In This Case, Gonna Have to Say "Down With the Revolution!"

I’d really never thought of Google’s “real names” policy like this – but the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal calls it “revolutionary”:

Imagine you’re walking down the street and you say out loud, “Down with the government!” For all non-megastars, the vast majority of people within earshot will have no idea who you are. They won’t have access to your employment history or your social network or any of the other things that a Google search allows one to find. The only information they really have about you is your physical characteristics and mode of dress, which are data-rich but which cannot be directly or easily connected to your actual identity. In my case, bystanders would know that a 5’9″, 165 pound probably Caucasian male with half a beard said, “Down with the government!” Neither my speech or the context in which it occurred is preserved. And as soon as I leave the immediate vicinity, no one can definitively prove that I said, “Down with the government!”
In your head, adjust the settings for this thought experiment (you say it at work or your hometown or on television) or what you say (something racist, something intensely valuable, something criminal) or who you are (child, celebrity, politician) or who is listening (reporters, no one, coworkers, family). What I think you’ll find is that we have different expectations for the publicness and persistence of a statement depending on a variety of factors. There is a continuum of publicness and persistence and anonymity. But in real life, we expect very few statements to be public, persistent, and attached to your real identity. Basically, only people talking on television or to the media can expect such treatment. And even then, the vast majority of their statements don’t become part of the searchable Internet.
Online, Google and Facebook require an inversion of this assumed norm. Every statement you make on Google Plus or Facebook is persistent and strongly attached to your real identity through your name. Both services allow you to change settings to make your statements more or less public, which solves some problems. However, participating in public life on the services requires attaching your name to your statements. On the boulevards and town squares of Facebook, you can’t just say, “Down with the government,” with the knowledge that only a small percentage of the people who hear you could connect your statement to you. But the information is still being recorded, presumably in perpetuity. That means that if a government or human resources researcher or plain old enemy wants to get a hold of it, it is possible. [emphasis in original]

And you know something, that’s true. I mean, we already knew about the whole people-could-search-you-out stuff; that’s one of the main reasons why we ‘nym advocates advocate ‘nyms in the first place. But this really brings home the point, better than anything else, that what Google and Facebook want us to do is something we don’t do even in real life.

We don’t walk down the street or in to private businesses wearing signs with our real names plastered all over them in enormous letters anyone can see. But that’s basically what Google and Facebook are asking us to do. They’re requiring something even the police don’t have the right to ask for without reasonable suspicion.

This is one revolution I’m not gonna be cheering for.

Tip o’ the shot glass to A.S.

An Open Letter to Those Who Think Real Names Solve the Civility Problem

Dear People Who Think Real Names Make People Behave Better:

I understand the desire for a more civil discourse. Most of us would like that (except for the trolls, one supposes), but a “real name” policy isn’t the magic cure that will make everyone nice. Allow me to direct your attention to what people feel perfectly comfortable doing under their real names:

Ah, yes. Very civil. A shining example of the kind of respectful discourse one can expect when everybody knows everybody’s real name, isn’t it?

We’ve seen your arguments as to why real names are necessary, and Facebook has disproved very nearly all of them. Those Facebook hasn’t managed to provide demonstrations against are taken care of at the previous link. And I’m sorry, but your civility argument was so full of holes it could be used to drain spaghetti to begin with, and since then several people have hit it repeatedly with birdshot. I think there are some scraps left there somewhere, but they can’t be scraped together into anything usable now. Real names do nothing to rescue teh intertoobz from civility problems. People are too adept at being rat bastards for anything like a real name policy to stop them.

Ah, you say, but there will be consequences! Because, y’know, bosses and stuff will know who’s saying what, and they’ll get caught, and everything will be happiness and rainbows.

That may be true in a subset of cases. A few people may have to pay a real price for bad behavior. Lovely. Meanwhile, the bad behavior continues apace, because the chance of suffering consequences is so damned remote. And folks like, oh, lessee, Bob “Shoot to Kill” O’Connell and Joe “12 Gauge” Martinez are free to continue spewing their hate and death threats on real name forums like Facebook and Google+ while people like Bug Girl and GrrlScientist are shut out.

You don’t solve the civility problem with real names. Real names won’t stop a soul from frothing at the mouth. Even if everybody signing up for Google+ had to provide a photo I.D., therefore guaranteeing they have to use their really-real names, the civility problem would continue apace. Look at Congress.

I hate to tell you this, but the civility problem will never be solved. There will always be a subset of rotten jerks in any given population. The band-aid of a real names policy does nothing but give you the illusion things will be hunky-dory.

