To be a man

Posted in Gender and Feminism, News and Politics | Tagged ,

I’ve self-identified as a feminist since my late teens and have been very vocal about it, sometimes to my own detriment.  Not that I’m some sort of knight in shining armor, I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way despite my best intentions and I can’t claim to be motivated entirely by altruism.  While I am very much interested in equality and women’s issues in their own right, I’ve always been at least as interested in what Feminism could potentially do for men.

If you’re raising your eyebrow incredulously right now you’re not alone. I remember attending a eco-activist conference in my early 20’s. The organizers had set aside a couple hours one afternoon to talk about the intersections of ecology and feminism in a woman-only space and, since they didn’t want the women to feel left out of any of the other discussions, hadn’t scheduled anything for the men. They just didn’t know what to do with us.

When I suggested to the assembled guys that perhaps we should talk about gender issues too they were a bit confused. One person suggested that a bunch of guys talking about feminism would, at best, be inherently sexist mansplaining (though he didn’t use that term since it didn’t exist yet). Another suggested that maybe we could talk about how to be better allies and a third echoed the first by saying he thought our best course there was to let the women lead and tell us what to do. The whole group was genuinely flabbergasted when I suggested that we might talk about our own issues as men from a feminist perspective. Men are inherently privileged by Patriarchy after all, what could we possibly have to deconstruct?

The thing is, it’s not that simple. Continue reading

For God and Country

Posted in fiction | Tagged , ,

The sound of artillery was thunder, earthquakes, and every bad dream he had ever had as a child rolled into one.  A sound more felt than heard, it made his bones ache as the vibrations poured through him.  He had never particularly wanted to be a soldier, but when you are a young man with no prospects in a nation at war it’s hard to avoid the front lines.

Sy had no real conception of the enemy – he had rarely left the settlement where he grew up before joining the army and the natives were invisible behind the wall.  The land had been barren, inhospitable, and it was only when the Settlers had arrived that the desert started to bloom.  They had fled fear and persecution in a hundred lands and come here looking for peace, only to find themselves attacked and locked in an endless war.  Growing up he had heard the stories so many times he knew them all by heart.  They had won this land with their blood sweat and tears and he had no intention of letting some barely-civilized savages take it from them.

Watching the shells fly overhead and slam one after another into the wreckage of the city ahead, Sy felt himself growing more and more certain that he was doing the right thing.  The alternative was not even worth considering – no matter what those softhearted fools in the Korridge party said.  How could they preach disarmament in the middle of a world that wanted nothing more than to drive them all back into the cold dark of space to wander for who knows how many years until they found a new home?   And while the war might be messy, it was nothing compared to the damage humans had inflicted on this world in the centuries before the Jorn had arrived – it would take decades to undo the damage these primitives had done to the ecology.  They didn’t deserve a planet like Earth, their actions had proven it.   This world would be a new homeland for the Jornish people, and if the Humans didn’t like it they could go somewhere else!

Outside the walls, Caleb huddled in the wreckage of a hospital and watched the shells come down, pounding the remnants of the city into rubble.  Houston had never had the most hospitable climate, but with those alien bloodsuckers sucking all the water into their settlements and poisoning everything else, farming was impossible and the travel restrictions on human movement made trade almost impossible.  In order to eat, humanity was left scavenging from the wreckage of human cities or from the waste of the Jornish settlements that had displaced them.

America had first welcomed the refugees – those damn liberals had insisted that it didn’t matter whether they were human, they were sentient beings in need of shelter and their technology and know-how could only make the nation stronger.  But the refugees kept coming, and when congress had tried to limit the influx they had ignored the rules.  Worse, there was no way to stop them coming – how can you stop immigrants who can simply drop from the sky and land anywhere they like at any time?  The air force had gotten involved and – after one too many confrontations – someone had opened fire at a Jornin dropship.  The response was instantaneous.

Within an hour every capital city in the world was in ruins, bombarded from space by the warship no one knew was waiting there.  Within six hours the governments had fallen apart, military installations turned to rubble.  Within six days the Jornin militias, armed with weapons from their ship, had wiped out all organized resistance.  Still, the human spirit is strong and in the 60 years since, the disorganized resistance had never yet let up.

They had no real hope of winning.  What can guns and improvised rockets do against plasma cannons and artillery that can level entire city blocks?  But they were going to keep fighting anyway, make the monsters pay for every inch.  Maybe if they made them bleed enough, made it hard enough, they’d eventually give up and go back wherever the hell they’d come from and let humanity rebuild.  It was a ridiculous notion, no one seriously believed it, but “Drive them back into Space” had been the rallying cry of the resistance since long before Caleb had been born and he wasn’t about to try and change it.  He was too busy killing Jorns.

Caleb leaned into the scope of his rifle and took aim.  It was a strange sort of weapon, cobbled together from salvaged Jornish tech and human ingenuity but it worked well enough.  They were preparing for another ground offensive, lured out from behind that damned wall by the humans home made rockets.  The rockets couldn’t do much harm – nearly all of them were intercepted before they could hit anything, but it made the bastards angry and when they got angry they swarmed.  He signaled his men to take up positions around the bluff and waited for the enemy patrol to approach.

