Saturday, February 25, 2017

Laurie Penny's Spiteful, Censorious Take On Milo

As I hope I made clear Wednesday, Milo Yiannopoulos has earned the social opprobrium that has resulted in rather severe commercial consequences for his career, i.e. it appears extinct. Yet whenever I read anything by Laurie Penny and agree with large parts of it, my immediate reflex is to ask whether I've missed something. I can answer that now with a "no" with respect to Milo's behavior, but in nearly every other aspect, Penny's analysis is plainly wrong.

First, it's important to lay out the areas of agreement. They are two:
But that is the end of it. The serial misandrist employs the worst epithet in her arsenal against his camp followers, labeling them "sweaty teenage trolls". Men are bad enough, but in their protean form, intolerable, something she emphasizes with a snide, cheap shot at Dungeons & Dragons players. She imagines a deeply, obviously wrong reason why an openly gay man might find acceptance among religious conservatives — "for all that the American right likes to show off pet homosexuals to prove its modernity, it turns out that it still hates gays" — which fails to consider how it is that such a flamboyantly open homosexual could have gotten where he is in the first place. (Walter Olson's explanation makes the most sense of any: briefly, Yiannopoulos confesses his sin but embraces the mother church, which plays better with certain religious conservatives than culturally-conservative-but-not-sinning Log Cabin Republicans.) She looks deep into the soul of a Milo fan, and sees only bigotry (emboldening mine, as usual):
It is horribly ironic that of all the disgusting nonsense Yiannopoulos has said — about women, about Muslims, about transgender people, about immigrants — it is only now that the moderate right appears to have reached the limits of what it will tolerate in the name of free speech. The hypocrisy is clarion-clear: This was never, in fact, about free speech at all. It was about making it OK to say racist, sexist, transphobic, and xenophobic things, about tolerating the public expression of those views right up to the point where it becomes financially unwise to do so.
How is it that the "moderate right" was responsible for expelling him from a CPAC address? Were they the same ones who threatened to resign from Breitbart if he didn't?  In the end, it's just another label for her to feel superior to, just as she declares "Milo Yiannopolous [sic], possibly alone of all the smug white people in the world, is not a racist", as though the rest of them are. (Presumably, Penny feels guilty about her racism, and of course we need not ask her about sexism.) Too, she fails at understanding what it is that finally felled Milo. She chalks it all up to moral conservatism, rather than Milo's ambiguity and indifference to appearance. Even in apology, he failed to understand what he appeared to defend.

But what is most puzzling about that passage is her claim that Milo was never about free speech. We see this directly here:
Rewind two weeks. It’s a wet night in Berkeley, California, and Yiannopoulos is running away from the left. He was scheduled to speak at the University of California–Berkeley, but the event has been shut down. It was shut down because thousands of anti-racist and anti-fascist protesters decided that there should be no platform for what they called white supremacy. They are marching to say that free speech does not extend to hate speech, that the First Amendment should not oblige institutions to invite professional trolls to spout an auto-generated word-salad of Internet bigotry just for fun, and that, if the institutions disagree, students and allies are entitled to throw fireworks and smash things until the trolls run away. Which is exactly what has happened.
 People actually smashing things, exercising the heckler's veto, silencing the "trolls" — these people receive not a word of vituperation or contempt from her, unlike everyone else in this essay. Does her conception of "free speech" include "hate speech", whatever that is? For all she claims she opposes "no platforming", she clearly granted herself some wiggle room when she wrote, "I think no-platforming is a bad tactic in almost all circumstances." Almost all. We do not know the precise dimensions of that space, but we can guess them, and they fill a void near the size of Milo Yiannopoulos. Why does she think she should be able to demand, at some website where the user base clearly opposes her opinions (viciously and crudely), she should be able to moderate comments out of existence she finds offensive? Hers is the voice of an expansionist and totalitarian view of speech that uses "safe spaces" as a sword; it is not the voice of tolerance. As with Anita Sarkeesian, whose censorious tendencies only became explicit censorship advocacy through her work with the ITU, the answer may come eventually, whenever an opportunity arises.

