week 3)

Bruce Cockburn, "The Trouble with Normal"

Epistemology

  • Trump’s lies have a purpose. They are an assault on democracy., by Ned Resnikoff for ThinkProgress (2016-11-27).
    "If Bush and Rove constructed a fantasy world with a clear internal logic, Trump has built something more like an endless bad dream. In his political universe, facts are unstable and ephemeral; events follow one after the other with no clear causal linkage; and danger is everywhere, although its source seems to change at random."

    "Bannon is a skilled practitioner of the “darkness” strategy, but he is not its inventor. The real Master of the Dark Arts is another Karl Rove equivalent: Vladislav Surkov, a top adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin."

    "... Surkov then let it be known that this was what he was doing, which meant that no one was sure what was real or fake. As one journalist put it: “It is a strategy of power that keeps any opposition constantly confused."

    “Trump gaslighted me,” Fields later told Terris for an article about the incident. “I worry now that he’s gaslighting the country.”

    "It is tempting to take solace in the belief that, if Trump cannot be taken literally, his extreme rhetoric might conceal a secret moderate streak. But that hope would be misplaced. Non-linear warfare is intrinsically authoritarian. The president-elect is speaking the language of dictators."

    “Surkov’s philosophy is that there is no real freedom in the world, and that all democracies are managed democracies, so the key to success is to influence people, to give them the illusion that they are free, whereas in fact they are managed,” writes Sakwa. “In his view, the only freedom is ‘artistic freedom.’”

    "First, social media companies need to be held accountable for facilitating the spread of misinformation. Men like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, through their greed and stupidity, have shepherded authoritarianism to power in the United States. By embracing a facile definition of “openness,” they’ve sought to reap the traffic benefits of right-wing propaganda while ignoring its disastrous social consequences....

    Second, journalists need to understand what Trump is doing and refuse to play by his rules. He is going to use the respect and deference typically accorded to the presidency as an instrument for spreading more lies.... That is the choice every news outlet faces for the next four years: Subservience and complicity, or open hostility. There is no middle ground."

    "For the next four years, Donald Trump will seek to shred any institution that threatens his ability to unilaterally determine what is real." [emphasis added]

    The politics of "do it for the lulz". It's like 4Chan collectively got itself elected president.
  • Why I don't like the term "AI", by Chris Martens (2016-12-05). 'But ultimately, it's not the first word in "AI" that bothers me, that makes me hesitant to adopt it as a field I identify with -- it's the second one, intelligence. My issue is not just that "intelligence" is poorly defined and hard to measure, but actually that it highlights everything I find culturally wrong with computer science as a field: a false dichotomy and prioritization of the "smart" over the "dumb", the "rational" over the "emotional", and a supposition that these qualities are immutable and acontextual.' (Full disclosure: I'm quoted in this blog post.)
  • Frightened by Donald Trump? You don’t know the half of it, by George Monbiot for the Guardian (2016-11-30). "As usual, the left and centre (myself included) are beating ourselves up about where we went wrong. There are plenty of answers, but one of them is that we have simply been outspent. Not by a little, but by orders of magnitude. A few billion dollars spent on persuasion buys you all the politics you want. Genuine campaigners, working in their free time, simply cannot match a professional network staffed by thousands of well-paid, unscrupulous people." (n.b. I think any analysis that only considers the role of money in politics without considering the role of racism in politics is incomplete.)
  • ‘Don’t play identity politics!’ The primal scream of the straight white male, by Hadley Freeman for the Guardian (2016-12-02). "It boggles my brain that this even needs pointing out: political elections have always played identity politics. The difference is that the game was heretofore entirely weighted towards the white straight male, which I guess is why it comes as such a shock to that demographic when they are not at the absolute forefront of every single political discussion now."