They were silent.  Hours passed.  Finally, the Jorns moved into range and the trap was sprung.  Rifle fire picked off the two rearmost in the column before their friends realized they were even under attack.  As the second body fell with a thud, they realized they were under fire and rushed deeper into the ravine to escape the enemy they thought was firing from outside. Caleb hit the  detonator and a home-made mortar pointing out from the back of the ravine ripped through the enemy squad as his snipers rained fire down on the enemy below.  It was a bloodbath, perfectly executed.  As they last Jornin soldier fell and his men cheered and rose from their positions, Caleb took a moment to reflect on a job well done.

The enemy artillery shell took him entirely by surprise.

Sy looked down at the human trooper, pinned unconscious under the rubble and kicked it in the head.  How could anyone seek peace with monsters like this?  These humans had no empathy, no souls, they deserved no mercy.  Captain Mek had been a hard ass but he was a good man, a soldier of Jorn, and he had helped Sy pull it together when he was a new recruit who didn’t know his cleck from his blaster.  And now this good man lay dead, surrounded by the bodies of his men.  And this human – the sole survivor of the shelling that had followed the rapid extinction of A squadrons life monitors, was responsible.

Sy kicked him again, and again, first in the groin and then in the face.  The savage stirred.

The world was black, no light, no sound, only pain and the deafening ringing of his burst eardrums.  Caleb had the faint idea that he was being kicked, but that couldn’t be right.  No one can kick you when you’re dead, or at least if they do you’re not supposed to be able to feel it.  The blow to his face sent ripples of pain through his wrecked body, and he decided he must somehow still be alive.  He looked up at the alien raining blows down on him and cursing in that weird clicking language of theirs.  If his jaw hadn’t been shattered he might have smiled.

“For god and country, for earth” – he’d decided on the last words years ago but couldn’t form them with his face in tatters.  Instead he settled for extending a single middle finger on his unbroken left hand and activated the explosives in his vest.

The explosion ignited the vests on his squadmates corpses, leveling the canyon and every Jorn in it.  If he’d still been alive to hear it, Caleb might have smiled.

The cold silence of the desert rang out across the blasted ravine, with no one and nothing left alive to hear it.  A defeat,  a victory, a moment of peace.

Opportunity Cost

Posted in Life | Tagged , ,

I’ve been looking to buy a house here in Oakland and the whole experience is a bit surreal.  I’ll save you the blow by blow, but looking at home values, school rankings, and the OPD’s crime map; a few things jump out at me.

Firstly, people talk a lot about crime in Oakland but looking at that map there’s crime almost everywhere (except Albany apparently – it’s a big blank spot on the crime map.  Either criminals avoid Albany like Kryptonite or they just don’t report their crime statistics).

Secondly, the quality of education a child receives in California varies even within a city.  This is not terribly surprising – lower income students whose parents are working two jobs to survive lack the support at home that wealthier kids get and are more likely to require extra resources to thrive.  What is surprising is not that there is disparity, but the degree of the disparity.

To put it bluntly, it is a crime that there are ANY 1-star public schools. Continue reading

Keep your God out of my Marriage.

Posted in Life | Tagged ,

The issue of whether Marriage is a civic institution which should be available to all consenting adult or a religious institution with theological restrictions is one of those debates that just won’t go away, no matter how bizarre it might seem.  It’s been a major source of stress in my family and in many others.  For me, it’s never even been a question which side of the debate I’m on. Continue reading

The Race Game

Posted in Life | Tagged , ,

This is one of those things that’s been rattling around in my head for years – why is it that video game manufacturer’s – especially makers of MMO’s – are so enamored with using “race” as a defining criteria for their character creation?  Species makes sense in many fantasy and SciFi settings, so does faction, but race seems so … outmoded.

Continue reading

Is Twitter Censoring the Revolution?

Posted in tech | Tagged ,

(Originally posted on the Involver blog at http://blog.involver.com/2011/09/29/is-twitter-censoring-the-revolution/)

At this point pretty much everyone who works in Social Media has read at least a couple articles talking about the role played by Twitter and other social media sites in coordinating and publicizing protest movements around the world. Social media has been alternately credited and blamed for everything from the ouster of Mubarak in Egypt to the recent riots in London. Now personally I take these claims with a very large grain of salt, but there’s a lot of truth to them as well. Today, just about everyone with a message to spread is using social media and Involver has customers scattered all over the political spectrum.

One of the interesting things about social media is the neutrality of the mediums themselves. Now of course if you talk to just about any activist you’ll hear that “the media” is biased against them. Conservatives think that the media is too liberal and Progressives think it’s too conservative. But up until now it’s been generally assumed that social media is a relatively even playing field because anyone can broadcast on it and build an audience.

