Saturday, September 24, 2011

Why you should avoid Courtyard by Mariott at Fitchburg and why Abney Park is *seriously* classy

The Great New England Steampunk Exhibition is a wee fledgling con. This was its first year. In spite of this, they managed to put together a pretty incredible convention. Two, if not three, distinct acting troupes organized primarily into airship crews, a talented and varied array of artists, a similarly varied collection of vendors with tables (and walls!) covered in high quality period, neo-period, and steampunky wares, and a killer concert lineup. There's not a single complaint I have about the organizing, the panels, the peopling, or really the convention at all. I pitched a couple of tiny suggestions during the feedback panel, but really, my only *negative* feedback goes to the hotel hosting the convention.

I've seen some pretty vast stupidity by convention halls in the past... placing the New England Leather Association's Fetish Flea Fair side by side with a youth soccer event, or the time it shared the convention center with a wedding expo, but this truly takes the cake off the plate as you reach your fork out for the next bite. The Mariott overbooked DRASTICALLY for this weekend, which itself is hard enough for me to understand, but their solution to this mistake was just beyond unfathomable. All of the convention's VIPs, including its players, its vendors, and Abney Park themselves, were told they had FORTY minutes to evacuate their rooms. That's right. The hotel gave THE PEOPLE THAT CREATED THE MAJORITY OF THEIR BUSINESS for this weekend LESS THAN AN HOUR to get out. They were neither offered a refund nor any kind of compensation for being evicted. As she was working, I did not get to speak at length to my friend who is in the hotel industry, but from what she said, even considering the business elements that I, as an educator rather than someone in the hospitality business, may not be aware of, there was NO excuse for what occurred.

As a result of this, the convention had to shell out a SECOND time for on-the-spot rooms at another hotel 10 minutes down the road from the con. Now, as a convention goer, 10 minutes down the road may not sound like an awful lot, but having been an entertainer in a similar atmosphere, I can say with relative certainty that the vendors and players were more than minorly inconvenienced by having to drag their wares/props/costumes and whatever else they may have been moving regularly, and I can only imagine what a nuisance it must have been for the band(s) (I do not know if Frenchy and the Punk or the Army were originally staying at the con hotel) who had already settled into their rooms. The con director's assistant was a part of the unadmirable task of informing the VIPs that they were being moved, and his retelling of the incident includes knocking on Josh Goering's door, not realizing WHOSE door it was until it opened, revealing behind Goering a huge traveling trunk with a huge Abney Park logo on it. It doesn't sound to me like the band had all of their gear in the expo center or on the bus still. Frankly, even if they did, they came in from Seattle. Not exactly the trip I made from Providence to Fitchburg.

In addition to the sheer lack of consideration on the part of the hotel and the vast inconvenience they caused the VIPs, having to pay for hotel rooms all over again put an unreasonable financial burden on the con. They came very close to making their projected numbers for the event, and I believe they did crack the dollar amount required to break even... had the hotel not completely screwed them. However, as a result of the incompetence of the hotel, they came up short on paying Abney Park. The organizers were horrified by this, and the director's assistant ran up between songs in Frenchy and the Punk's set to inform us of the ongoing fiasco and its most recent consequences, and to take up a donation so they could actually pay their headliner. Most of us knew, by that time, at least some of what we were being told, and many of us had no cash left to contribute, thanks to the ATM snafu. I, personally, didn't bring much in cash because, believe it or not, I think harder about spending off my debit card than I do about handing over the paper stuff, so I brought a little but of paper for the vendors that couldn't accept plastic, and that was it. Blasted hotel cost me my tour shirt as it was (though I did still get a wicked limited shirt, but that's something else entirely), and now we, as fans, were being faced with the possibility that the band that we loved so much would not be paid for their travel, their time, and what was sure to be an incredible performance. Kudos to Frenchy and the Punk, and I did mention this to them at their merch table when I was picking up their CD, they followed the grim announcement by asking the crowd if we wanted another drum song, or if we were ready for the next song with guitar. The answer was a resounding growl for drums, unsurprisingly. It was very cathartic, and I think it did good things for the crowd's energy. Helped us purge the rage we were all feeling.

There was a short break between the end of Frenchy and the Punk's set and the next act, and, likely due to the chaos that ensued on stage, the Mistress of Ceremonies was not on stage for a good portion of it. During this time, Abney Park meandered their way to the middle of the room. At least Captain Robert, Nathaniel, and Josh did, anyway, they were still kind of in the middle of things, so I couldn't see if everyone was there. Captain Robert jumped up on a couple of chairs and asked if we could all hear him. You practically could have heard a pin drop. He went on to explain that he had an announcement, because their "fans are too freaking nice." They had heard the assistant director calling for donations, and he wanted to make it clear that they didn't want the money. He said he knew (and was probably right) that some had probably given their last five dollars, and that they weren't going to touch the money. He made it clear that we had paid for the show already, and we didn't need to pay for the hotel's mistake. That they were here for us, their fans, and that we were going to get our show no matter what. That this wasn't an investment in getting them to return. I wish I'd jotted down points on this... I started scrawling notes for the scathing blog entry when I first heard that the hotel's malarkey was going to interfere with the band being paid, but it was the band's announcement that made me post the status "And Abney Park is SERIOUSLY classy." Some bands would have been prima donnas and refused to play if they weren't getting paid. Some bands would have taken the money and played a shorter set because they were being sold short. Some bands would have done their set and called it done. To me, the fact that the band trailed out INTO THE CROWD to announce that they didn't want our money, but still to thank everyone for the gesture, says a lot. It still would have meant something had they made the announcement from the stage, but the fact that they did it without that divider, without that wall, that distance, means even more.