Political science

  • [CW: neo-Nazi propaganda quoted in a critical context] "Fascism is not to be debated, it is to be smashed", by [tumblr.com profile] smarmygryffindor (2016-12-05) "this is why i say not to argue with fascists, at least, not seriously. if you do, argue with them calmly at first and post sources and all that shit to prove that you’ve got facts and reasoning on your side for the sake of others who will read it, and under no circumstances let them piss you off or upset you. then, once you’ve made your point well enough, just start fucking with them back. don’t make the mistake of thinking arguing with fascists is a debate; it’s all for show, all about who can make the other one look worse. so it’s vital that you point out how fucking inane their talking points are, yes, but it’s also vital that you let them (and everyone else) know that you Are Not Taking Them Seriously. Because you shouldn’t, no one should. You don’t have to prove that human beings deserve rights and racism is wrong."
  • [CW: domestic violence, graphic violence against women, anti-Black slurs, queer eliminationism] Trump's Cabinet, by [tumblr.com profile] quantum-displacement (2016-11-19). The juxtaposition of the list of necessary content warnings and the title says it all, doesn't it?
  • Trump, Cabinet could avoid millions in taxes thanks to this little-known law, by Drew Harwell for the Washington Post (2016-12-02). It's important to maintain our sense of outrage at Trump's unprecedented level of corruption -- that will be key to surviving kleptocracy.
  • Potential Conflicts Around the Globe for Trump, the Businessman President, by Richard C. Paddock, Eric Lipton, Ellen Barry, Rod Nordland, Danny Hakim and Simon Romero for the New York Times (2016-11-26). Likewise.
  • Shy Person’s Guide to Calling Representatives, by [tumblr.com profile] actionfriday (2016-11-18).
  • What is the social purpose of David Brooks?, by grapesmoker (2016-12-03). "His sociology is risible, and his lack of self-awareness is legendary; this is, after all, the man who unironically taught a class at Yale on the subject of humility and assigned them his own columns."

Economics

  • Men Dump Their Anger Into Women, by Emma Lindsay (2016-11-29):
    "So many men I know are unable to live a happy life when they don’t have a woman who stops them from feeling the negative feelings that accompany their poor life decisions. It’s notable that they often do not stop making these poor life decisions."

    "Why do angry men deserve sex and I don’t? Why do angry men get women devoted to their emotional caretaking?"

    "...we raise men to be angry by default."

    "I’ve noticed that when I am forced to endure male culture too long (say, working as a programmer) I also start having trouble identifying my own emotions."

    "The only men I know who go to therapy are either gay or in a very bad place. Straight men don’t go to therapy for a tune up, like I do, or many of my female friends do. "

    "Most men in my social circle manage their emotions with alcohol, drugs, work, women, or some combination of the above."

    (I'd add only that Lindsay's comments about how men are raised do not apply only to men who were assigned male at birth, and only apply to men.)
  • Lawyers: New court software is so awful it’s getting people wrongly arrested, by Cyrus Farivar for Ars Technica (2016-12-02). Another one about software, license agreements, economic incentives, and moral responsibility. "All lives matter, especially those who are being wrongfully put behind bars due to computer problems."

    The article asks: "How do you blame software?" I don't think this is actually a complicated question. How do you blame a bridge? You blame the people who make it (and -- maybe more so -- the people who profit from the labor of those who make it.) It's time for everyone to hold the software industry liable for professional negligence.

tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
2016-11-30 08:22 am

What responsibilities do social media companies have to their users?

[CW: suicide]

Elizabeth Waite was a trans woman who committed suicide last week. I did not know Elizabeth, but several of my friends did. In an article for the Daily Beast, Ben Collins described what happened after she died (CW if you follow the link to the article: it quotes extremely transmisogynistic and violent comments and images, including some that incite suicide.)