You mitigate it by having tools in place for folks to flag bad behavior. You mitigate it by having policies in place that deal with that bad behavior no matter what name it’s coming from. That’s what Google can do: provide some community guidelines (while keeping in mind that free speech shouldn’t always be nicey-nice speech), and provide tools for people to report bad behavior.

You yourself are going to have to take some responsibility beyond “real names!” to solve the civility problem. You’ll have to flag people who are being wildly inappropriate (and not just because you don’t agree with them, or don’t like their way of putting things, but truly bad, outrageous, nasty behavior). You’ll have to block those folks who make you feel icky inside, whose actions haven’t reached the level of a flag but are still not something you’ll allow in your online parlor. Speak out against behavior you find reprehensible. And step in and ask folks to behave better when comment threads on your stream get heated.

Whose fault is it if a place is full of assholes? That’s right. Uncomfortable but true.

So please, stop bleating about how real names are required to make the web a better place, and go about doing things that will actually make it a better place. Plenty of ‘nyms will be happy to join you in those efforts.

Sincerely,
Dana Hunter

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Bard?

It may seem bizarre that in the land infamous for a dry sense of humor, satire is banned. But politicians in both Great Britain and Ireland, it appears, are terrified of people like Jon Stewart. So terrified, in fact, that they’ve come up with inane rules meant to prevent the carpets in their halls of power from being trampled upon by the muddy boots of comedians.

In Britain, you’ve got Rule Four:

Guidelines on the use of the pictures are less prescriptive. They do specify that no extracts from Parliamentary proceedings may be used in comedy shows or other light entertainment such as political satire. But broadcasters are allowed to include Parliamentary items in magazine programmes containing musical or humourous features, provided the reports are kept separate.

And in Ireland, ye olde fine print in the Rules of Coverage:

Please note that use of Webcasts and broadcasts of the Houses and Parliamentary Committees must be in accordance with the Standing Orders of both Houses and the Rules of Coverage of the Joint Committee on Broadcasting and Parliamentary Information, in particular: “… that recordings or extracts of the proceedings shall not be used in programmes of light entertainment, political satire, party political broadcasts or in any form of advertising or publicity, other than in the form of news and current affairs programme trailers…”.

And these are the rules that kept the Daily Show off the air, for fear that a wee bit o’ satire could bring the whole House down. You can read the whole sad saga via Graham Linehan. And then you can watch the dread content right here.

Why yes, yes, I am laughing my arse off. Whyever do you ask?

Thing is, it makes a certain sort of sense, based on history. The whole thing reminded me of a bit I’d read on Irish bards many years ago. It set me galloping through my books looking for the relevant bit, and I found it in The Celts by Gerhard Herm:

When they [the filids and the bairds] rose to tell the old stories, to report on heroes still living, the warriors would hang on to their every word, like actors waiting to learn whether they had performed well or not. Adverse or favourable criticism from such a source could alone set the seal on, or ruin, a reputation; woe betide the prince who failed to reward a singer properly. One who did prove to be tight-fisted had a poisonous quatrain directed at him: “I know him/He’ll give no horse for a poem;/He’ll give you what his kind allows,/Cows.” This kind of thing struck home, and noblemen tried to be generous, to reward good singers, with at least a horse.

I should say so.

So it appears that instead of buying the bards off, these days politicians are attempting to outlaw their more dangerous practices. Knowing that those whom the bards would destroy, they first make ridiculous, they’re trying to legislate dignity. The problem with this is, America has freedom of the press, and the world has the internet. This means that the bard’s tale can cross oceans at the speed of light. And when these pathetic little rules cause Great Britain’s weekly dose of satire to go missing, curiosity gets piqued, and then you end up with articles in the New Statesman. Nothing a comedian could do to politicians is quite as bad as what they do to themselves.

We are quite amused.

[And yes, I know, this week’s been rather light on the geology. I assure you, that unhappy state of affairs shall not obtain for long. For one thing, I’ve been doing research to ensure that my next post on the Skykomish is not merely a gallery of rocks with captions saying, “Ooo, pretty!” Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, but I like giving you added value. Additionally, I’ve been working on the research for a series of posts on various consequences of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet that I believe will meet with your approval (with especial thanks to Evelyn Mervine, who slipped me a copy of a very delicious paper on drumlins). And, last (but only because I’ve saved the best for), my intrepid companion and I are headed up to Deception Pass this weekend. Three days of wandering about amidst some extremely delicious geology. You will have such pictures, my darlings. So do not despair: the drought will end, and geology shall be thine. Possibly sans cats, but I’ll see what I can do about gratuitous felid insertion.]