I wish I could say the ridiculous failure of the venue ended there, but it would be a lie. To compound the short-notice eviction with no compensation and the financial strain that it put on the con, the ATM in the main lobby was out of order for two entire days of the con. Now, mind you, this isn't like being in downtown Boston, or even Providence, where there's likely to be another ATM within walking distance. No, this middle-of-nowhere hotel is a good 10-20 minute drive, one way, from the nearest alternative ATM. And, mind you, no one at the front desk had the good sense to tell any of the con-goers until midday SUNDAY, after an entire day of the first ATM being down, that they had another blasted ATM on the premises. The hotel is also home to some water park thing, and there's another ATM between the hotel and the water park. Nobody saw fit to mention this when people repeatedly complained that the ATM in the lobby was showing a feed error. To make that matter even worse, it was a feed error, leading most of us to believe that the company responsible for the ATM loaded the blasted machine wrong in the first place and never bothered to check on it. My issue with the hotel on this note is not the simple fact that the ATM was down, because I understand that such machinery generally requires outside maintenance, but rather how the problem was handled. Con-goers were not informed of the second ATM until much later than we should have been, and the hotel made no effort whatsoever to alleviate the problem.

All in all, the convention was FANTASTIC; I really did have a wonderful time despite the hotel's incompetence and apparent unwillingness to make any effort to, well, frankly, do their part in making this con run smoothly. The organizers did everything they could, but until the day that a con is organized by someone who OWNS a hotel/convention center/other appropriately large venue, there will always be things outside of the control of the con that can only be resolved by the host location. To that end, there was a lot of dismissive, "Gee, I'm sorry you feel that way," from the hotel staff. I was wildly underwhelmed with their customer service and will also be composing a letter of complaint to... whoever such a thing goes to.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What the Phluck?

Being that the nature of this blog is that it's rather unpredictable, I didn't really get much into the whole About the Blogger type exposition. Just to provide a point of reference for what's to come, I am a queer cisgender woman engaged to be married to a straight cisgender man. These details will be of minor importance later.

I also happen to be a gamer. When I'm playing with my friends, it's not much of an issue. I've made enough of a nuisance of myself that they don't use gay, fag, or anything like it as a slam. I'm still working on my own ableism in dropping "retarded," but unfortunately that is more or less treated as a joke; once in a while I'll get what sounds like a stern reprimand for letting it slip, but it immediately deteriorates into dismissive laughter. I take a small measure of pride in having excised "lame" from my vocabulary, although that very likely has to do with how I was called out on that particular unexamined privilege... There's nothing quite like being brought up short by your friend, colleague, and coworker who suffers from MS and, more often than not, gets around in a wheelchair when you say something that's disappointing is "lame." It sort of stays with you. But I digress; this isn't about my vocabulary. I simply mean to establish that, among friends, I game in a *relatively* safe space.

When I game with strangers, all bets are off. In a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, the chances of grouping with complete strangers at SOME point during the leveling and endgame experience, if you ever care to experience content, is somewhere on the order of 100%. I was going to try to be general, but frankly, I don't know other MMO content and accessibility well enough, so I'm just going to own up and admit that it's warcrack. Within the warcrack model, one could go from 1-85 (the start to the current cap) with relative ease completely alone. Dungeons are not a necessary part of the leveling process, nor are battlegrounds, and group quests may usually be avoided by completing soloable quests of similar level. At 85, however, one will likely be forced to either enter into a cooperative situation with strangers, or be restricted to repetitive gathering tasks and in-game daily chores. That's really about all that's available to you alone. If you're very lucky, you might be able to access some of the grouped content (raids or rated battlegrounds) with your friends MOST of the time, but more often than not, the way the game is designed, you will have to put in some effort outside of that group play time in order to pull your own weight, and, unless you're INCREDIBLY lucky or a conjoined quintuplet that plays together there's no guarantee that you'll ALWAYS have enough friends on to accomplish those smaller goals (5 player dungeons or unrated battlegrounds) in preparation for the group endeavor.

Originally, I had intended to tackle the issue of homobigotry and the perpetuation of rape culture in the heat of player versus player combat (PvP). PvP can be an incredibly vicious sport, where your own teammates are MORE likely to visit verbal attacks on you than the enemy because, in WoW, you can't talk to your enemies due to the lack of common tongue between the feuding factions. I had even begun composing the post; that's where the first three paragraphs of THIS came from. Since this has become the first of the two, the background is more appropriate here than there. However, an experience in one of the aforementioned 5 player dungeons last night lead me to push the PvP post to the back burner in favor of something a little more concrete.