Update 2017-02-27: this is good:
So why are conservatives cozying up to such hideousness? The best explanation they offer is that inviting someone so beyond the pale will shatter the tight boundaries drawn by political correctness and open the space for a wider airing of ideas. But the problem is that by using a stink bomb like Yiannopoulos they'll make their own ideas malodorous. Who will take conservative praise of civility, tradition, family values, manners, honor, moderation, and dignity seriously if a 31-year-old, out-of-control adolescent is their champion?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Freddie deBoer Vanishes

I was greatly disturbed to see that Freddie deBoer has purged all his old tweets from Twitter (without, so far, eliminating the account) and has removed the entire contents of his blog. I am very much saddened by this. We disagreed deeply about many things politically: he is an unalloyed socialist at heart, his views on the intersection of copyright and the Internet are deeply naive, as is his odd belief that Kickstarters are inevitably scams. Despite these differences, he was also honest about the increasingly neglected work of convincing others politically, and knew how to craft a well-assembled argument, even if you disagreed with key parts of it. His refusal to engage in snarky personal attacks, the house style at Gawker and so many other Internet-era publications, set him above all of them and made his writing worth reading. I'll miss him, and I hope he finds another online home soon.

The End Of Milo Yiannopoulos

I probably shouldn't even bother with this one; Milo Yiannopoulos has finally supplied the rope for his own hanging, which in the end was unsurprising. It's unlikely I will get everything right about this story, filled as it is with lurid but stupid details, ones that in the end are deeply boring, precisely because Milo is at heart a troll. Whatever it is, he's throwing bombs for public attention, never more so than with his "daddy Trump" nonsense during the late election cycle. It was inevitable that one of those bombs would detonate on the maker.
Yiannopoulos, who was recently credentialed for a White House presidential briefing, once penned a Breitbart column to blame the left for defending pedophilia. Now, this newly released audio reveals him endorsing the practice (and praising priests who molest underage boys). In the clip, he describes a disturbing scenario, which prompts an unnamed person to remark, “It sounds like Catholic priest molestation to me.”

He receives this response from Yiannopoulos: “But you know what? I’m grateful for Father Michael. I wouldn’t give nearly such good head if it wasn’t for him.” Here’s more of what he said about pedophilia:
“We get hung up on this sort of child abuse stuff to the point where we are heavily policing consensual adults … In the homosexual world, particularly, some of those relationships between younger boys and older men — the sort of ‘coming of age’ relationship — those relationships in which those older men help those young boys discover who they are and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable, sort of rock, where they can’t speak to their parents.”
 His response to this own goal error was at first to declare it a "witch hunt", adding an unhelpful non-clarification addressing anyone who found his earlier remarks distressing as "A note to idiots". This raised a lot of irrelevancies, did nothing to dispel his earlier remarks, and smeared anyone who might reasonably find in his comments support for pederasty. It's a poor workman who blames his tools, and Yiannopoulos' refusal to acknowledge his own failings was a huge missed opportunity. It might be his last. Having lost his book deal with Simon & Schuster, he's also had to resign from Breitbart amid stories circulating that other staffers would resign en masse if he didn't.

There are kinder takes on Yiannoupoulos, for instance this unsigned piece on Rare ("The Internet bully is himself a victim; perhaps the two are related"), or this essay from Current Affairs which treats his remarks about sexual contact with an older man in the context of historical gay man/young teen sex:
Yiannopoulos may not have made his point very well. But there’s something nuanced and defensible here. First, he’s saying that the relationships between gay men and teenage boys (according to their own accounts) have historically been messier than simple categories allow for. And second, it’s absurd to say that he can’t make dark or crass jokes about his priest if it’s his way of dealing with what happened to him.
One might agree with that if he were a better communicator. To accept that, you have to excuse his lack of clarity: which is it? Was his giving head to a priest at 13 a terrible thing? Or was it good in hindsight? We still don't know, and we have Milo the bomb-thrower's imprecision to thank for it. Ultimately, the problem with Yiannopoulos is he stands for nothing, only in opposition, i.e. he is largely if not entirely a reactionary.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Audi's Wage Gap Pratfall

I've treated the mythical "wage gap" multiple times before, but yesterday's Audi ad during the Superbowl was a sort of tour de force of unrepentant cant:

Of course, with an organization as large as Audi, it's almost impossible to keep everyone within the organization on message:

You've gotta wonder about ends of the organization that came to such wildly differing conclusions about the role and pay of women in the workforce. What are they saying with that film? That everyone else in society is the bad guys, but Audi isn't one of them? Oh, and, do these faces look terribly female to you? (Notwithstanding Jeri Ward, who was presumably in charge of this fiasco, and HR director Christine Gaspar.) The story about how this ad came to be made would be an interesting one, and is lightly touched upon in an Ad Age piece issued contemporaneously with its release:
What is notable about Audi's spot is that it was directed by a woman -- Aoife McArdle, a top director repped out of Somesuch and Anonymous Content who has directed big-brand work for the likes of P&G (Secret), Under Armour, Honda and Samsung. Last year, Ms. McArdle directed a spot for Secret that also carried an equal pay message.

Gender inequity remains a huge issue in the ad production business. Women comprised only 9.7% of the rostered directors of the production companies that made Ad Age and Creativity's Production Company A-List in 2015, according to an analysis Mashable did of the list for a story published last year.
Previously, the Ad Age story mentions a "Free The Bid" initiative to address the lack of women in the field, but it takes with it the cast that women are in need of special protection from the same environmental hazards men are, i.e. it perpetuates women as "damsels in distress".

Keeping everyone on the same page is a tough thing, especially as your company gets larger. This disjoint fiasco shows why.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Apple Watch: Married In Haste, Repent At Leisure

I open this piece by noting I have had three other fitness trackers, all Fitbits:
  • I started with the Flex, which was then at the price point and functionality the best available unit on the market. It suffered from horrible mechanical defects, particularly in its charging port, which became less and less stable over time. This was made even worse by the incredibly tiny cable that came with the unit. If the distance between the outlet to the nearest horizontal surface was larger than that, you could be assured the Flex would sooner or later (the older it got, the sooner) it would fall out.
  • The second Fitbit unit I owned was a Force. Again, mechanical issues with the charging port caused me to abandon it, unlike a number of owners who had contact allergic dermatitis with the surgical stainless steel bezel.
  • The third (and last?) unit was a Surge. Shockingly, it wasn't actually issues with the charging port that caused me to abandon it, but the wristband. The thing simply broke in two, and because of the nonstandard, single-piece construction, could not be replaced.
Thus Fitbit. Since Apple had previously given me a number of products I have used and enjoyed dating back to the Apple II days, I finally broke down and decided to get an Apple Watch. Also, because the Apple Watch had (so they claimed) fitness functions mirroring the more popular ones available in the many fitness tracking devices now available. Mainly, I looked forward to Apple's superior history of making mechanically bulletproof devices. It's been a mixed bag.
  • There's really no way to change step count or other fitness-related targets outside the watch's tiny user interface itself. This is, to put it mildly, extremely annoying for those of us with big man fingers. On the Fitbit, you had the option of making these changes on either the iPhone or website interfaces, but Apple doesn't even offer an iCloud web interface for their fitness functions.
  • The limited touchscreen size means a great deal rests on various gestures. Unfortunately, it is too easy to accidentally engage one of them and change something inadvertently. I have several times turned on my watch, only to discover that the watch face has changed, or some other app has randomly taken over the display (because it was engaged accidentally last).
  • I had a worst case scenario of this happen yesterday when my Watch made an unwanted 911 call for me! I had my wrist bent at 90°, and next thing I know, the phone's making a call to the local emergency dispatcher! This apparently is some kind of default, something I had to shamefacedly explain to the woman from the dispatcher's office who called me back because I hung up after making the call. (I have since disabled the default dial-911 state.)
  • Those glaring flaws notwithstanding, it's got some nice features. Particularly, the ability to answer calls (with lousy sound quality) is useful, especially if you don't immediately know where your phone is. Likewise the ability to control your music, if the phone must be somewhere else than on your person, the best thing if you're using Bluetooth. (The low power Bluetooth interface can be spotty if there's any large enough physical thing between transmitter and receiver... like a human bent in half, say.)
By far, it's not a good replacement for the Fitbit, and in fact is so weak in this area it probably shouldn't be on anyone's list for this purpose. Since launch, Apple has treated it like an afterthought, especially in the way it interacts with apps. A disappointment, especially at the price, which may be one reason Apple has materially dropped the price for its entry level watch to well below $200.