The Limits of Tolerance

Johann Hari asks a very good question: “Can we talk about Muslim homophobia now? (h/t)”

Here’s a few portents from the East End that we have chosen to ignore. In May 2008, a 15 year old Muslim girl tells her teacher she thinks she might be gay, and the Muslim teacher in a state-funded comprehensive tells her “there are no gays round here” and she will “burn in hell” if she ever acts on it. (I know because she emailed me, suicidal and begging for help). In September 2008, a young gay man called Oliver Hemsley, is walking home from the gay pub the George and Dragon when a gang of young Muslims stabs him eight times, in the back, in the lungs, and in his spinal column. In January 2010, when the thug who did it is convicted, a gang of thirty Muslims storms the George and Dragon in revenge and violently attacks everybody there. All through, it was normal to see young men handing out leaflets outside the Whitechapel Ideas Store saying gays are “evil.” Most people accept them politely. 
These are not isolated incidents.

Johann brings up the point that because Muslims are so frequently targets of bigotry, harassment and violence themselves, there’s an understandable reluctance to speak out against their less-admirable acts.  It’s easy to get yourself branded Islamophobic for pointing out that Islam isn’t necessarily a religion of peace, and that strict adherence to Islam leads to despicable acts.  But, as Johann says,

It’s patronizing – and authentically racist – to treat Muslims as if they are children, or animals, who can only react to their oppression by jeering at or attacking people who have done them no harm, and who they object to because of a book written in the sixth century. Muslims are human beings who can choose not to this. The vast majority, of course, do not attack anyone. But they should go further. They should choose instead to see us as equal human beings, who live and love just like them, and do not deserve scorn and prejudice.

Giving people a pass to be bigoted, damaging jerks just because they’re a member of a despised minority doesn’t do any sector of society any good.  It normalizes dangerous behavior.  It doesn’t confront the intolerance before it gets wildly out of control.  And it only feeds cycles of oppression.  No one – not even atheists – are saying Muslims have to give up their religion.  But we expect Christians and Jews and members of other faiths to respect gay folks, even if they do think gays are icky.  It’s ridiculous to give homophobia a pass out of some misguided sense of fairness.  It’s not fair.  It’s not fair to Muslim people who are lesbians or gays or bisexuals or transgendered.  It’s not fair to those Muslims who might discover that their religion can accommodate gays just fine.  And it’s not fair to the wider community, LGBT and allies, who are sick to death of seeing people get harassed, hurt and killed because of the way they love.

There are limits to tolerance.  We can tolerate people of other faiths.  We can’t tolerate actual harm they do for the greater glory of God. Let’s do talk about Muslim homophobia, just as we talk about homophobia in all its many disgusting forms.  Let’s not stay silent about issues that are so critically important.

DBAD: The Return

Poor Phil.  His Don’t Be A Dick stuff’s still getting panned.  Our own George W. took it apart:

I like Phil Plait a lot, but he’s recently been on a thing about “Not Being A Dick” and his recent video is supposed to be a clarification of that position.  
This reminds me of the scene in nearly every cop show where they take a fuzzy picture and apply enhancement software to it, and see a reflection of the killer’s face on a chrome-plated lugnut.  There’s only so much you can clarify a position that is fuzzy to begin with.

The rest of that post is well worth your time.

Les at Stupid Evil Bastard ripped a great gaping hole in the central premise of Phil’s argument:

Phil says all that does is make people defensive and resort to knee-jerk rationalizations and that is often true, I’m certainly guilty of it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t stop to consider the accusation of idiocy later when they have cooled down and are no longer in the midst of the argument. Not everyone will, but people who are anything like I am probably will and prompting that self-reflection can be the beginning of change.

I have much long and bitter experience in determining the truth of that.  

So, we’ve determined that a) quite often we’re hitting the target we intend, not the one he thinks we aimed at and b) when we turn double-barreled dickishness on someone with the intent of converting them, specifically, it can get the job done.  And I’ve not yet seen anyone argue that we must be all dick all the time.  There’s a time and a place for some hand-holding, sweet words o’ persuasion, and some gentle urging along.  That doesn’t leave DBAD in great shape.

Look, the sentiment was nice, and it’d be great if we lived in a world where dickishness was unnecessary, but there’s a reason for the carrot-and-stick proverbs.  Sometimes, all of us need a good sharp thump with a really big stick (or dick, ha ha) in order to snap out of our stupidity.

I just hope Bad Universe fares better than DBAD.  And, Phil?  I still love you, man.  How could I not, with posts like these?