To set the stage, this weekend was my anniversary with my Beloved. Although we are USAmerican, and thus expected to grill out, get drunk, and watch fireworks, we opted for a quieter 4th of July simply because his days off from work are so rare, and he'd been quite miserable on the 3rd, so celebraring our anniversary that day was out of the question. Generally, what we do on our anniversary is a small nod to how we met; we stay home and play video games all day. We have a couple of pairs of characters that we level together; one is a tank and heal pair, and the other is a pair of DPS. As one might imagine from their roles in the party, playing the tank/heal pair is more cooperative than the DPS pair, so we decided we'd spend our afternoon playing them. After a few hours of questing, we decided to start throwing some dungeons into the mix. The first few went pretty well, which was a nice surprise. The last time we leveled a tank/heal pair, he really didn't enjoy the tanking role (I do, but that's another post for another time), but he decided that he really wanted to try it again. One of our friends had his usual raid cancel due to attendance issues (it being, as I mentioned, the 4th of July with all of us in largely USAmerican guilds), so he joined us on a DPS character for a few dungeons. We were all having a good time, and making good progress. Of course, there were more than a few low-level characters that the players didn't quite have a full grasp of yet, but very few were particularly difficult to deal with, and only one actually got mouthy with any of us.

Then we landed in Gnomeregan. Very nearly EVERYONE hates this dungeon anyway, and we were no different. But, given the choice between a half hour deserter debuff and moving forward, we pressed on anyway. After a few minutes, one of our DPS dropped group. No big deal, we got back in the queue to find a 5th and kept right on moving. Interestingly, the DPS we gained was the same class as the one we lost, and one of us commented to that effect. Hir response was something along the lines of, "And I'm sexy, too!" at which we all chuckled at the time (well, my fiance, our friend, and I, anyway, we were in Vent together). We continue going about our merry way, chatting both in vent, just among the three of us, and in party chat. Soon, however, things took a turn for the very uncomfortable.



B, whose name I should probably not have blanked out, given that it's relevant to the conversation, is my fiance's toon, K is mine, and W is our friend. I considered censoring the offender's name, but given what it is, a) it says something about hir personality, and b) it will probably be force-changed by the time I post this. If I'd have been thinking at the time, I'd have expanded the chat window to capture the entire conversation, but I'm relatively certain that anyone with a modicum of decency can grasp why I was distressed by this interaction. When ze was only asking if my fiance's name was Brandi (hard to tell for certain if ze meant player or character, but one rather suspects player because all of our character names are quite clearly laid out in text), W and I both joked that ze was hitting on my fiance, and little did ze know that the character's gender didn't match the player. This seems to happen to my fiance often because when he plays female characters (which is less than half the time), he usually gives them feminine sounding names, like Tabithia. Ordinarily it's farily easily deflected, and the pursuing party will buzz off on being informed that a) the player isn't interested and/or b) the player's gender doesn't match the character.

It was the last part that set me off (I can only assume that the hunter was beating hir on damage to have elicited the comment that WASN'T awkwardly like hitting on my fiance). It was so out of left field, unwarranted, and unwelcome that I nearly put up a vote to have hir removed from the party. Instead, I asked our friend W if he thought I was overreacting in finding the comment over the top. His response in party chat came paired with a very skeeved-out sounding "buh, no" in voice chat. I followed my >.> with a comment that B was spoken for, and could zie please back off? Of course, as I should expect by now, the response was a nonchalant "who, me?" attitude, and I was being "mean" for suggesting that zie was acting like a creeper by making such comments unsolicited. I also very nearly launched into a full blown tirade about how just because someone presents, in the real world or a virtual one, as female is not license to objectify hir for your own amusement. How, as a woman in real life (as opposed to just my character), I am sick to death of living in a culture that thinks that rape is something that should be joked about. Again, I restrained myself. Beloved and I were drinking, and I didn't want to wreck my buzz by getting all angry at some mysoginistic twit that happened to get placed in my dungeon group. After a few more minutes, probably when it became clear that I wasn't going to apologise to hir for "being mean," zie dropped group as well. Oddly, we got yet a third character of the same class, but this one didn't make creepy, uninvited sexual comments. We finished the dungeon and set about to chasing down dinner, realising it was nearing 11pm and we hadn't eaten.

In the spirit of things I should expect, I will (potentially) stop you short right now and say that no, I'm not some kind of prude. Among friends, suggestive humor is fair game, and is laughed off because we are comfortable with each other and ourselves. If someone says something that crosses a boundary, it's called out, apologies are made, and we move on with our lives. Hell, if we let our banter bleed into some channel that includes people outside of our circle, we will apologise and confine ourselves to a more private space (unless of course the other party is laughing right along with us). There are understandings and concessions among friends. Strangers who are willing to be understanding and/or make concessions may become friends. Strangers who perpetuate damaging cultural mores will not.

This blog exists largely as a testament to my refusal to settle for the status quo in a culture that devalues damn near everything that makes me who I am. I'm no superhero, but I'm not about to stand idly by as someone makes three other people (if not four; the hunter didn't do much talking either) uncomfortable by making completely unwarranted sexual comments in group chat. The fact that the victim in this story was my fiance makes it more personal, but it doesn't change my reaction. If zie had been creeping on a random party mate I'd never met before, and would likely never see again, I'd still have said something. It's not because I'm uppity, and it's not because I'm repressed. It's because it's the right thing to do, and because no one should have to deal with harassment.

Over time, there will be followups on this issue, being that gaming is one of my main hobbies and, try as I might to keep it under wraps, sometimes people find out I'm a woman. Just the fact that I feel the need to hide my identity is indicative enough of a larger problem, but still. This isn't an isolated incident. It's an endemic issue in the gaming community, and one that can really only be fought from within. The GMs can't intervene all the time.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

With regard to (former) Representative Weiner...

