Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On Cutting the Deficit in a Depression II

(The original version of this was ambiguous. This is the new! improved! version.)

When you're near-broke, and having money problems, do you pay your rent or pay down your credit card debt?

It's almost that simple.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Keeping in the vote

I wonder if Ebola is being kept in the news partly to distract the public from the election.
With lower voter attention comes lower turnout – and evidently, lower certainty about which voters will show up to vote. Other distractions take away from the important issue of Joni Ernst’s desire to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency…hey, pay attention, I’m talking to you! Ebola Ebola Ebola! There, now you’re back. Thank you."—Sam Wang, Princeton Election Consortium

Saturday, October 25, 2014

How You Know The Terrorists Have Won

When there are terrorists in charge of both sides of a fight.

Friday, October 24, 2014

GMRG8 and Law

As a result of difficulties explaining my previous remarks over at Balloon Juice, I have this thought:
I think what I am writing about in this context is law. We have, in GMRG8, one kind of law: the law of the jungle. In the response I fear, I see another kind of law: the law that suppresses visible conflict, while enforcing oppression. I would like to see a third kind of law: one that punishes the gmrg8rs, while protecting and encouraging freedom of expression and women's rights.
I think Brianna Wu agrees with me. Today she has written:
I also found this statement troubling. “Many at IGN feel additional visibility only encourages those who want to use the Movement as a means to stop rather than start discussions.” IGN prefers silence. They say they don’t want to “signal boost” [gmrg8].

What IGN doesn’t understand is ignoring these people isn’t working. They are going after any woman in the industry that speaks up about representation of women in the games industry. They went after Samantha Allen, they went after Jenn Frank, they went after Zoe Quinn and they went after me.—Brianna Wu, About IGN’s Statement…

Sure sounds like what I just called "the law that suppresses visible conflict, while enforcing oppression."

So, what kind of law and changes in legal practice do we need?

  1. To begin with, taking conduct on the internet seriously, and a matter for law enforcement. There is a huge amount of crime of all sorts that takes place on the internet. Most of it is fraud and theft-of-service (spam!) But there is also stalking, and something new that social media makes far easier: trolling for the violent, which is at the heart of GMRG8.
  2. Enforcing existing anti-stalking laws.
  3. Outlawing doxxing.
  4. Outlawing the practice of trolling for the violent.
  5. Finding a better compromise between the protections anonymity and pseudonimity provide, while at the same time, limiting their abuse.
Given our current crop of lawmakers, it doesn't sound like anything that is likely to be done soon. Still, let us at least pose the problem.

[Weasel phrase removed 2014.10.29]

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Social Security, Bankers, and Parasites

I recently wrote an exasperated reply to a libertarian friend some time back, explaining that Social Security and Medicare do not enrich the wealthy and powerful; that they pay out everything they take in, less the civil service salaries of the people who operate them, which are modest. The libertarian "alternatives" to the social insurance programs—annuities and health insurance—all require investment of money in large for-profit financial services organizations. Since these are for-profit organizations, they invariably cost more than the non-profit social insurance programs; one might as well be paying taxes. They also turn out to be more subject to control fraud than public organizations, which at least are subject to taxpayer scrutiny.

The social insurance programs show that we don't need the wealthy for income and health care in old age, and some of the wealthy hate that. The simple idea that we don't need the 1% is threatening to them, and that is why there is so much opposition to social insurance among the very wealthy. You get the likes of Mitt Romney who made a fortune by sending manufacturing businesses to China, you get the Walton family, who made a fortune by gutting small-town business, underpaying their employees, and, yes, by sending manufacturing business to China. These are not productive. Mitt Romney complains that he believes nearly half the country is parasitic on the rich, but I suspect he believes that anyone who works for a living is a parasite. The Walton family regards employees and pay for suppliers as necessary evils. It's the Waltons and the Romneys of the world who are the parasites and pays literal starvation wages; without government support, many of its employees would be starving. Even Amazon, which provides a genuinely valuable service, is vulnerable to this charge; would there be an Amazon without hellish working conditions in their warehouses and the factories of their suppliers? Perhaps, but it would be less profitable.

Parasites. We don't need parasites.

Monday, October 20, 2014

GMRG8 and Censorship

The equation is simple: Those who have power get to censor, and those who lack power get silenced. If you find yourself in a position to demand and get censorship, you can be sure you are among those who have the power, and you are acting to oppress others.—Feminists Against Censorship

The GMRG8 activists, despite all denials, are acting to silence their targets. They are moderately successful in doing so, though they have not yet silenced Sarkeesian, Quinn, and Wu. But terrorists terrorize.

Every woman I know in the industry is scared. Many have thought about quitting. Three of us have been the victims of death threats, and some of this have been driven from our homes.—Brianna Wu

The GMRG8ers have persuaded Intel and ASUS to pull advertising from major sites which published pieces critical of the GMRG8 agenda, whatever that is. Part of the motivation here is the marketing aversion to association with controversy in any form. But if it were a plague of man-hatred instead, I doubt the marketing departments would have acted similarly.

GMRG8 has been recognized by the mass media now. There is a huge generational divide. Most people under age 35 have at least played computer games, over, not so much. And I fear a backlash; an expansion of the existing game ratings board that suppresses a broad range of sexual and violent content, making impossible engagement with these subjects. One may imagine something like the 1930s Motion Picture Production Code, which for many years prevented the showing, even, in movies distributed in the USA, of a married couple just sleeping together. Homosexuals were unpersonned in US movies of that period—they were never even shown. And all the while the enormous hypocrisy of the period, with all its covert sexual relations, conceived as evil, a source of pride for men, a reason to blame women.

Since that time, US culture has swung to another extreme, going from prudery to prurience in a generation, never stopping at a moderate place. What marks both positions is extremism. At one extreme, sex, sexuality, and women are things to be feared, suppressed, and associated with violence. At the other extreme, women are intensely sexualized, while violence against sexualized women is widely embraced. What there is not in either extreme is a rejection of violence, an acceptance of sexuality as a normal and healthy part of human life, and a recognition of women as people with their own needs and wants. When extreme and hateful voices dominate discourse, all moderate voices are silenced, yet it is the moderate voices which have the most to say to everyday life for, after all, who wants to go through life hating their sexuality, hating their sexual partners, or surrounded by violence?

I fear the the victory of one or another faction of extremists. We might end up in a place where women and girls are terrorized with images of violence directed at them, and all critical voices silenced. We might also end up in a place where sexual hypocrisy is again the norm, and sexuality and women's agency are again erased from popular discourse. Or we might end up in a place with the worst elements of both, where popular prudery suppresses all images of violence against "good" women, while at the same time threatening women with brutality if they step out of line, even a little bit.

I fear the terrorists are winning.

GMRG8: The Screwfly Solution

Contains spoilers for the 1977 Racoona Sheldon story, "The Screwfly Solution." If you want to avoid them, don't click on the link.