Phil’s Not Faring Too Well

I love Phil Plait.  I respect Phil Plait.  I follow him on Twitter, shall soon be following him on teevee, and enjoy him immensely.  But even the people I love best occasionally do things that earn them a gentle savaging from their peers.  And it seems that his Don’t Be A Dick shenanigans (hereafter referred to as D-BAD) earned him said savaging.

Ophelia Benson, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, and now even Peter Lipson (one of the least-dickish people I’ve ever read) have taken some not-so-subtle swipes, when not unloading with both barrels.  I’m sure there’s plenty I’ve missed.  It doesn’t matter anyway, because the whole thing makes me tired.  This “we must be nicey-nice to the poor delicate believers!” bullshit is threatening to condemn me to a life of early dentures.

Just a few thoughts that have been going about in my head during this whole D-BAD drama, and then I am hopefully done:

1.  If you run with the skeptics, your sacred oxen are at risk of getting gored.  If you faint at the sight of blood, better not run.

2.  There is no safety in numbers.  Just because several million people believe a delusion doesn’t make it true.

3.  Niceness and respect have their place, but all too often, it enables the very woo and uncritical thinking skeptics are supposed to be against.

4.  Enable one woo, and you’ve just thrown the doors open wide with a big welcome sign for all the others.

And, most importantly to me personally:

5.  Those “dicks” were the people who snapped me out of woo-tainted thinking to begin with.  All of the happy-joy-joy nice warm fuzzy people kept me thinking for years that some pretty inane shit was legit, because hey, they didn’t seem to mind.  And I’m not a very unique human being at all, so I highly doubt I’m an anomalous data point.  Without the dicks, I’d still be susceptible to pseudoscience and magical thinking.  Sometimes, what a person really needs is a good, sharp slap by an enormous dick to snap them out of it.

Oh, dear.  I suspect that last bit came out wrong, or led to mental images that have you reaching for the brain bleach.  Sorry ’bout that.

Anyway.  What I’m saying is, dickishness has a place and a purpose.  Religious sentiment should not and must not get a safe little reservation all walled off from skepticism.  (That goes triple for you, Quinn O’Neil, oh ye of the most bloody stupid argument I’ve read all week.)

Religious freedom is a Constitutional right in this country, and we dicks respect that.  But respect for a person’s freedom to believe in irrational bullshit does not translate into treating irrational bullshit with kid gloves, nor should it, and as for those who aren’t tough enough to take it – I’ve got a couple of religious friends you should consult, because they might be able to advise you how to take it on the chin and keep grinning anyway.  They don’t burst into tears and run away blubbering whenever I say something not nice about their faith. 

You know what all that crying tells me?  That the weepy religious believers running with the skeptical crowd aren’t sure their faith is legit.  They’re doubting.  Why else do they need everyone to tiptoe around them?  And how do I know this?  Because I did the same sniveling when my faith started crumbling on its own faulty foundations. And everyone who didn’t do their utmost to reinforce those foundations, or at least refrain from breathing on them, seemed like they were personally attacking me.  Guess what?  They weren’t.  They were going after silly superstition.  If you think your superstition isn’t silly, then shore up your own damned foundations, grow a pair, and deal with the dicks.

And don’t tell me that a few unkind words about your favorite form of woo is enough to sour you on the whole skeptical movement.  That’s just petty and ridiculous.  Besides, there are plenty of accomodationists out there happy to wrap you in their loving embrace.  Not all of us have to.  Not all of us should.

Life is full of slings, arrows, and dicks.  You deal, or you don’t.  And if that sounds harsh, well, it is.  It seems that despite some anatomical disadvantages, I am an enormous fucking dick. 

Doesn’t mean I don’t love you, though, irrationality and all. 

Your Daily Dose of Health Care Reform Stupidity

It’s actually a little boring now that it’s clear the Cons have met their Waterloo.  It will all be over at 8am Christmas Eve, as long as Joe Lieberman doesn’t stampede.

This seems to have prompted Sarah Palin to whip out the ol’ death panel argument again:

Just one day after her deranged “death panel” nonsense was named the “Lie of the Year,” Palin decided to raise the specter of her insane accusation all over again.

“NOW w/the Prez “threatening” &Congress “rushing” is when we MUST pay more attention than ever 2what this HealthCare Takeover is all about,” Palin wrote in one tweet. “[M]erged bill may b unrecognizable from what assumed was a done deal:R death panels back in?”