I've had a couple of different, partially composed entries sitting in notepad documents on my computer since shortly after my last post. When I got called in to sub long-term for the colleague of a mentor of mine, they were unceremoniously shoved to the back burner by a sudden need to prep and keep up with the rigors of the end of a school year. I will come back to these when I am able but, once again, I find myself compelled by recent news to speak up while it's still relevant.

Now, there are some things that, from what little I have on this blog so far, may not be immediately evident. Perhaps my links are the only clues currently available to some elements of the identity of the blogger responsible for this drip-pan rainbow. I happen to be a few things, loath though I am to reduce myself to simple labels, among them a woman and a liberal. No, I'm not actually a dude like either of those bastards masquerading as a woman, but a real, actual one who happens to have lady parts about which I would like the legislature to butt right out because my bits aren't their business. To that end, I've been quite fond of the recently stupid New York Dem Anthony Weiner.

BEFORE this whole debacle (and, as you will see if you read on, I do NOT mean that in a minimizing or dismissive way), he had seemed like a man of spine and of standards. His impassioned rant about the 9/11 First Responder healthcare bill (and the sort of wheedling, noncommittal foolishness that the Republicans were hiding behind to block the bill) endeared him to me greatly. His verbal sparring match with a Fox News anchor that couldn't seem to grasp the concept of giving an actual INTERVIEW to a [mock disdain] bleeding heart liberal like Weiner, particularly with regard to OBAMA'S UNBELIEVABLE SOCIALIST HEALTHCARE, both amused and impressed me. Until recently, youtube was just FULL of videos lauding Weiner's attitude, his passion, and his dedication to Doing the Right Thing.

One evening, being terribly disappointed in Mr. Obama (more on that this summer) and absolutely DREADING the possibility of the pendulum swaying back toward the Republican side of things and risking electing one of their distressingly ignorant talking heads, I mentioned to my fiance, in all sincerity, "Y'know who I'd like to see go for the Democratic nomination? Rep Weiner. That Dem from NY who gives all those great fiery speeches on the Congress floor. HE's got spine to spare, and he champions a lot of things that are important to me." I pulled up both of the aforementioned videos to support my point, and then went on to include his investment in women's rights, which, as I mentioned earlier, are JUST A LITTLE BIT important to me!

Sadly, not long after that, conservative darling Andrew Breitbart broke the story that, at first, seemed INCREDIBLY suspect from every angle. First off, Breitbart himself doesn't exactly have the best track record ever for journalistic integrity, thus, in part, my choice to link the New York Post article about the (at the time) potential Twitter scandal. Secondly, Ars Technica ran a piece within days of the original accusation suggesting that the errant tweet could have been the fault of YFrog, a commonly used and, if you're savvy enough, fairly easily exploited service of popular image host, ImageShack. I even read somewhere that the EXIF data for the image didn't match the phone or camera he normally used, though I can't seem to find the original article source at this time. The comment that he couldn't "say with certitude" if it was his junk or not never sat right with me, but still, I had such respect for him that I WANTED it all to be some massive conservative prank to discredit him before he could pose more of a threat to the status-quo.

Breitbart's blackmail maneuver didn't do anything more to convince me that it WASN'T a conservative spin-fest; just because it WAS Weiner's junk in the photo didn't necessarily mean it was unwanted, harassment, or even any of our damned business. I'm not a prude, and, unless there is an issue of consent (being unable or unwilling to provide it, namely), what two adults do safely and sanely in private communications is absolutely between them. So what if he's married, maybe it's an open marriage, maybe they're poly, or however it may be so, maybe Abedin knows what's up. After all, although MOST of us have moved beyond Puritanical sex-is-a-chore-without-joy-or-desire mindset, there are still those who would crusade against those in the GLBTQQI spectrum being allowed normal relationships, much less marriage. Non-hetero-normative, non-monogamous relationships are just not something our society handles politely, even though it's generally none of our damned business, so even if this whole thing WERE completely above board and consensual all around, efforts would have been made to keep it hushed up.

Then the recipients started coming forward and my dreams were crushed. First Gennette Cordova, and later Ginger Lee both made it CRYSTAL clear that they had not done anything to encourage, solicit, or even in the least way imply they were open to the congressman's sexual interest.

The reason I feel so strongly moved to post on this issue is because I absolutely abhor how it has been handled in the media. At BEST, it's handled as an issue being all about Abedin and how she is pregnant and he betrayed her. Bill Clinton was married when the Lewinsky scandal occurred, too. Marital infidelity is not the business of the nation, it's the business of the couple's counselor or lawyer, as the pair sees fit. The issue is also not Weiner's voracious appetite. So what if the man likes sex? Plenty of people do, but, again, polite society expects us to limit our indulgences.

What IS an issue in the Weiner case is CONSENT. Again, it would be one thing if the congressman had simply sent a private, text based message politely proposing a more intimate meeting, or otherwise attempting to discern the interest of the other party in communications of a more intimate nature, but that's not what happened. In the case of Ms. Cordova, he shipped off the unexpected, and unwanted, as we have come to find out, risque picture that started off this whole scandal. In the case of Ms. Lee, he continually made efforts to turn the conversation in a sexual direction, which she repeatedly rebuffed by simply not reciprocating.

Also at issue here is the fact that he couldn't "say with certitude" if it was him or not. Had he just owned up to it, it would have been less of an issue. At the same time that he wasn't saying with certitude that it was his package in the picture, he was also making statements suggesting it was "a prank" played on him, or, later, some kind of joke with Ms. Cordova.