The night the article describes, I sat in my office after work with Elizabeth's profile open in a tab, watching the stream of hateful comments pour in almost faster than I could report them to Facebook. My friends had mentioned that members of an online forum known for terrorizing autistic trans women were flooding her profile (particularly her last post, in which she stated her intention to commit suicide) with hateful comments. Since I didn't know Elizabeth and wasn't emotionally affected by reading these comments in the same way that I would have been if I had known her, I felt that bearing witnesses and reporting the comments as abuse was work that I could usefully do. Since many of the comments were obviously from fake accounts, and Facebook is well-known for its desire for good data (read: monetizable data), specifically accounts attached to the names people use in everyday life, I reported those accounts as fake as well.

And later that night, I watched dozens and dozens of emails fill my inbox that were automated responses from Facebook's abuse reporting system. Most of the responses said this:


Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the comment you reported for displaying hate speech and found it doesn't violate our Community Standards.
Please let us know if you see anything else that concerns you. We want to keep Facebook safe and welcoming for everyone.


screenshot of the quoted text

Because the posts in question were eventually made private, I can't quote the comments about which a Facebook content reviewer said "it doesn't violate our Community Standards", and in fairness to the person or people reviewing the comments, some of the comments weren't obviously hate speech without the context that they were in a thread of people piling on a dead trans woman. Facebook lacks a way to report abuse that goes beyond "the text of this individual comment, in the absence of context, violates Facebook's Community Standards." That's part of the problem. If trans people were in positions of power at Facebook, you can bet that there would be a "report transmisogynist hate mob" button that would call attention to an entire thread in which an individual was being targeted by a coordinated harassment campaign.

Likewise, even though Facebook is notorious for harassing trans people for using the names we use in everyday life as our account names, when I reported an account with the name "Donny J. Trump" for impersonation, I got an email back saying that the account would not be suspended because it wasn't impersonating anybody:

screenshot of the aforementioned text

Facebook's tools don't address this problem. Imagine you're the family member of a trans woman who just died and whose profile is receiving a flood of hateful comments. Dozens of users are posting these comments -- too many to block, and anyway, what good would blocking do if you don't have access to the deceased person's account password? The comments would still be there, defacing that person's memory. Reporting individual comments has no effect if the harassment is conducted by posting a series of memes that aren't necessarily offensive on their own, but have the effect of demeaning and belittling a person's death when posted as comments in response to a suicide note. And getting an account converted to a "memorial account" -- which allows someone else to administer it -- can take days, which doesn't help when the harassment is happening right now. Again: you can look at Facebook and know that it's a company in which the voices of people who worry about questions like, "when I die, will people on an Internet forum organize a hate mob to post harmful comments all over my public posts?" are not represented.

But Facebook doesn't even do what they promise to do: delete individual comments that clearly violate their community standards:

Facebook removes hate speech, which includes content that directly attacks people based on their:

Race,
Ethnicity,
National origin,
Religious affiliation,
Sexual orientation,
Sex, gender, or gender identity, or
Serious disabilities or diseases.


Out of the many comments in the threads on Elizabeth Waite's profile that clearly attacked people based on their gender identity or disability, most were deemed by Facebook as "doesn't violate our Community Standards."

At this point, Facebook ought to just stop pretending to have an abuse reporting system, because what they promise to do has nothing to do with what they will actually do. Facebook's customers are advertisers -- people like you and me who produce content that helps Facebook deliver an audience for advertisers (you might think of us as "users") are the raw material, not the customers. Even so, it's strange that companies that pay for advertising on Facebook don't care that Facebook actively enables this kind of harassment.

If you read the Daily Beast article, you'll also notice that Facebook was completely unhelpful and unwilling to stop the abuse other than in a comment-by-comment way until one of the family members found a laptop that still had a login cookie for Elizabeth's account -- they wouldn't memorialize it or do anything else to stop the abuse wholesale in a timely fashion. What would have happened if the cookie had already expired?

