My tendonitis is flaring up and my stomach is killing me, so instead of writing up something new, here’s part of a Vectors that was originally going to go out November 29th, 2014 but that I didn’t finish due to …
There’s often a sense that women in the tech world make a big deal out of small events. But the myriad ways in which they are told their presence is illegitimate, that tells them that they don’t belong, is a constant pressure pushing them towards leaving technology (and game journalism, and the public sphere). In particular, when women in technology also have public voices, as with Anita Sarkeesian or Brianna Wu or Kathy Sierra, the pressure can be—is often intended to be—crushing.
I don’t think being a woman in technology is worth dying for, but I learned early that some men think it’s worth killing for.
After posting about David Bowie’s Outside, I stumbled across Pushing Ahead of the Dame, a site written by one Chris O’Leary, dedicated to annotating every single Bowie song ever. There I learned about Leon a bootleg that may have been what Bowie originally intended Outside to be. And via O’Leary’s annotations, I’ve come to realize that OrpheanLyricist’s interpretation of Outside‘s story line is, though valid based on what was actually released, certainly not what Bowie had originally intended.
I ended up spending way too much time on this site. Here are the annotations for Leon and Outside.
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
-Evelyn Beatrice Hall on Voltaire.
It took me a bit to put my finger on what really bothered me about the response to the Charlie Hebdo shootings this week, but I think this is it:
I feel like we’re all being called to defend what Charlie Hebdo said rather than just their right to say it. All the tribute cartoons, the debate over whether to reprint the paper’s cartoons, the people changing their social media profile pics to cartoons from the paper, and of course, the slogan “je suis charlie” itself, are a reflection of this.
As Fredrik deBoer points out, the idea that no one should be killed over cartooning is pretty uncontroversial. There is no danger of France or the U.S. passing a law forbidding criticism of Islam. The public, in general, are not likely to become less critical of Islam as a result of this attack. Hell, not even a Muslim police officer literally defended the paper to the death. So why the pressure to for everyone to carry the Charlie banner?
I mean, I don’t think Robert Faurisson should go to prison or be killed, but you’re not going to find me on the street corner handing out Holocaust denial literature. Yet there’s this weird sentiment that if you’re not spreading these ridiculous cartoons far and wide, you’re somehow against free speech. I could understand wanting to preserve this stuff for posterity sake if it were in danger of actually disappearing. It’s hard to debate the merits of something you can’t see. But these cartoons are still just a click away. Reproducing them at this point is just posturing. Which is fine, I guess. But free speech works both ways. You have the right to say what you want, and I have the right not to say things I don’t want to say.
As to what I might find bothersome about the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, Arthur Chu has a good column on the topic, where he also digs up a particularly repugnant cover caricaturing Boko Haram’s kidnapping victims. Chu:
Yes, I know that the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo identify as left-libertarian atheists, and that they’re “equal-opportunity offenders” —the exact same background and mindset as Trey Parker and Matt Stone, as Seth MacFarlane, as your typical 4chan troll. I know that, ironically, the last issue printed before the shooting was mocking a self-serious right-wing racist doomsday prophet and his fear of a Muslim takeover, that they’ve mocked Socialist President Francois Hollande and National Front leader Marine La Pen and everyone in between.
So what? There’s no particular merit to being an “equal-opportunity offender”—indeed, it’s lazy and cheap, a way to avoid being held accountable for anything you say because none of it is part of a moral worldview or to be taken seriously.
In an actually-funny use of free speech this week, the Maryland paper Frederick News-Postpublished a hilarious response to local councilman Kirby Delauter’s threat to sue one of its reporters for using his name in a story without permission. It certainly brightened an otherwise dismal week.
Doing an art installation at the Weird Shift gallery, and giving a talk on tarot there as well.
And, of course, buying a house. We’ve only just hauled the last bits of stuff out of our old apartment into the new place today, which is why I decided to just do a best of 2014 post instead of a new post.
The best article I read all year was, hands down, Betsy Haibel’s “The Fantasy and Abuse of the Manipulable User”, which manages to sum up exactly what’s wrong with the Silicon Valley mindset: a complete disregard for gaining users’ consent for practically anything, from data collection to whether to sign-up for email notifications.