Such behavior is precisely the sort of thing I expect from politicians, and a great deal of why I liked Weiner up until now. His passion and fervor lead me to believe that maybe he was some kind of HONEST politician. One who actually said what he meant. One who actually kept promises. Stood by the issues he believed in. Represented the people he was meant to represent. He seemed like a real people's politician, and absolutely the kind of candidate I could support for president.

Compounding Weiner's harassment and dishonesty, of course, is the absolute field day that the media is having with this. As much as I hate to contribute traffic to such ignorant tripe as this, LZ Granderson needs to have his keyboard confiscated. Not terribly long ago, Mr. Granderson took it upon himself to police young girls' clothing, after leading into his article with a distressingly licentious and lecherous description of a girl he saw at the airport whose attire he considered inappropriate... the girl in question, by his own admission, was around six years old. Unsurprisingly, he exercises similar care and analysis in referring to the recipients of Weiner's unwanted attentions as "HIS" women, as if they are possessions of the congressman, and going on to suggest that somehow the intrusion of this media frenzy into the private lives of these women is a desirable or enviable thing. As if they would deliberately seek it out. Just like the suggestion that women file false rape claims for kicks, the insinuation that women would seek attention in this way is a clear manifestation of the ignorance and privilege that Granderson enjoys as a male in this society. No, Mr. Granderson may not be at the top of that pyramid of privilege, but, if I may enter the realm of the crass for a moment, just remember that shit flows downhill, and although Granderson's not at the TOP, he's not at the BOTTOM, either.

So please. Don't view this as apologia for Weiner's behavior. I don't condone it. Take it as it is meant; this is a dose of perspective on an issue that's been spun so hard it's miraculous that the world hasn't reversed it's rotation.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

9/11/2001 - 5/1/2011

We interrupt the usual brain-pan rattlings to bring you this somber message.

I was a freshman in high school when this country suffered the attacks of 9/11. I remember hearing mutterings in the hall walking from my geometry class to my world history class. I remember my world history teacher huffing into a rage, the likes of which I had never seen from him, nor did I ever see again, because there were no TVs available and the computer in his room always had issues accessing the internet for some reason. He took that day to address Pearl Harbor, terrorism (in a very much more factual way than politicians ever would), and the greater historical and cultural significance of this event. How it would shape the world in which we were about to become adults. I actually listened to Dubya's address that night. I was afraid of what the attacks could mean. It wasn't long before rumors of a possible draft reinstatement started circulating. The boy I was dating at the time was old enough to be drafted, other friends, one of my cousins enlisted with the Marines not long after the attacks. It was closer to war than anything I'd seen before.

Being years ago, about a decade now, my timeline may be a little jumbled. Sometime in the midst of all of Dubya's fear-mongering in the guise of a War on Terror, the Spin Machine told us that bin Laden was dead. Yes, that's right, Faux News tried to tell us that mere months after the attacks that the mastermind was dead. Mind you, the report was not one of the heroics of American military men and women, but rather of a peaceful death due to an untreated ailment.

Fast forward to this past weekend. My fiance and I have just gotten home from having dinner with my family, and I've settled in to some player vs. player combat in my MMO of choice. Charging out from my team's base, a teammate cries, "Win it in celebration of bin Laden's death!" I tend not to read the news religiously on the weekend, so this caught me by surprise. After that game, I tabbed out to read for myself that bin Laden had, in fact, been reported dead, and that President Obama had given a speech, which I then watched.

This whole thing is rather surreal. I mean, on the one hand, it should be worth celebrating that this large and looming terrorist organization has lost its longtime leader, but, just as nature abhors a vacuum, the removal of bin Laden is certain not to leave them leaderless for long. Beyond that, however, how do we know he's dead? There's a lot of dismissal and criticism of people who won't believe it, but frankly, neither the news nor my government have always told me the truth. Why should I believe them now? What ever happened to those WMDs, Dubya? And where's all the change, President Obama?

Then there's the field day that the media is having with this. The right wing is trying so hard to spin the story that it's going in circles. Faux News calls it "the illegal whim of the president" and the right rushes to praise Bush for Obama's order to kill bin Laden, while Brietbart (whom you may remember from the fiasco with the USDA and the wrongful termination of Shirley Sherrod some months ago) postulates that bin Laden isn't really dead. Don't give yourself whiplash trying to follow the propaganda machine, it's not worth it.

On the other side of it, identity thieves (presumably, I mean, why the hell else do you hack FACEBOOK of all things?) are circulating malware under the guise of various videos proving bin Laden is dead.

The bigger concern, for me, is not whether or not bin Laden is really dead this time, but whether killing him is merely decapitating the hydra.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Meanwhile, in Malaysia...

So apparently Malaysia is rocking out on the social change these last few days...  Not so much for the better, I'm afraid.  The other day, my BBC World News feed treated me to a story about Malaysia deciding to incorporate BMI into students' report cards, then the following day, I read about an anti-gay camp for, get this, THIRTEEN TO SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD BOYS who are accused of "acting feminine."  I don't even know where to start!  I suppose I'll tackle them chronologically.