Like anybody else, trans people die for all kinds of reasons. In an environment where hate speech is being encouraged from the highest levels of power, this is just going to keep happening more and more. Facebook will continue to refuse to do anything to stop it, because hate speech doesn't curtail their advertising revenue. In fact, as I wrote about in "The Democratization of Defamation", the economic incentives that exist encourage companies like Facebook to potentiate harassment, because more harassment means more impressions.

Although it's clearly crude economics that make Facebook unwilling to invest resources in abuse prevention, a public relations person at Facebook would probably tell you that they are reluctant to remove hate speech because of concern for free speech. Facebook is not a common carrier and has no legal (or moral) obligation to spend money to disseminate content that isn't consistent with its values as a business. Nevertheless, think about this for a moment: in your lifetime, you will probably have to see a loved one's profile get defaced like this and know that Facebook will do nothing about it. Imagine a graveyard that let people spray paint on tombstones and then stopped you from washing the paint off because of free speech.

What responsibilities do social media companies -- large ones like Facebook that operate as completely unregulated public utilities -- have to their users? If you'd like, you can call Facebook's billions of account holders "content creators"; what responsibilities do they have to those of us who create the content that Facebook uses for delivering an audience to advertisers?

Facebook would like you to think that they give us access to their site for free because they're nice people and like us, but corporations aren't nice people and don't like you. The other viewpoint you may have heard is: "If you're not paying for the product, then you are the product." Both of these stories are too simplistic. If you use Facebook, you do pay for it: with the labor you put into writing status updates and comments (without your labor, Facebook would have nothing to sell to advertisers) and with the attention you give to ads (even if you never click on an ad).

If you're using something that's being given away for free, then the person giving it away has no contractual obligations to you. Likewise, if you are raw material, than the people turning you into gold have no contractual obligations to you. But if you're paying to use Facebook -- and you are, with your attention -- that creates a buyer/seller relationship. Because this relationship is not formalized, you as the buyer assume all the risks in the transaction while the seller reaps all of the economic benefit.


Do you like this post? Support me on Patreon and help me write more like it. In December 2016, I'll be donating all of my Patreon earnings to the National Network of Abortion Funds, so if you'd like to show your support, you can also make a one-time or recurring donation to them directly.

tim: Solid black square (black)
2016-11-28 10:35 am

[Linkspam] Linkspam during wartime (week 3)

Talking Heads, "Life During Wartime"


A Trump presidency would literally be unconstitutional. Would? Will?

Electoral College must reject Trump unless he sells his business, top lawyers for Bush and Obama say, by Judd Legum for ThinkProgress (2016-11-24).
This is where the Electoral College comes in. Tribe notes that the Electoral College was “originally conceived by Framers like Alexander Hamilton as a vital safeguard against the assumption of the Presidency by an ‘unfit character’ or one incapable of serving faithfully to ‘execute the Office of President of the United States [and] preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.’”

“[T]o vote for Trump in the absence of such complete divestment… would represent an abdication of the solemn duties of the 538 Electors,” Tribe said.

This view is not a position of disgruntled liberals. Richard Painter, Bush’s Chief Ethics Counsel, was in complete agreement with Tribe and Eisen during a recent appearance on CNN. “I don’t think the electoral college can vote for someone to become president if he’s going to be in violation of the Constitution on day one and hasn’t assured us he’s not in violation,” Painter said.

Resisting normalization

  • No, Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along, by Charles M. Blow for the New York Times (2016-11-23).
    Let me tell you here where I stand on your “I hope we can all get along” plea: Never.

    You are an aberration and abomination who is willing to do and say anything — no matter whom it aligns you with and whom it hurts — to satisfy your ambitions.

    I don’t believe you care much at all about this country or your party or the American people. I believe that the only thing you care about is self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Your strongest allegiance is to your own cupidity.

    I also believe that much of your campaign was an act of psychological projection, as we are now learning that many of the things you slammed Clinton for are things of which you may actually be guilty.