My nine other favorites of the year, in no particular order:
The best new series I watched was The Knick which, as Matt Zoller Seitz put it, is doing some next level shit, despite something of a slow start.
I didn’t see many new movies this year, but I liked and Snow Piercer well enough. It didn’t come out last year, but I loved Electrick Children.
I didn’t read any other novels that came out in 2014, so The Peripheral by William Gibson wins by default. But I have the feeling it probably would have been the best thing I read anyway.
My favorite books I read this year, overall, were Cat’s CradleThe Dispossed by Ursela K. le Guin.
I didn’t read many comics last year, and to be honest am feeling a bit disenchanted with the medium. But I enjoyed what I read of Zero, The Private Eye, and Prophet. But the big highlight of the year for me was Stray Bullets Uber Alles Edition. Reading that is keeping me from giving up on comics altogether.
It was sort of a disappointing year for music. My favorite release was probably White Lung’s Deep Fantasy. Runners up: the new Bruxa and Nolon Ashley albums.
Long time no see. I mentioned last month that my wife and I had put in an offer on a house. Well, we got it, so now we’re getting ready for the big move to Portland’s illustrious Gateway district. But today we’re taking a break from painting, flooring, packing and moving — not to mention professional obligations — to partake in the American tradition of lounging about and eating on the 25th. I’ve actually got a backlog of vectors to share with you, but I’ll keep this one short.
After nihilism, then, are embodied realisations of and exposures to vibrant ecologies of being offering an ultimately untameable wilderness which we participate in on an equal footing with all other bodies, even if we have an unequal ecological effect. In order to cope-with and cope-within the wilderness of being we must abandon the charnel-house of meaning and its theological tyrannies once and for all. As coping-beings we must leave our reifications behind in order to engage in post-nihilist praxis: an ecologistics of tracing these rhythms and activities, their multiple couplings and decouplings, and taking responsibility for our way of cohabiting in, with and alongside other bodies.
Finally getting around to playing A Dark Room, a text-based game I’ve mentioned before. It’s like Oregon Trail meets The Road. Dark stuff indeed.
I’ve been listening to David Bowie’s Outside a lot this week. It was the first Bowie album I ever heard, back when I was a teenage rivethead, but I hadn’t listened to it in a good 14 years. Back then I knew it was supposed to be a concept album, and that Bowie had worked with Brian Eno on it, but that was about it. From Wikipedia:
Bowie and Eno visited the Gugging psychiatric hospital near Vienna, Austria in early 1994 and interviewed and photographed its patients who were famous for their “Outsider Art.” Bowie and Eno brought some of that art back with them into the studio as they worked together in March 1994, coming up with a three-hour piece that was mostly dialog. Late in 1994, Q magazine asked Bowie to write a diary for 10 days (to later be published in the magazine), but Bowie, fearful his diary would be boring (“…going to a studio, coming home and going to bed”), instead wrote a diary for one of the fictional characters (Nathan Adler) from his earlier improvisation with Eno. Bowie said “Rather than 10 days, it became 15 years in his life!” This became the basis for the story of Outside.
Last week my computer told me that my cat doesn’t love me. Now it says that that my cat thinks I’m a giant unpredictable ape — which is true — but does indeed care about me. I’ll keep you updated, via your computer, what my computer tells me about my cats’ emotions.
Friday I started rewatching True Detective season one. Tried watching The Strain over the past couple weeks, but ran out of fucks to give it midway through. But Boardwalk Empire just finished its last season ever, so it’s time to watch that.
Aaron Sankin comes to the dismal conclusion that GamerGate’s trolls are winning’ because they are successfully scaring women away from the game industry, and real journalists are even less likely to take games seriously as a beat, leaving the industry in the hands of what Tim Maly has called the enthusiast press (Remember, as many others has have pointed out, GamerGate not only isn’t about ethics in journalism, it’s actively hostile to honest journalism).
I don’t know really know what this and this are satirizing, but I found them funny anyway.