Now, admittedly, the first article, Malaysia obesity campaign targets students, might have slipped right past my radar were it not for certain contextual factors surrounding it.  After all, obesity can lead to some very serious health problems, and schools getting involved in the health and wellbeing of their students can’t be bad, can it?
It can when that involvement draws on pseudoscience like the BMI for its declarations of obesity.  While I can’t speak for other countries’ inhabitants, I can say if you’ve grown up in the US, it’s likely that you’re vaguely familiar with BMI, even if you don’t remember quite how to calculate it.  This is a measurement that’s been around since the late 19th century.  However, as NPR brought to light nearly two years ago, “There is no physiological reason to square a person's height (Quetelet had to square the height to get a formula that matched the overall data. If you can't fix the data, rig the formula!). Moreover, it ignores waist size, which is a clear indicator of obesity level” (NPR 2009).  In just a quick Google search for BMI and obesity, I was able to turn up quite a few articles both before and after the NPR piece suggesting that use of the BMI to judge the individual was misguided at best, and outright useless at worst.

This creates a two-fold problem, or perhaps a vicious cycle, depending on how you care to read it.  If a child is deemed obese by this archaic and physiologically nonsensical system, it is bound to have a psychological impact on the child.  Some kids are more resilient than others, maybe they won’t be bothered.  Some children, however, are bound to become insecure about their weight at the accusation of obesity.  It’s bad enough for a child to develop a complex about weight if they should be tracking it for health reasons, but to cause a child with no real risk factors to obsess about their weight?  Sounds like a recipe for eating disorders to me.
Even if these children are secure enough not to be distressed by a number, other kids can be cruel.  Although the numbers will be on their report cards, such information has a way of circulating back to the playground eventually.  Maybe the parents of the child whose BMI indicates obesity start sending dramatically different food to school with them.  Maybe zie is suddenly prohibited from buying lunch at school.  Maybe zie gets called to the nurse’s office.  Maybe the kids simply begin taunting each other, bragging about particularly low or average BMI, as this is apparently what’s being valued suddenly (despite the fact that an individual purporting Malaysian heritage claimed on the Facebook feed for this article that slightly above “average” weight was smiled upon by hir culture) and terrorizing those with higher BMI.  There are plenty of ways for this information to inadvertently become public knowledge among hir peers, and once that happens, there’s only so much an anti-bullying seminar will do.

The other thing that really got my hackles up about this article was, in truth, not the article at all, but its reception on the feed where I encountered it.  In an effort to be a responsible citizen of the world, I’ve rolled some news feeds into my Facebook, including NPR and BBC World News, the latter being the source of both articles I’m tackling today.  (T/W fat-hatred) The response to this article far surpassed simple cultural ignorance and superiority complex straight into fat-hatred.  The original article states that “Malaysian cuisine is full of deep-fried, oily and spicy dishes … [and] coconut milk” (BBC World News Apr 19), but much of the blame in the comment feed is placed on traditional American junkfood, like Hostess and Little Debbie products.  One poster goes so far as to suggest, “THIS IS A EPICDEMIC WORSE THAN THE CRACK PIPE OR THE NEEDLE WE NEED TO PUT A END TO THIS MONSTER!” (emphasis original) (Facebook April 19).  Obviously, as anyone with an ounce of knowledge of appropriate Netiquette knows, this person is trolling the thread, but that’s not the point.  The point is that the majority of these comments are not productive in any way; on the contrary, many are completely destructive.


The following day, still childishly checking my email every time my Blackberry blinks to see if a more experienced blogger will tackle the article I’ve just finished discussing, the anti-gay camp article comes up.  Again, there are so many issues present in the article from a humanist perspective that I hardly know where to begin. As I mentioned, these 66 boys were selected to attend this camp on the basis that they were “acting feminine.”  The article fails to state just what that means, because apparently those making the judgment call about this behavior failed to specify what constitutes “feminine mannerisms,” too.  The camp is supposed to be in the boys’ best interest, and is supposedly not compulsory.  This is a clear cut case of institutional homophobia: “State officials say that, if left unchecked, the students - aged between 13 and 17 - could end up gay or transsexual” (BBC World News April 20).  Yet, at the same time, according to women's minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, who is a member of the Malaysian cabinet, "the camp violates the Child Act, which protects children without prejudice" (BBC World News April 20).  As with any camp or program that claims it can “change” an individual’s sexual orientation, this camp is bound to do more harm than good.  It’s a basic human rights violation, and at its core, it’s institutionalized bullying.

And just what do these educators expect the reception to be like for students who attended, or declined the “invitation” to these camps?  In a society where homosexual intercourse is illegal and “homosexuals say they face discrimination from government policies such as a law that makes sodomy punishable by 20 years in prison” (BBC World News April 20), it is unlikely at best that other students will simply shrug off the fact that these boys have been labeled as “potential gays.”  These boys have already been targeted by their educators, people who are supposed to be invested in their growth and best interest; it is almost a certainty that their peers’ perceptions of them will be negatively affected by this.

In addition to peers’ perceptions, these camps will also impact how these boys view themselves.  As if it isn’t bad enough growing up in a culture that tells you that your sexual feelings are unnatural, aberrant, and even against the law, now they are being paraded about as deviants and told again how wrong their feelings are.  All this does is inspire self-loathing and encourage “passing” as heterosexual to gain acceptance, a phenomenon better known as being “in the closet.”

Let’s hope the anti-bullying initiatives are as strong in Malaysia as they have been recently in the US.

Monday, April 18, 2011

THE INTERNET IS KILLING THE INTERNET!

Ordinarily, I won't post twice in a day.  Hell, I can hardly commit to twice in a month.  I mean to post when I'm moved to do so.  The previous post was sparked by the sheer amount of effort involved in creating this venue for the very post I am making now.  Why is it hours later?  Well, unexpected lunch with Mum and reluctance to post twice in a day when, as I have already said, it's not going to be my modus operandi.