Barack Obama may have 10x as many followers as republican front-runner Mitt Romney (10,252,333 to 108,426 as of this writing) but Romney’s numbers are rising fast – he just hit 10k on 9/23/2011 and is looking to at least double it in the next 60 days. The thing is, you don’t need to be either Obama or Romney to build an audience using social media, you just have to say things that people find interesting and want to hear more about. And because social media content is created and promoted by users it’s not subject to the same accusations of reporter bias that traditional media is – there’s essentially no gatekeeper. So when I saw tweets last week claiming that Twitter was taking on a gatekeeper role and censoring hash tags related to the execution of Troy Davis, I figured it was worth investigating.

The accusation was that Twitter had admitted blocking the hash tags #TroyDavis and #TooMuchDoubt from trending because the tags were “offensive.” As you can imagine, that set off all sorts of warning bells. Digging deeper , however, I found hundreds of tweets repeating the claim of censorship but none with a link to a reputable source. Now that’s not proof that Twitter didn’t censor the tag, but it certainly doesn’t help prove that they did. It’s particularly sticky because while Twitter’s spokespeople are adamant that they don’t censor political news, they’re forthright in admitting that they do censor out “offensive” topics. But offensive to whom? And by what criteria?

Accusations that social media sites like twitter censor results are common, but are they accurate?


A quick Google search for “twitter censorship troy davis” reveals a dozen blogs taking various positions on the subject – some adamant that the #TroyDavis was actively censored and others equally adamant that no such censorship took place. None offered much in the way of evidence but that didn’t stop people from tweeting and repeating those stories and citing them as proof. This week I saw similar claims that Twitter was censoring #OccupyWallSt (the ongoing protest camp in NYC based on the model pioneered in Egypt during the Tehran Square protests against Mubarak). Thinking back, I can recall claims during the last election about Ron Paul being censored. A broader search revealed blog posts claiming that twitter had censored trending topics related to #wikileaks, the aid flotilla to Palestine several months back, and several other topics.

Now Involver provides a development platform that’s used by campaigns, companies, and brands with wildly diverging interests and ideologies. Our role isn’t to advance any particular agenda but to build some of the best social media tools in the marketplace and empower our clients to effectively achieve their goals, whatever those may be. In the aggregate, all of those different ideas and ideologies enrich everyone because they contribute to the marketplace – both the literal marketplace and the marketplace of ideas. So if the companies that provide the core platforms upon which our industry is built take it upon themselves to actively distort that marketplace of ideas it has an obvious impact on our clients. The thing is, after hours of digging I was unable to find proof that any censorship had occurred. Which was both reassuring as someone working in the industry and disappointing because I wanted a juicy story for this blog. Unfortunately for me, facts got in the way.

Part of the issue is that claims of censorship are very difficult to verify or disprove and many people don’t let facts get in their way. In the Guardian story linked above, the #flotilla topic disappearing from the trends list was put down to a faulty algorithm and a bit of coincidence. Apparently, there had been another trending topic about a different #flotilla the week before and twitter automatically downgrades recurring tags. Twitter strongly denied it was practicing censorship, and the Guardian writers judged that their explanation made sense. The Wikileaks post shows a lot of aggregate data comparing third party tools with Twitter’s own reporting and that looked like the strongest potential documentation of censorship, except that trending isn’t just based on how many times a hash tag is retweeted but also by how many people and the rate of change. That ‘Rate of Change’ factor is critical especially for grassroots political causes since their activity tends to build slowly over time. Because the frequency graphs for tags like #occupywallst and #troydavis look like gently rolling hills with long starts and trailoffs instead of sharp changes, they are much less likely to trend – even though their total numbers may end up being much higher then the currently trending topics. That’s by design because it allows Twitter to prevent Justin Bieber and other celebrities from staying at the top of the trending list 24/7.

Now you can argue that the end effect of the algorithm is inherently unfair to grassroots movements, but you can’t argue from that that twitter is actively censoring those movements. It’s a subtle distinction but a crucial one. In real terms, the extreme difficulty of getting a topic to trend based on organic spreading of the topic without media assistance is an (ironic) side effect of our media-obsessed culture. All of which is hopefully useful information for any of you who are working on campaigns that leverage Twitter! For their part, Twitter routinely denies all charges of censorship and, at least until #Wikileaks runs an expose on Twitter’s secret plans for world domination, I’m inclined to take them at their word.

I suppose the point of this story comes down to credibility. Tweeting that you’re being censored because you don’t have the audience that you want does not help one’s brand or cause, in fact all it does is damage your credibility. It’s one thing to say CNN should be covering something that it isn’t, there are all sorts of plausible cases that can be made and argued about an opinion-based judgement like that. It’s another thing entirely to claim that a social media site is manipulating the playing field when you don’t have the hard evidence required to back up such a claim of fact. Incautious tweets are much more likely to damage your personal brand then they are to damage Twitter’s credibility. Worse yet, it makes it increasingly likely that genuine instances of censorship will be ignored as just another user crying wolf. That said, if you have evidence and can make a convincing case please do us all a favor and come forward.

What are your experiences? Have you seen topics pulled that you expected to continue to trend? Do you have raw data that can help prove or disprove these claims? We’d love to hear about it!