To translate this into English, the former half-term governor believes President Obama is “threatening” someone — she wasn’t clear on who — while lawmakers are “rushing.” Given that the health care reform debate lasted nearly as long as Palin’s entire tenure as governor, it’s hard to believe the process really has been “rushed.”
Nevertheless, she believes it’s important that “we” carefully scrutinize what the “takeover is all about.” Who, exactly, is taking over what is, alas, still unclear.
She goes on to suggest the conference report may be “unrecognizable” from the legislation, and “death panels” — which never existed in our reality — may be “back in” after the White House’s intervention.
As Alex Koppelman put it, “[B]ecause Democrats are just dying to sneak in a provision that would allow them to kill your loved ones.”

These idiots are so fucking pathetic.

Other Cons are wailing and moaning because the bill includes some perks:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters yesterday that it took quite a lot of effort to shape a health care bill that could generate as broad a base of support as this one.
“There are 100 senators here, and I don’t know that there’s a senator that doesn’t have something in this bill that isn’t important to them,” Reid said. “If they don’t have something in it important to them, then it doesn’t speak well of them.”
That last part seems to have made an angry group of Republicans that much more furious. The accusation, of course, is that the bill is now loaded with “pork,” as the Wall Street Journal put it, as senators were “bought off.”
As Eric Boehlert explained, the complaints sound a little silly.

For anybody who’s spent more than three weeks inside the Beltway, the allegations of legislative arm-twisting certainly sound naive, since that’s how the D.C. game has been played for going on two centuries now. But nonetheless, conservatives insist Democrats have stooped to some kind of historic low.

But I can’t help wondering what Nick Smith thinks about those claims. Because back in late 2003, when was serving as a Republican member of Congress from Michigan, Smith opposed the Bush White House’s attempt to revamp Medicare when the issue came up for a vote in November. Republican leaders quickly realized that night that they didn’t have the votes and started leaning on their own members.

At the time, House GOP leaders literally promised to deliver $100,000 in campaign contributions to Smith in exchange for his vote. The attempted bribery of lawmakers on the House floor was so obscene, it prompted yet another Ethics Committee investigation into Tom DeLay’s antics.
By comparison, Democratic “sweeteners” on health care are about as common as the sunrise. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) was in a position of leverage before the motion to proceed, so she secured some funding for her state. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) was a long-time holdout, so he sought some extra Medicaid money for Nebraska. All kinds of senators received all kinds of inducements, prompting Republican apoplexy, as if this were some kind of unprecedented abuse.

To which Ben Nelson said, fine.  If that’s the way it’s gonna be, if they’re really that upset, he’ll just have Reid take out Nebraska’s incidental extras.  And then, no doubt, have immense amounts of fun explaining to the good folks of his state that, if Cons hadn’t thrown a tantrum, they’d have a lot more funding to play with.  Oopsies.

This is quite possibly the first time I’ve felt a little bit of admiration for that rat bastard.

And here’s another bit of unexpected admiration: I actually think Max Baucus did a brilliant job of bawling out Cons:

In an uncharacteristically impassioned and frank speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) challenged “courageous” Republicans to “break from their leadership” and “work together to pass health care reform.” Baucus argued that the Republican party was more interested in winning seats during the 2010 election than offering sensible alternatives to the health care crisis. He also accused the Republican leadership of pressuring members of ‘Gang of Six’ to abandon bipartisan negotiations.
Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) “wanted to pass health care reform,” Baucus insisted. “They asked very good questions,” but “one by one by one they started to drift away. They wanted to pass health care reform, they wanted to act in a bipartisan basis but they were pressured, pressured from their political party not to do it.”
[snip]
“I just want the public to know that we worked very hard to get a bipartisan bill that side of the aisle started working with us but gradually they began to bleed politically,” Baucus said. They realized “that they would do a better chance in the 2010 elections by just not working with us, but just attack attack attack attack attack and try to score political points to defeat any honest effort to get health care reform.”

I never thought I’d ever say this, but… “You go, Max!  Woot!”

So, soon, we’ll be on to conference.  There’s already some talk of what we might expect.  There won’t be miracles – far from them – but it looks like earlier benefits are very much on the tableRep. Grijalva, a progressive champion, will certainly be pushing for them.  We’ll see what else ends up on the table.

And Dems are already setting Cons up for a fall.  If we get early implementation of some of those benefits, it just might work.

If you’ve got some time on your hands, and want to learn more about what improvements should be made, Ezra Klein‘s got a “Letters to Health Care Santa” series going that’s definitely worth a look.  So far, we’ve heard from George Halvorson, Diane Archer, Alain Enthoven, David Cutler, Austin Frakt, and Jacob Hacker.  It’s fun, creative, and full of good ideas.  Go enjoy.

Barring any extraordinary stupidity, this is probably the last dose we’ll have for a while.  If you stumble across anything that’s too stupid to ignore, or too thought-provoking not to share, please do drop it in comments.