Now, where was I?  Yes, the internet killing the internet.  These days, people like to get all bent out of shape about new tech killing off old tech in some way or other, or how the internet is killing the English language or whathaveyou.  A good deal of it is Henny Penny-esque rubbish about how the sky is falling.  Back in my day, we had DIAL-UP internet, it took a MONTH to download a whole movie that only played at a grainy 480x360 (which, incidentally, is the display size of a Blackberry Torch), and we LIKED IT!  Now get off my lawn!  You see what I'm saying here?


However, I lead in with a mocking hyperbole to address something much more serious.  Some of you may recall the affair of early last year concerning a youngish Englishman, a poorly thought out tweet, and a whole lot of debate over intent.  In February of 2010, Paul Chambers was arrested for tweeting, "Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week... otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!" which the South Yorkshire police deemed "grossly offensive, or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character contrary to section 127 of the Communications Act 2003."  Now, mind, there are a lot of issues at play here, and no one particular thing can be singled out as being entirely to blame, except perhaps the incredible power of human stupidity.

Twitter, in case you've been hanging out under an even bigger rock than I have over the last several years, is the most condensed to date form of social network spam.  I'm sure the nice folks responsible for this blight on the face of the internet wouldn't care for my characterizations of it so far, but I can't honestly say I care too much.  Following on the heels of the wildly successful social networking megasite that made us all say, "WHOSEspace?  I'm on Facebook now," Twitter hit the social networking scene in 2006, two years after Facebook's humble beginnings, but still a few months ahead of its transformation into the all-inclusive networking giant it has become.  Twitter allows you up to 140 characters to get your point across, whatever that may be.  140 characters?  Really?  Just "Back in my day, we had DIAL-UP internet, it took a MONTH to download a whole movie that only played at a grainy 480x360 (which, incidentally, is the display size of a Blackberry Torch), and we LIKED IT!" would be too much for a limit so strict.  That single sentence clocks in at a whopping 202 characters; 62 characters over the established limit of a tweet.  You're probably beginning to understand why I don't use the service.

Once in a while, a 140-character-or-less gem comes along and simply must be shared with no context at all.  Such incidents have a tendency to be what we refer to as inside jokes.  If I were to shout, "THIS IS *NOT* A DRILL!" there is a small group of my friends who would laugh, but most of the rest of them would either need to hear the story, or would only find the short exclamation humorous because I told them the story around when it happened.   Sometimes, brief statements require greater context to be funny, or insightful, or even simply to make sense.  Sometimes, *gasp*, humor is lost in translation!

C'mon, guy, this is the internet.  Get real.  You cannot tell me that someone who has had the internet for more than about five minutes hasn't had some kind of misunderstanding based on social cues, or lack thereof, present in a text based communication.  If my friend texts me something and I feel compelled, for some strange reason, to go all 90s and exclaim, "Shut up!" in reply, depending on whether or not this is normal for me (hint: it's not), my friend may then, and justifiably so, become quite incensed with me for being an insensitive wretch.  So, in this media sensationalized world where everyone is a lurking terrorist, I can't BEGIN to imagine what would possess a man to tweet that he wants to blow up an airport.  Seriously?

However, had he chosen to blog about the shortcomings of the system that caused the airport to be closed, this story would likely have progressed very differently than it has.  Not knowing the details myself, it would be difficult for me to successfully mock the system, or even effectively complain about it, but being that he was expecting to make use of the airport, I would imagine he would be aware of why he was prevented from doing so.  As it stands, he was found guilty in May of last year and is still working through the appeals process.

The moral of this story?  Firing off a quick, and pithy, if you do say so yourself, complaint about your local transportation hub isn't as brilliant, or pithy, as it probably first seems.  More detail-oriented forms of communication will never be completely eliminated by things like tweets because sometimes, you just want to make sure you're not going to be arrested and fined for that joke you just cracked.

Open letter to the internets:

First, an admission.

I am as guilty as anyone of wasting space on the internet.  I have begun more websites than I can keep an honest tally of at this point, and abandoned all.  One of them, frankly, wasn't ENTIRELY my fault; my (parents') isp changed up some policies, I missed the memo (as a minor child at the time), lost access to my webspace, and haven't quite worked out how to get it back.  Continuing in this frank trend, I'd really LIKE to get back into that one, as it's home to an incomplete project that I wouldn't mind finishing and to some things that I'd quite like to remove.  Foolish youth.  I've had multiple active online personas since I've had the internet, but I can't say I've always exercised the best judgment concerning keeping them separated. *cue Offspring riff*

With all of that said, however, there is one thing out there in internets land that is an ENORMOUS pet peeve of mine.  It's something you encounter in many facets of web life, be you blogger, gamer, enterprising entrepeneur, casual emailer, or anything else.  This obnoxious phenomenon is known as ... well, it doesn't have a name, but it should!  For lack of an existing term, I shall call it Name Wasting.  Name Wasting is every unused email address, every single-post or empty blog, every under level 10 character that hasn't been logged into since Vanilla.  To Blizzard's credit, at least THEY will do something about the WoW example I've cited.