In local news: Oregon’s governor is corrupt and/or incompetent, but the Willamette Week makes a strong case that he’s still better than the alternative. Meanwhile, Rick Turoczy points out that Portland is becoming a marketing technology hub. Which makes sense since Webtrends is our one big tech startup success story (since SurveyMonkey moved away and Jive, which also moved, isn’t necessarily a success), and Wieden + Kennedy is a real anchor-company for the city. It also occurs to me that thinking of Portland as an ad agency town helps explain much of the city’s transformation over the past few years. Elsewhere, The Baffler editor John Summers said “When you’re in Portland and you don’t own your own house—if they’re bringing in tech people, you should just pack your bags.” And it’s not just tech bros coming. It’s ad tech bros. *shudder*
A lot of people like this piece where Quinn Norton tries to find some hope in a doomed world, but I’m sorry, I just couldn’t get through it. But maybe you’ll find some comfort there? If not, perhaps Drunk Jeff Goldblum will cheer you up:
I rewatched FunkyForest and it gets better with every viewing. It’s pure mad genius. No, it doesn’t make any more narrative sense on rewatching, but it starts to make its own sort of internal sense, the way the most absurd of dreams make sense while you’re dreaming them.
The article is also noteworthy because it revealed that Auernheimer was, by his own admission, behind a campaign to terrorize educator and game designer Kathy Sierra (previously).
Auernheimer went on to become the poster-boy for the over-prosecution of hackers both in the hacker community and tech press, and subsequently denied that he ever told Schwartz that he was behind the harassment of Sierra. This week she wrote a bit about what that felt like to watch close friends and respected journalists suddenly becoming very chummy with the person not only destroyed her career but made her fear for life, and why she doesn’t take Auernheimer’s denials seriously:
But the one thing I never expected was that after all these years, he’d suddenly deny it. Even more so, that reasonable, logical, intelligent people would actually believe this. He’d suddenly, after 6 years, claim that a world-class, international, Livingston-winner (“Pulitzer of the Young”) journalist would just somehow… come up with that. And that in six years it never occurred to weev, not once, to publicly deny it no matter how many times he was asked about it.
(Schwartz himself came into these conversations more than once over the past year to remind weev about their conversation, to confirm that yes, it happened exactly as he described in the 2008 feature. Not that it made a difference. After all, in weev vs. amazing writer with everything to lose by lying, who are you going with? Weev. They went with weev.)
(Note: she says she’s taking down her original post soon, but a copy can also be found here).
Elsewhere, ex-troll turned journalist Emmett Rensin wrote for Vox.com that trolling has changed, man. “But I want to tell you about when violent campaigns against harmless bloggers weren’t any halfway decent troll’s idea of a good time — even the then-malicious would’ve found it too easy to be fun,” he writes. “When the punches went up, not down.”
I’m not sure that’s historically accurate though, given the malicious glee trolls of yore took in, say, hacking an epilepsy forum to place seizure inducing flashing images on the site.
So what is to be done? The usual response is “don’t feed the trolls,” which makes sense if you’re just talking about the occasional blog post, but today’s troll praxis is to flood someone’s Twitter mentions and inbox with threats, call their phones, send packages to their physical address, and use that address to order pizzas, taxis and, sometimes, to “swat” them. Swatting, for those who don’t know, is where you spoof a call from a particular number — your victim — to the police or 911 saying that you’re being held prisoner in your own home. A SWAT team then shows up, and if the victim is lucky, all that happens is that they get the shit scared out of them. But as Radley Balko has documented, SWAT teams often have a habit of shooting first and asking questions later, so there’s a real danger of the victim actually being killed by the police.
But yeah, you’re just supposed to ignore all that and hope the trolls move on to another victim.
OK, so what do we really do? I wish I had an answer. Some of it probably will be technical. Better security and what not. Some of it will need to be legal — actually putting people behind bars for pulling this crap. And some of it will necessarily be social — addressing what the hell actually makes people want to do this stuff in the first place.
And what exactly is that, anyway? It’s easy to do arm-chair psycho-analysis about the erosion of white privilege, holding power over others or finding acceptance in a peer group. But is that what’s really going on? And even if so, how do you solve the problem?
In an amazing (and probably triggering for racism, anti-semitism, and general harassment) blog post Leo Traynor wrote about meeting the person who had waged a three year harassment campaign against Traynor and his wife, sending the two of them threatening emails and Tweets, as well as packages in the mail. The perpetrator turned out to be the teenage son of of one of Traynor’s friends. Asked why he did it, the kid said “I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m sorry. It was like a game thing.”