    You slammed Clinton for destroying emails, then Newsweek reported last month that your companies “destroyed emails in defiance of court orders.” You slammed Clinton and the Clinton Foundation for paid speeches and conflicts of interest, then it turned out that, as BuzzFeed reported, the Trump Foundation received a $150,000 donation in exchange for your giving a 2015 speech made by video to a conference in Ukraine. You slammed Clinton about conflicts of interest while she was secretary of state, and now your possible conflicts of interest are popping up like mushrooms in a marsh.

    You are a fraud and a charlatan. Yes, you will be president, but you will not get any breaks just because one branch of your forked tongue is silver.

    I am not easily duped by dopes.

    I have not only an ethical and professional duty to call out how obscene your very existence is at the top of American government; I have a moral obligation to do so.

    I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, but rather to speak up for truth and honor and inclusion. This isn’t just about you, but also about the moral compass of those who see you for who and what you are, and know the darkness you herald is only held at bay by the lights of truth.

  • Making White Supremacy Respectable. Again., by Katherine Franke for the Los Angeles Review of Books (2016-11-21). Franke connects the dots excellently between the normalization of white supremacy and brocialist class-only analysis that decries identity politics:
    Let me be blunt: this kind of liberalism is a liberalism of white supremacy. It is a liberalism that regards the efforts of people of color and women to call out forms of power that sustain white supremacy and patriarchy as a distraction. It is a liberalism that figures the lives and interests of white men as the neutral, unmarked terrain around which a politics of “common interest” can and should be built. And it is a liberalism that regards the protests of people of color and women as a complaint or a feeling, ignoring the facts upon which those protests are based — facts about real dead, tortured, raped, and starved bodies. The liberalism Lilla espouses reduces these facts of human suffering and the systems of power that produce that suffering as beside the point.
  • Prejudice, “Political Correctness,” and the Normalization of Donald Trump, by Julia Serano (2016-11-22). Lots of great points to take away here about the blame game that white male leftists play to blame their own failures on vulnerable groups:
    So unsurprisingly, in the wake of the most shocking U.S. presidential election outcome in recent history, many pundits have decided to place the blame, not on the horribly blundered mainstream media election coverage, nor the millions of people who actually cast their votes for Donald Trump, but rather on activists on the left who have pushed too fiercely for “identity politics” or “political correctness.” Their thesis (whether stated explicitly or implicitly) is that if Democrats simply ditch all this “political correctness” nonsense, then they can win back many of those voters.

    And frankly, I cannot think of a worse possible takeaway message from this election....

    So how do activists accomplish changing these social norms? Well, there are a number of ways, although they tend to fall into one of two camps. There are “soft appeals,” in which the activist makes a thoughtful, well-reasoned case on behalf of the group, or in which members of the group demonstrate (through their everyday actions) that they are non-threatening, competent, moral, etc., and thus deserving of acceptance. In a perfect world, soft appeals would be sufficient to bring about increasing acceptance, but unfortunately there is one big problem: Soft appeals only work if members of the dominant majority are open to changing their minds. Some are, of course, but many others are stubbornly resistant to relinquishing their prejudice....

    To put it another way, “political correctness” is not an ideology, nor is it a specific set of behaviors. It is simply a slur that people utter when they want to dismiss an expression of social justice activism that they do not like. One person’s “political correctness” is another person’s common decency or righteous activism....

    It is also crucial to note that, while many people resent activist attempts to change social norms, we are not the only ones engaged in such actions: Those who harbor prejudices are also constantly trying to assert and/or change social norms, albeit in the opposite direction. And yet, these latter attempts do not face similar scrutiny or smearing. If I promote gender-neutral restrooms or pronouns, I will be dismissed as being “politically correct,” whereas North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (who championed HB2, the law that criminalizes trans people who use public restrooms) is never described as “politically correct” (even though he has clearly engaged in political attempts to enforce a social norm of his own creation).