It took me hours to come up with the name and address for this blog.  There were a couple of legitimately used blogs that merely annoyed me in their content and the audacity to use my awesome idea for their terribly uninteresting/trite/trendy/god-y blog.  I will respectfully avoid referencing these directly.  There are some, much to my annoyance, who have chosen to use an awesome address on BLOGGER for their personal internet diary.  Hay guise, LiveJournal is THAT way <-----.  The following, however, infuriate me to a point where I can't be arsed to care about putting them under fire.  YOU MADE ONE DAMNED POST, AND IT WAS YEARS AGO!  HAVE SOME BLASTED CONVICTION!  Or, worse yet, YOU NEVER EVEN MADE A DAMNED POST!  WHO THE HELL STARTS A BLOG AND DOESN'T POST ANYTHING?!

http://meander.blogspot.com/ - Absolutely ZERO content.

http://meanderingmusings.blogspot.com/ - Not only empty, but incorrectly subtitled as a compendium of "random pros[sic], poems, and musings."  *sigh* I suppose they at least get points for the Oxford Comma?  Nope.  No points.  Not unless for some strange reason this WAS meant to combine some sort of professionals with (likely) sad attempts at depth and the odd rambling.

http://snark.blogspot.com - Nothing here but an offensively hideous layout; I'm torn between hoping that it's a Blogger default, because then at least they didn't put more time into that atrocity than they did into the text, and hoping against hope that it isn't a default because I cannot begin to fathom why someone would deem that aesthetically pleasing enough to warrant mass-use.

http://girlinglasses.blogspot.com/ - Your typical twittering "about me" introduction from another of the internet's special snowflakes who may be laboring under the false pretense that gamer boys are actually correct when they say there are no girls on the internet.  For a thirty-something by the name of Scout, she could sure use some tips on not sounding like a teenage girl that has just learned how to make her mysterious and intriguing life a matter of public record.  Oh, and did I mention that in addition to sounding like a teenage girl pretending to be older for some bullshit credibility or similar nonsense, the lone entry is 5 and a half bloody years old?

http://yourface.blogspot.com - Tried this AFTER yourmom.blogspot.com proved unavailable, and TOTALLY would have used it.  This one proved more entertaining than my other disappointments as it contained a series of comments entreating the author to either get her slacker arse blogging or to surrender the excellent domain.  In nearly seven years neither has occurred, sadly.

http://impulse.blogspot.com - The subtitle says it all, really.  Simply "Stupid Blogger."  Yes, yes you are.  "ahhhhhhhhh. there is nothing to do" is neither a good reason to start a blog nor a valid blog post.  It's a pretty pathetic tweet, for chrissakes.  TEN YEARS THIS MAY.

http://whatsnottaken.blogspot.com/ - Tearing a page from an old friend's book in desperation to find SOMETHING that, well, wasn't taken, and, of course, it was.  Taken, I mean.  Wasted on a one-line entry that will be NINE YEARS OLD tomorrow.

An amused, but less frothing-at-the-mouth mention goes to http://yourmom.blogspot.com.  Yes, in my ire over being unable to obtain any of the scores of excellent blog addresses I wanted, I punched in yourmom to see what would come up, and so help me, if it was free, I was GOING to use it.  But it wasn't.  It, too, has been abandoned for years, but at least this one saw SOME use in its day.  Looks more like something that belongs on LiveJournal, or maybe even DeadJournal, than Blogger, but hey, 10 years is a LOOOOOONG time in internet years, so maybe it's more excusable; perhaps this was a time before Blogger went legit.  Bonus lulz because in the most recent "entry" she critiques a 17 year old girl for being pretentious in the way that only a 17 year old can be, while writing like she's not much older.  Yeah, most 17 year olds don't live with their boyfriend so when they break up it's less weird and life-altering, but seriously, woman?  Pot, meet kettle.  You know the rest.

And I'll cut it there, meekly acknowledging that I may already have taken the flying leap past where the gag is still funny.  Seriously, people, do you not understand that awesome addresses are a finite resource?  All of the clutter and nonsense I referenced in my opening admission?  TIED TO WEBHANDLES.  We're talking addresses like smilee1187.angelfire.com.  Who in their right mind is going to go after an address like that?  Not to mention the fact that Angelfire had housekeeping built right into their terms of service, so if you made a site and dropped off the face of the planet, someone else could eventually claim your domain.

This is the beginning of the end of the internet that we're looking at here.  There are only so many possible, intelligible letter and number combinations out there in the world, and while the more mathematically savvy among you may argue that the number is still so great as to approach the infinite, I would urge you to remember also how many people in this world have internet access.  Then, as an internet user yourself, obviously, please also consider your impression of a web handle like dqxwv11.  Probably a spammer, right?  Maybe someone phishing for your valuable identity information.  Maybe just some troll who couldn't be bothered to register properly to do their trolling.  All in all, it's unlikely to be anyone worth your time.  Assuming we discount nonsensical combinations such as the aforementioned, keep the character limit to, oh, let's go with AIM and say 16, and, for the sake of argument, let's also avoid leet speak.  That makes your pool of potential addresses/handles a hell of a lot smaller than the near-infinite supply of sheer randomness.

So please, before you jump headlong into TEH BLOGOSPHERE, consider whether or not this is something you will actually pursue.  Hell, test the waters.  Post a few entries.  Notice how obsessively and compulsively your chosen blog host saves your every word (I'm estimating about 30 seconds to a minute between saves right now and I'm just watching it autosave as I type).  But in the name of all that is good about the internet, if you get bored, PLEASE DELETE YOUR BLOG!