There’s clearly a huge social problem if a kid could ever think something like this would be just a bit of fun, but it points to a larger problem here, which is that kids have a tendency towards being assholes. Usually they grow out of it. But technology now enables kids to stalk, harass, and generally ruin the lives of strangers remotely, and semi-anonymously. In other words, the amount of damage a kid, or group of kids working together online, can do with seemingly little risk, at a remove from the consequences, is far greater than ever before. (Note: Traynor’s post mentions that the kid spent a lot of time on conspiracy sites, which suggests, at least to me, that there may have been more to the anti-semitic content of his messages than a “game thing,” so this could be more than just something he’d grow out of).
All of which is to say, I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but it’s something I want to look into more deeply. I’ve found a few academic papers on trolling, and hope to find more:
A few weeks ago I decided to try out working from a standing desk. I gave up this week.
Surprisingly, the issue wasn’t my legs getting tired or back getting sore. The problem is that I couldn’t find a way to type while standing up that didn’t make my wrists hurt almost immediately upon beginning to type. I tried adjusting the height of the keyboard again and again, but never found a level that seemed to work. I don’t really think it was the keyboard height anyway. I mean, I work at various sub-optimal heights all the time and it doesn’t make me immediately sore.
This week I wrote a short thing about the Amiga and how it was never was able to capture the bohemian demographic from Apple.
I’ve never used an Amiga. But it really seemed to be something special that the technology industry hasn’t seen since. I really wonder what could have been if Commodore hadn’t mismanaged it into the ground.
John Herrman wraps up what’s wrong with online journalism today in a nice tight package that actually doubles as exactly what it critiques (in a good way). Hats off.
And speaking of journalism: Amy Westervelt writes about her experience in the “content” industry — ie, being a ghost writer for all those “thought leaders” on sites like Forbes.com, and why journalists shouldn’t take those gigs. I have to admit that my first thought was “Oh, thank god all those CEOs aren’t writing their own posts,” because that meant that at least writers are getting paid for that crap somehow. And who knows, if my career goes south I might have to resort to writing that stuff too. But seriously, these gigs suck.
I’ve been on a big post-punk kick recently, so I rewatched Control and 24 Hour Party People this week. I’d say both are still worth watching, though as always these sorts films need to be taken with a grain of salt.
Spaceape died this week, and the world is a poorer place for it. At least he and Kode9 finished a new EP first. A cold comfort, really, though. We’ll never know a voice like his again.
Watching 24 Hour Party People made me want to listen to the Happy Mondays, who I’d never really listened to before, and listening to them made me want to listen to Pop Will Eat Itself, who I’d listened to a lot. Plus Ministry, Cabaret Voltaire and a bunch of other stuff.
Reading this led me to wonder what the current worst case scenarios for climate change, ocean acidification and peak soil are, which led me to a long piece from The Nation that, if I understand it correctly, reports that we could see a 3.5 Celsius increase in global temperatures as early as 2035. An increase of 3.5C would kill off the earth’s remaining plankton, which are already dying quickly thanks to ocean acidification, which would kick off a series of events leading to the death of most of our food sources.
In other words, we could be facing human extinction in just 21 years.
Actually, I imagine it would take at least a few more years after 2035 for the human species to actually go extinct. Maybe we’ll discover that some people can live on smaller amounts of food, or but it doesn’t sound like things will be pretty for the survivors.
And if we don’t hit those numbers by 2035, there’s a ticking time bomb of methane stored in arctic permafrosted soil, and that’s going to be thawing out sooner or later. And when that happens, temperatures are likely to go out of control fast.
The police remain a visible presence in the borough’s Brownsville neighborhood, where the vast and violent expanse of public housing had made the neighborhood a proving ground for the department’s use of the tactics as a way to curb gun violence. As part of a new strategy called Omnipresence, the officers now stand on street corners like sentries, only rarely confronting young men and patting them down for weapons. But the residents of Brownsville, conditioned by the years of the stop-and-frisk tactics, still view these officers warily.
This week I watched Hardware, not realizing that human sterilization and population control were subplots. And finished watching the second season of Utopia (the British drama, not the U.S. reality show). I seem unable to escape the themes of human extinction and involuntary sterilization.