    Trump repeatedly bragged about wanting to destroy “political correctness” — once again, the term acts as a euphemism for dismissing or dismantling social justice norms. Trump ran the most explicitly racist and xenophobic national campaign of my lifetime. He made numerous blatantly misogynistic comments, and we learned of numerous accusations that he sexually assaulted women (not to mention his own bragging to that effect). He openly mocked a disabled reporter and called deaf actor Marlee Matlin “retarded.” In any other recent election cycle, any one of these incidents would be disqualifying, let alone all taken together. These acts would have been disqualifying because, after many decades of social justice activism and advocacy, we had firmly established social norms that deemed these sorts of blatant discriminatory acts to be beyond the pale, to be simply unacceptable. Granted, prejudice most certainly had not completely gone away, but the fact that there was a steep social price to pay for overt expressions of discrimination helped to keep the most extreme bigots at bay....

    And now, in the face of the biggest potential rollback of social justice norms in the last fifty years, some political pundits are urging Democrats to reject “political correctness” (by which they mean social justice activism). Seriously, are you kidding me?....

    You know what: I would *love* to stop talking about being transgender. It would be absolutely wonderful to live in a world where I didn’t have to constantly consider that aspect of my person. But you know what? I don’t have the privilege of not thinking about it, because there are shit-tons of people out there who hate me, harass me, and who wish to criminalize and silence me *because* I’m transgender. “Identity politics” is not an expression of narcissism (as some pundits seem to believe), but rather a form of organized activism to resist those who wish to disempower and disenfranchise us. Donald Trump ran a campaign that constantly stoked hatred against minority/marginalized groups; he selected one of the most anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-women’s reproductive rights politicians in the nation to be his running-mate; he is now tapping white nationalists to play high-level roles in his administration. All of these prejudices have long histories. And yet somehow, these pundits have the gall to claim that *we’re* the ones who are making this about identity?

  • Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today., by Timothy Snyder (2016-11-15). I don't agree with all of this, but "Do not obey in advance" is a good reminder.

Moral courage

  • [CW: Nazis, Holocaust] Trump: The Choice We Face, by Masha Gessen for the New York Review of Books (2016-11-27):
    The difficulty stems from the realist tradition in politics. In contrast to what is sometimes called idealism, the realist position holds that the political world is governed not by morality but by clear and calculable interests. Alliances and conflicts turn into transactions with predictable outcomes. The realist reasoning is applied most clearly and most often to international relations, but it has seeped into all political life, turning virtually every conversation into a discussion of possible outcomes.

    Realism is predicated on predictability: it assumes that parties have clear interests and will act rationally to achieve them. This is rarely true anywhere, and it is patently untrue in the case of Trump. He ran a campaign unlike any in memory, has won an election unlike any in memory, and has so far appointed a cabinet unlike any in memory: racists, Islamophobes, and homophobes, many of whom have no experience relevant to their new jobs. Patterns of behavior characteristic of former presidents will not help predict Trump’s behavior. As for his own patterns, inconsistency and unreliability are among his chief characteristics....

    We cannot know what political strategy, if any, can be effective in containing, rather than abetting, the threat that a Trump administration now poses to some of our most fundamental democratic principles. But we can know what is right. What separates Americans in 2016 from Europeans in the 1940s and 1950s is a little bit of historical time but a whole lot of historical knowledge. We know what my great-grandfather did not know: that the people who wanted to keep the people fed ended up compiling lists of their neighbors to be killed. That they had a rationale for doing so. And also, that one of the greatest thinkers of their age judged their actions as harshly as they could be judged.

    Armed with that knowledge, or burdened with that legacy, we have a slight chance of making better choices. As Trump torpedoes into the presidency, we need to shift from realist to moral reasoning. That would mean, at minimum, thinking about the right thing to do, now and in the imaginable future. It is also a good idea to have a trusted friend capable of reminding you when you are about to lose your sense of right and wrong.

  • Thanksgiving Discussion Guide by Showing Up for Racial Justice. Thanksgiving is past, but study now for your holiday gatherings with racist family members (if your family is white).

Calling it what it is

  • Hey, Republican parents who said you didn't know how to explain gay marriage to your kids: any tips on explaining neo-Nazism to mine? -- [twitter.com profile] cberedjick (2016-11-22).
  • If you voted for Donald Trump... by Tess Rafferty (2016-11-21).
    I am tired of trying to see things your way while you sit in your holier-than-thou churches/white power meetups, refusing to see things mine. Did I just lump you in with white supremacists? No, you did that to yourselves. You voted for the same candidate as the KKK. You voted for a candidate endorsed by the KKK. For the rest of your life, you have to know that you voted the same way as the KKK. Does that feel good to you? Here's a hint---it really shouldn't, especially if you call yourself a Christian.

    I'm tired of pussyfooting around what offends your morals while couching what offends mine, because racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia offend mine.

    Let me say it right here---if you voted for Trump, I do think you are a racist. I do think you're homophobic. I do think you're a misogynist. Racism, and homophobia, and misogyny are all a spectrum, and you're on it. You might not be a 'cheering while a black man gets lynched' racist, but boy, did you just sell them the rope and look the other way.

  • The Identity Politics of Whiteness, by Laila Lalami for the New York Times Magazine (2016-11-21). "A common refrain in the days after the election was “Not all his voters are racist.” But this will not do, because those voters chose a candidate who promised them relief from their problems at the expense of other races. They may claim innocence now, but it seems to me that when a leading chapter of the Ku Klux Klan announces plans to hold a victory parade for the president-elect, the time for innocence is long past....

    No, the top issue that drove Trump’s voters to the polls was not the economy — more voters concerned about that went to Clinton. It was immigration, an issue on which we’ve abandoned serious debate and become engulfed in sensational stories about rapists crossing the southern border or the pending imposition of Shariah law in the Midwest.

    If whiteness is no longer the default and is to be treated as an identity — even, soon, a “minority” — then perhaps it is time white people considered the disadvantages of being a race. The next time a white man bombs an abortion clinic or goes on a shooting rampage on a college campus, white people might have to be lectured on religious tolerance and called upon to denounce the violent extremists in their midst. The opioid epidemic in today’s white communities could be treated the way we once treated the crack epidemic in black ones — not as a failure of the government to take care of its people but as a failure of the race. The fact that this has not happened, nor is it likely to, only serves as evidence that white Americans can still escape race."

  • White nationalists? Alt-right? If you see a Nazi, say Nazi, by Lindy West for the Guardian (2016-11-22).
    the US press has been floundering in a gyre of panic over the internal taxonomy of racists....

    Not a Nazi, then, just a guy who’s shaken hands with a whole bunch of them. That’s fine. We’ll wait and watch....

    One defining aspect of alt-right white supremacy is that it vehemently denies its own existence … This erosion of language is an authoritarian tactic designed to stifle dissent. If you cannot call something by its name, then how can you fight it?"

  • The Rise Of The ‘Alt Right’ And Religious Right Are Chillingly Similar, by Katherine Cross for The Establishment (2016-11-23).
    The history of the Republican Party these last 30 years is the tale of a flesh-eating virus....

    The racists Trump has courted will destroy the Republican Party as we know it, but that slow, violent death will catch us all in its wake, with potentially devastating consequences for American democracy—and what may rise in its place should comfort no one....

    The tragic reality is that just as Reagan exploited the resentment of white Christians, now the resentments of white men in general—especially white people who feel dislocated by social progress—have been harnessed into a potent brew that has actually brought fascism into power here. Though a minority in this new movement, young whites who’ve expressed their nihilism and outrage through trolling and harassment campaigns like GamerGate, or through sites like 4chan, also have been politically aroused. To a party desperate for young blood, they provide a likely target.